The lure of Phuket has for many years attracted tourists to its sandy shores. The classic holiday appeal of the Thai island is well known and the prospect of a beach holiday continues to attract new markets – Russian and, more recently, a huge increase in Chinese visitors. But what does the 'Pearl of the Andaman' offer those who go for something other than a classic holiday?
At a seminar last year organised by the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) at a hotel in Phuket Town, Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut outlined how he plans to expand the already blossoming MICE tourism sector.
“Phuket Province views the creation and addition of value for tourism as crucial to achieving sustainable growth for Phuket and neighbouring provinces,” he said.
“We have formulated a four-year development plan for the island to make it the centre and the dream destination of visitors worldwide. Under the ‘Charming Andaman’ formula, Phuket has developed the ‘4Ms’ strategy.”
The governor explained that the four Ms are MICE, Marine, Manpower development and Medical Hub.
“With the 4Ms strategy, Phuket will be further developed based on its strength as a favourite tourist destination and a business centre of the south.”
Each year record numbers of MICE delegates choose Phuket, even though the island does not have a dedicated MICE venue such as a convention centre.
Phuket, along with Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya, is one of the four main MICE cities in Thailand. Former Democrat Party MP Anchalee Vanich Thepabutra at the same seminar said: “MICE travellers generate more than double the income than normal travellers bring in. For example, if you receive 9 million ordinary tourists a year, or 3 million MICE visitors, the overall income will be the same.”
The lack of a convention centre on the island has not put off prospective MICE groups as hotels have primarily taken on the role of hosting event. And the number of hotels in Phuket continues to grow at a steady rate.
A report by the hospitality consulting firm C9 Hotelworks claims that Phuket will get 5,080 new hotel rooms by 2015, which will increase the number of rooms on the island to over 47,000.
Last year, the Regent Phuket Cape Panwa and the 262-room Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach opened their doors. The latter began operation in mid-2013 with five meeting rooms and six outdoor function spaces for ten to 400 guests.
The C9 Hotelworks report also highlights that the demand for new hotel rooms comes in part from an increase in passenger numbers at Phuket International Airport. And the current expansion of the airport – scheduled to be completed by 2015 – should help to continue the steady rise in international and national visitor numbers.
Phuket proved last year that it has the capabilities and infrastructure to host large-scale MICE events when 16,000 Amway employees from five regions of Mainland China, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, were divided into seven groups, with each group staying in Phuket for about four days.
Amway employees stayed at the Laguna Phuket resort complex in the north of the island, and used its MICE facilities. Banyan Tree Phuket hosted the VIPs and many private functions. Other participants stayed at Angsana Laguna Phuket, Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket and Laguna Beach Resort.
Sixty-nine charter flights, 130 regular flights and more than 100 buses and minivans were used to get the delegates to Phuket and ferry them around the island.
Amway guests made full use of their idyllic surroundings and the close proximity of unspoilt outlying islands and beautiful landscapes. During their stay, delegates spent time on Phi Phi island, where the movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed, which is roughly a one-hour speedboat journey away. There they enjoyed a delicious breakfast and lunch, and participated in team-building exercises before returning to Phuket in the evening.
Once back on the main island, some took the chance to explore the sights and sounds of bustling Patong, while others chose to remain in the Laguna complex eating at one of the many restaurants or relaxing at their hotel.
Delegates also headed north to Phang Nga, with its limestone cliffs and miles of lush landscape and deserted beaches it is the perfect place to get a group together. Phuket FantaSea – the island’s “cultural theme park” – hosted Amway staff for a buffet dinner at its sprawling complex in Kamala. FantaSea has trapeze artists, performing elephants, a buffet set in a theme park and lots of shopping opportunities.
One of the hotels that hosted the delegates, the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, re-launched its renovated meeting space early last year.
The renovation cost 10 million baht (US$303,240) and took two months to complete. The Dusit Laguna Hall can now accommodate up to 300 people in a theatre-style setting and is able to host 150 people for seated banquets.
The hall now features state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, including a 55-inch LED TV, ceiling and mobile projectors and white screen. Free wifi internet is also provided throughout the resort. The Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket also offers 2,275 sqm of flexible outdoor ‘’team-building’’ space.
MICE venues on Phuket are not limited to hotels. A short drive north from Phuket Town is Siam Niramit, home to a Thai cultural show and located on a plot of land with buildings and landscape that takes you back to ancient Siam. Event space can cater to both small and large groups up to 1,740 people.
Siam Niramit can organise special themed events for MICE groups, such as “Temple Fair,” which recreates the ambiance found at a Thai temple fair, complete with traditional entertainment, games and food stalls. Special activities including fruit carving demonstrations, making theatrical masks or hand-painting umbrellas can be arranged.
In a move to try and make MICE industry in Thailand a greener experience, TCEB partnered with Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization (TGO) and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a stringent guideline on carbon footprint assessment for the exhibition industry.
The co-operation plans to evaluate operators and show them the impact of carbon emissions from each exhibition, help them manage each exhibition in a way that reduces the destruction of the environment, by giving more consideration to various aspects such as saving energy, reduction of raw materials and recycling.
With the political situation in Bangkok still volatile, MICE tour companies will no doubt be looking for an alternative to the Thai capital.
Even with the plan to turn Phuket into a MICE destination, hotel rooms on the island are still predominantly taken up by large numbers of holidaymakers during the high season of October to March, leaving April to September ideal months for those looking to book large conferences and conventions. Phuket will never be able to compete with the convention centres and facilities available in Bangkok, but it does offer a number of services the capital lacks.
The location of Phuket in the Andaman opens up the possibility for visitors to explore surrounding islands and visit the many white sandy beaches. Coral Seekers organise off-site activities, adventures and team-building programmes, as well as onsite team-building. One of the programmes offered by the company, who are based out of a private beach club on the south of the island in Ao Yon, is an Island Speedboat Challenge. Once briefed, equipped and armed with maps and clues, teams are sent out to navigate their way around a number of local tropical islands, completing problem-solving tasks along the way. The use of speedboats allows those taking part to race across the Andaman Sea to the next destination.
Tel: +66 76 221-442
FantaSea is more of an entertainment complex than a theme park. A buffet dinner is included in a building that can seat 4,000 people. FantaSea is a traditional Thai show rich with history. FantaSea does not host MICE conferences, but it is ideal for large groups to enjoy dinner and a show.
Tel: +66 76 385 111, +66 76 680 888
Siam Niramit has a range of spaces suitable for one-day meetings, the theatre itself is perfect for larger events such as conferences. The air-conditioned theatre is fully equipped with top-quality audio-visual equipment and can comfortably seat 1,740 people. A buffet dinner and a show come with the venue. Special performances of traditional or contemporary music and dance can be organised as guests arrive, while they dine or as they relax after dinner. Siam Niramit has disabled access and was awarded the Best Place for supporting disabled people from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
Tel: +66 7633 5088
Laguna Phuket allows guests to move freely within its 1,000 acres of tropical parklands by boats or shuttle buses, enabling easy access to on-site golf, spa treatments, a multitude of tours, boutique shopping, and a host of watersports and recreation activities. For added convenience, bills can be signed back to guestrooms from 30 restaurants and bars.
This “integrated concept” gives the organiser the choice to choose a master bill. Venues can be chosen from the six resorts. There is a 1,000-seat marquee, and several hundred people can be organised in differing levels of luxury while enjoying the convenience of just one master account.
Tel: +66 7636 2300