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Thailand seeks bigger share of booming business tourism market

SINGAPORE, April 25, 2006 (AFP) - Thai tourism officials on Tuesday launched a regional campaign to promote the kingdom as Southeast Asia's premier convention and exhibition hub, setting up a rivalry with major players Singapore and Hong Kong.

Business tourism is a growing sector in the travel industry and Thailand -- already with a worldwide reputation among leisure travellers seeking good food, beaches and shopping -- is aiming to capitalise on its fame to gain a bigger share of this premium market.

Travellers to international conventions spend three or four times more than leisure tourists, industry players say. They are also less likely to cancel during crises because their events are planned years ahead.

While travellers for the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector account for only five percent of the total tourist arrivals in Thailand, their share of revenue is about 12 percent, said Vithaya Sintharapantorn, the sector director for exhibitions at the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEP).

Convention delegates spend an average 15,000-20,000 baht (400-532 US dollars) a day, compared with 3,000-4,000 baht for the leisure traveller, Vithaya said.

"So you can see that the MICE business is the high-yielding tourism sector that the government is trying to promote aggressively at the moment because it's the future of tourism," he told AFP in an interview here.

Incentives are trips organised by companies to reward employees for meeting corporate targets.

Vithaya said Thailand is a leader in terms of meetings and incentives tourism because the country boasts well-known attractions, quality hotels and services, but lags behind Singapore and Hong Kong in the larger conventions and exhibitions.

"We are catching up," he said.

Peerapong Oeusoonthornwattana, the TCEB director-general, said his bureau has hired "market representatives" from the private sector to help promote Thailand as a destination for conventions and exhibitions.

Thailand already has market representatives in the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, India and Hong Kong.

TCEB will appoint a representative in Singapore next month, and will add Australia, South Korea, Russia and Dubai later in the year, Peerapong said.

Thailand has won over two other shortlisted bidders, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, the right to host a global meeting of the Rotary Club in 2012 in which 30,000 people are expected to attend.

Vithaya said Thailand's space available for exhibitions has risen to 250,000 square metres (2.7 million square feet) from only 16,000 square metres in 1993.

There are six major exhibition and convention centres in the country. Two more are under construction and will be ready by 2007.
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