THAI THE KNOTS

East­ern Thai­land is de­vel­op­ing its MICE and in­fra­struc­ture

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - WORDS DO­MINIC EL­LIS

hai­land chalked up 35 mil­lion vis­i­tor ar­rivals in 2017 – up 8.77 per cent – with China, US, Rus­sia, Korea and Ja­pan driv­ing in­bound busi­ness. The tourism tills have been ring­ing with rev­enues to­talling US$3.5 bil­lion, up 11.66 per cent, and while the Mid­dle East is rel­a­tively small (616,168 vis­i­tors in 2017), num­bers rose 5 per cent on the back of abun­dant air­line ca­pac­ity.

This year looks to be more of the same with Tourism Au­thor­ity Thai­land tar­get­ing 8 per cent growth tar­get in tourism rev­enue from in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

Against such favourable sta­tis­tics, there might be a temp­ta­tion for TAT to rest on its lau­rels, not change the mes­sag­ing and watch busi­ness and leisure trav­ellers con­tinue their well-worn paths to Bangkok, Phuket and Chi­ang Mai. But TAT Gov­er­nor Yuthasak Su­pa­sorn is keen for vis­i­tors to travel be­yond the hon­ey­pot des­ti­na­tions and see the coun­try’s wider ap­peal.

To this end, it hosted Thai­land Travel Mart Plus for the first time in Pat­taya – a des­ti­na­tion which, to many, is more syn­ony­mous with adult en­ter­tain­ment than MICE. Yet in line with TAT’s de­sire to re­shape it as a ‘qual­ity leisure des­ti­na­tion’, in­ter­na­tional me­dia were flown in to hear the new pro­mo­tional mes­sages (‘Mil­lion Shades of Ro­mance’) at the at­trac­tive Ocean Marina Yacht Club, be­fore be­ing treated to a Thai gas­tro­nomic show­case at the Cartoon Net­work Ama­zone Chon Buri fam­ily theme park. The suit-free event was a novel MICE ex­pe­ri­ence, and seemed in keep­ing with the ‘ bleisure’ times.

Given its beaches, weather and hos­pi­tal­ity al­lure, you would think Thai­land is al­ready on many newly weds’ lists – but this is a key seg­ment mov­ing for­ward, and TAT is aiming for 5 per cent growth in 2018, specif­i­cally tar­get­ing the pre-wed­ding, wed­ding and hon­ey­moon mar­kets. The fourth Des­ti­na­tion Wed­ding Plan­ners Congress, held in Phuket last year, at­tracted del­e­gates from 65 coun­tries, and un­sur­pris­ingly, China and In­dia are the two pri­mary tar­gets, al­though TAT also has US and Euro­pean honey­moon­ers in its sights.

Few places have trans­formed quite like Pat­taya. Once a small fish­ing vil­lage, this neon-lit, en­ter­tain­ment-ori­ented strip draws in hordes of in­ter­na­tional tourists. Clubs ded­i­cated to In­dia and Rus­sia show how they’re geared up to cater for key source mar­ket; In­dian vis­i­tors to Thai­land grew 15 per cent in the first half of 2017 on the back of more di­rect flights.

But as with any des­ti­na­tion, you can al­ways find dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. We had a tour of the five-star Cape Dara re­sort, which boasts an at­trac­tive seav­iew pool be­yond the airey en­trance, and the best views are from the up­per floor room ter­races where you see Pat­taya in one un­bro­ken sweep. One stun­ning res­i­dence, fea­tur­ing a lounge where you can gaze up at the stars, costs a cool $10,000 a night and the series Yah

Leum Chan (“For­get me not”) was shot here. The sight­see­ing high­light is The Sanc­tu­ary Of Truth, a stun­ning all-wooden, wa­ter­side trib­ute to Bud­dhism and Hin­duism, and a short drive away from the cen­tre. Thai busi­ness­man Lek Viriyaphant started the pro­ject in 1981 and 37 years later, work is on­go­ing with carvers metic­u­lously work­ing on sculp­tures inside and out. It aims to com­plete by 2050. The soothing grounds, where streams cas­cade with the paths, are fre­quented by ele­phants and horses, and it’s a pleas­ant an­ti­dote to the Walk­ing Street beats.

ECO­NOMIC OPEN­INGS WITH EEC

Changes planned for the East­ern Se­aboard aim to take this re­gion to a new level – and busi­ness trav­ellers may be ven­tur­ing out of Bangkok faster than those in flip-flops.

