BANGKOK (eTN) – IT&CMA remains Asia’s leading show for incentive and business travel. And despite all the challenges faced over the last years, the show continues to be hosted in Bangkok with the 18th edition finishing on October 7. The show welcomed some 2,300 delegates – buyers, sellers, corporate managers, and media from 54 countries – and the mood was rather bullish as MICE and business travels grow again with regional economies being driven by China’s growth and a return in confidence.
Asia continues to benefit from improving facilities with new convention centers being built now in Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, and Seoul. The Shanghais rebranded 18,999 seats at the Expo Cultural Center into the Mercedes Benz Arena and Sofitel has a new property in Phnom Penh, which will have the country’s largest ballroom. Cruise terminals are being developed all across Asia such as the one in Singapore or in Okinawa (Japan), while new roads, high-speed train links, and improved airport terminals continue to turn travel into an increasingly smoother and more comfortable experience.
Meanwhile, there is a shift towards more regional meetings with each country also looking at empowering more domestic business travel. “Domestic travel is far less dependant from external negative factors. And boosting regional meetings only reflects the fast paced development in Asia and the role of the continent in global business,” said Akapol Surasuchart, president of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and of the Asian Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (AACVB). AACVB has created a summit in 2007 serving as a discussion platform to further strengthen and dynamize the MICE industry. The last summit was just hosted prior to IT&CMA in Bangkok, while the next summit will take place in October 2011 in Singapore.
Continuing to strengthen Asian markets is currently of crucial importance as recovery at Asia’s traditional business travel markets – Europe and North America – remains uncertain. Economic growth this year remains too modest on both continents, while the continuing strengthening of local Asian currencies makes the countries in the region more expensive. “Prices went up by 20 percent in a very short period of time due to [an] exchange rates mechanism,” said Lionel Roy, managing director of Borneo Incentives. “I would not say that this would drive the cancellation of an event, but it could, in the long term, affect some MICE planners’ decision,” told Maureen O’Crowley, senior director at Seoul Convention Bureau.
Despite currencies strengthening on average by 7 percent to 15 percent against the US dollar and by 5 percent to 10 percent against the Euro, most Asian countries continue to proclaim to remain an excellent value for money. This is certainly true for Cambodia and Vietnam, which offer most prices in US dollars and are favorably influenced by the current weakening of the greenback. But this is also true for Thailand, and especially for Bangkok or Chiang Mai, which suffers not only from the uncertainties surrounding Thai politics but also from an oversupply in hotel room capacities. “Room rates are among the cheapest in the region, and we also offer many incentives to companies, which desire to host an event in our country. This initiative is part of our new campaign, ‘Believe in Thailand,’ aimed to bring back confidence into our destination,” said Akapol Surasuchart.
Thailand or Singapore already offer subventions for MICE planners. “We facilitate services and events organization rather than providing subventions to the travel industry for now. Despite the strengthening of the ringgit, we remain an excellent value-for-money destination compared to most countries around the world,” explained Zulkefli Haji Sharif, head of the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau. Malaysia, meanwhile, is also currently studying ways to subsidize MICE projects. Malaysia is indeed keen to achieve its ambitious target of welcoming 100,000 delegates at international conventions by 2015 compared to 59,000 in 2009.