Around $43 bil­lion is be­ing pumped into de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture in the East­ern Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (EEC) which will link Thai­land and Cambodia, and the goal is for Pat­taya to be­come the cen­tre of in­vest­ment for the trio of east­ern prov­inces (Chon­buri, Ray­ong and Cha­cho­engsao) and gate­way for the EEC. There are also plans to de­velop gas­tron­omy tourism and an ‘East­ern Fruit Cor­ri­dor’ in Ray­ong, Chan­thaburi and Trat.

“Since EEC was in­jected, I see a huge im­prove­ment in Pat­taya and there is close col­lab­o­ra­tion with TAT and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties,” said Tanes Pet­suwan, Deputy Gov­er­nor for Mar­ket­ing Com­m­mu­ni­ca­tions at TAT. “We have a long way to go, but it’s get­ting bet­ter. In the near fu­ture we will see more in­vest­ment from in­ter­na­tional ho­tels along with golf cour­ses, new ex­hi­bi­tion halls and depart­ment stores.”

U-Ta­pao air­port’s pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity will in­crease from its cur­rent 800,000 to 3 mil­lion and a sec­ond run­way will be built in a bid to boost con­nec­tiv­ity while Laem Cha­bang and Map Ta Phut ports are to be up­graded. Also on the draw­ing board is a high-speed rail­way from Bangkok to Ray­ong which will con­nect three in­ter­na­tional air­ports (Don Muang, Su­varn­ab­humi, and U-Ta­pao) within one hour.

It re­mains to be seen how long these projects take to come to fruition, but the tourism and com­mer­cial jots ap­pear to be join­ing.

Sports, health/well­ness and film tourism are other sec­tors ear­marked for growth. Hang­over 2 was filmed at Le­bua Ho­tel Bangkok and Lost in Thai­land has drawn in large num­bers of Chi­nese vis­i­tors (10 mil­lion are es­ti­mated in 2018).

Few places have trans­formed quite like Pat­taya. Once a small fish­ing vil­lage, this neon­lit, en­ter­tain­ment-ori­ented strip draws in hordes of in­ter­na­tional tourists.

UN­WIND ON KOH CHANG

It took five hours to drive from Bangkok to Trat province, from where you can catch the half-hour ferry to Koh Chang. Those on less time can take the one-hour flight on Bangkok Air­ways from the cap­i­tal.

This way you see the ru­ral land­scape in all its diver­sity, from the abun­dant gold-and-red tem­ples to the tree-lined av­enues near the bustling Sri Ban Phe pier – where fer­ries cross to Koh Sah­met – to the trucks laden with Durian fruits. We stopped off at a small mar­ket, brim­ming with fresh fruits, veg­eta­bles and fish, and I lis­tened in as a stall holder tapped the Durian with a stick to test its ripeness.

On the way we passed the Ray­ong Mar­riott Re­sort & Spa which boasts a range of in­door and out­door spa­ces to­talling just un­der 25,000sqft.

The ferry, crammed with cars and mo­tor­bikes, was prompt on the way over but sub­ject to a 90-minute de­lay on the re­turn, so fac­tor in time should you need to head back to Bangkok quickly.

The Cen­tara Koh Chang Trop­i­cana Re­sort boasted spa­cious grounds and con­ve­nient ac­cess to a vast beach, though hav­ing plas­tic on my mind (see July-Au­gust cover story), parts of it could do with a clean-up. The stand­alone spa had wel­com­ing wa­ter fea­tures and the treat­ment was re­lax­ing, rounded off with a gin­ger tea as wind swept through the palm trees.

My room was close to re­cep­tion and at­trac­tively de­signed splash pool, with jacuzzi sec­tions that merged into it, though the wood-heavy de­sign made it cu­ri­ously dark at day break. Stand­ing out­side in the rain on ar­rival was a restora­tive re­fresher af­ter the bus jour­ney. The buf­fet break­fast was im­pres­sive with de­li­cious mango and pa­paya jams amid all the reg­u­lar of­fer­ings.

On the morn­ing beach walk, I snapped a beau­ti­ful col­lared King­fisher and in the af­ter­noon, zoomed in on one of the mon­keys munch­ing on leaves near the panoramic View Point. The high­light of the short stay was traips­ing along a rocky and tree-cov­ered path to the im­pres­sive Kh­long Phlu wa­ter­fall, and hav­ing fish nib­ble our feet as we soaked them on the re­turn.

We had lunch at the beach-side 15 Palms, de­vour­ing chicken sa­tay skew­ers and Thai Green Curry un­der leaden skies and choppy seas and the fi­nal night, ate freshly grilled prawns and seabass from a hum­ble road­side restau­rant.

Back on the main­land, we had one last lunch near the tran­quil Laem Ngob light­house and Pier be­fore driv­ing back to­wards Bangkok, ar­riv­ing at Grand Hy­att Bangkok shortly af­ter sun­set.

WAL­DORF MAKES RE­GIONAL DE­BUT, ACCOR EX­PANDS WITH NOVO­TEL-IBIS STYLES

Wal­dorf As­to­ria Bangkok, lo­cated at the bustling Ratchapra­song junc­tion, opened its doors at the end of Au­gust and marks the lux­ury brand’s first foray into South-East Asia. The 171-room ho­tel, de­signed to re­sem­ble a Mag­no­lia flower spring­ing from the ground, is the hand­i­work of ar­chi­tect André Fu and de­sign stu­dio AFSO.

The top three floors (55-57) fea­ture three din­ing out­lets from New York con­cept firm AvroKO. Rungthiwa Chum­mongkhon (Chef Fae) will bring her ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing at Miche­lin-starred restau­rants in Europe to head the Front Room, which will present an el­e­gant new blend of ‘new Nordic and Thai flavours’ in a re­laxed set­ting.

Novo­tel ibis Styles Sukhumvit 4 is tar­get­ing an Oc­to­ber launch, and the dual-brand de­vel­op­ment fol­lows the open­ing of ibis Styles in Phra Khanong district ear­lier this year. Accor has also signed a con­tract to man­age the 251room Pull­man Khao Lak Re­sort from 2021.

Com­ing up on the hori­zon, work on the river­side Capella Bangkok and Four Sea­sons Pri­vate Res­i­dences are around three-quar­ters com­plete, and on track for Q4 and Q1 2019 open­ings re­spec­tively. The Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Bangkok is 60 per cent fin­ished and also due to open early 2019.

At time of go­ing to press, it is un­clear on the sta­tus of the Bangkok Edi­tion – widely re­ported to open this year – and Ritz- Carl­ton Res­i­dences in the ar­chi­tec­turally strik­ing Ma­haNakhon build­ing. A Mar­riott spokesper­son said: “The Ma­haNakhon build­ing has un­der­gone a change in own­er­ship in re­cent months. Mar­riot In­ter­na­tional has no ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion to share at this time.”

Best Western Ho­tels & Re­sorts will in­tro­duce its new­est brand, BW Sig­na­ture Col­lec­tion by Best Western, to Asia for the first time this year, fol­low­ing the sign­ing of Tawar­avadee Re­sort in the his­toric Prach­in­buri province.

Nes­tled in Thai­land’s coun­try­side, ap­prox­i­mately 160km from Bangkok, this low-rise re­sort was in­spired by the an­cient Dvar­a­vati cul­ture that thrived in the area be­tween the 6th-11th cen­turies.

MICHE­LIN ADDS THAI FLAVOURS

The first 2018 edi­tion of the Miche­lin Guide Bangkok ( print and dig­i­tal) will be ex­panded to in­clude Phuket and Phang-nga in 2019. TAT Gov­er­nor Yuthasak Su­pa­sorn, said: “In line with TAT’s pol­icy, The Miche­lin Guide Bangkok, Phuket, and Phang-nga will help in sus­tain­ing the mo­men­tum … in pro­mot­ing Thai­land as an in­ter­na­tional gas­tro­nomic des­ti­na­tion.”

WATCH LIVE TV ON THAI

Thai Air­ways is rolling out free in-flight live TV, show­ing chan­nels such as CNN, BBC, NHK and Sport 24. Live TV on Board is be­ing in­tro­duced on the air­line’s 12 Air­bus A350-900 air­craft fly­ing be­tween Bangkok and Chi­ang Mai, Sin­ga­pore, Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Shang­hai, Rome, Mi­lan, and Brus­sels, as well as its eight Boe­ing B787-8 and 787-9 air­craft fly­ing be­tween Bangkok and Dubai, Tokyo, Taipei, Vi­enna, Bris­bane, Auck­land and Manila.

BELOW: Pat­taya RIGHT: Koh Chang

ABOVE: Wal­dorf As­to­ria Bangkok Deluxe Room

BELOW: Pull­man Khao Lak Re­sort ren­der­ing

ABOVE: Col­lared King­fisher, Koh Chang beach

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