Thailand: opening the doors for business tourism

Sunset in Ratchaprasong and Sukhumvit, Bangkok. Photo: Creative Commons

Thailand, home to over 68 million people, captures the imagination of thousands of holidaymakers every year, but rest assured, the fabled ‘land of smiles’ holds a myriad of opportunities for your next corporate getaway, international conference or client liaisons.

Southeast Asia has cemented itself as a travel destination for tourists and backpackers from across the globe. Millions of people flock to the subcontinent to enjoy the warm weather and explore its diverse culture and history.

If diving into the nitty gritty of Southeast Asian culture, food and lifestyle appeals to you then Thailand can provide the very best. Located in the heart of the continent, Thailand has fast become one of the most diverse and stable economic hubs in the region, it’s reliance upon foreign investment and trade has developed a culture of openness and hospitality that few nations can rival.

International business people are treated to the nest cuisine, accommodation, event spaces and cultural showcases, with incredibly hospitable locals willing to lend a hand, it’s hard to pass-up a true Thai corporate travel experience.

Open for business

Unfortunately, business travel is often overlooked in Thailand. Due to its international reputation as a holiday destination, one can easily dismiss the country as somewhat of a tourist trap. Indeed it is true that the majority of Thailand’s tourism industry is focused on leisure.

As Thailand has grown into the international trade hub it is today however, business travel is growing. Approximately 25 percent of Thailand’s tourism income now comes from corporate visitors, and the government is throwing its support behind the industry to support bigger and better experiences for companies and entrepreneurs.

What Phra Kaew Temple nestles in Bangkok’s every growing skyline. Photo: Creative Commons

Thailand is ranked 12th in the Asia-Pacific region’s Index of Economic Freedom, providing positive change in taxation, business and investment freedom, and increased government spending. Despite its ongoing struggles with governmental corruption and transparency, Thailand’s private sector is determined to continue growing.

The nation benefits from well developed infrastructure, and is supported by the export of key resources and products such as electronics, agricultural produce and automotive technology. Thailand heavily relies upon its connection to the international marketplace, as these exports make up two thirds of its GDP.

Government shows it’s support

For good reason, many perceive the Thai government as a less than desirable point of contact for a corporate travel experience. It has a reputation for sinking travellers in paperwork and slowing itineraries to a halt with miles of red tape. The Thai government has come a long way in recognising the benefits of business tourism in recent years. Clearly the nation is looking towards its future as a international economy, and is now happy to lend a hand in organising your next corporate retreat or conference.

The Thai government has dedicated an entire department to incentivising business tourism. Founded in 2004, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) exists as a public organisation with the core purpose of promoting Thailand

as a destination for business travel, events and conferences. The organisation offers advice to interested parties, providing a resource which can help you find the right accomodation, travel, venues and experiences for your trip.

With a budget of 958 million Thai Baht (41 million AUD), it is abundantly clear that the government is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that your experience in Thailand will leave you smiling, and de-stressed. As a result of the government’s efforts and high dollar value, Thailand has managed to circumvent the global decline in corporate travel numbers as its business tourism industry continues to grow.

Scooters, pedestrians, cars, and buses all blend into one in Bangkok’s busy streets. Photo: Creative Commons

Bangkok Bustle

There is no better place to realise the growth of Thailand as an economic and business centre than Bangkok. A modern city with deep cultural roots, the nation’s capital is, without a doubt, where it all happens. The city itself has transformed from a humble riverside capital to one of the region’s premier business destinations, and a hub for the high-flying commercial leaders of the country.

A recent boom in luxury hotel development has resulted in an abundance of affordable conference spaces, event halls and accommodation options. Bangkok is now renowned for a plethora of entertainment spaces for those looking to impress clients and partners with a bit of ash and elegance. With a little digging you can find fully catered buffets, golf courses, rooftop bars and even horse racing at affordable prices.

In a city of over 8 million people, getting around can be a little daunting. Jumping in a tuk-tuk and braving the wild west of Bangkok’s highways and main roads is not always a great idea if you are looking to provide a stress free trip for your business. To combat this, the city has developed a world-class public transport system to ensure a timely arrival. You can rise above the humid city streets on the elevated train and metro system, the BTS, which interconnects the key locales of the city in an ordered, air conditioned and clean fashion.

Bangkok’s major airport lies 25 kilometers out of the city centre, which, taking into consideration Thailand traffic, feels more like 100 kilometers. A newly developed railway straight into the city centre can cut travel times in half, getting you from baggage claim to the CBD in 30 minutes.

A quick word on visas

Thailand has a complex visa system, but to many western passport holders, gaining entry for a business trip is relatively simple. Knowing what exact visa you will need depends on what you plan on doing during your visit, particularly if there is paid work involved. It is best to consult your home country’s foreign a airs department to discuss your visa options in person before departure.

After a long day of meetings in the city, you don’t have to look far for a place to unwind in Bangkok. The city is littered with green spaces where the locals go to relax and catch a breath of fresh air. It’s not uncommon to take a walk through one of the city’s many parks to find a group of people in the midst of a tai chi session. Lumpini Park boasts a large lake where you can enjoy the city sites while drifting on the water in a rented boat.

If it’s culture you came to see, then Bangkok delivers. Despite the dense population and in lieu of recent industrialisation, Bangkok is still home to many significant shrines and temples. Visiting Wat Phra Kaew, or the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ you can impress your colleagues with an enlightening experience in one of Thailand’s most significant cultural locations.

Doing business Thai style

Thailand is a nation steeped in tradition, it’s society is structured around what to some may seem outmoded ethics and codes of practice. It is essential to understand some of the key social norms that Thai people live by, and it will make booking venues and doing business with the locals much simpler.

As with many other Southeast and Eastern Asian nations, Thailand is a very hierarchical place. Knowing where you sit on the vertical scale of social importance can seem a little demeaning, but knowing when and where to show respect goes a long way in making a good impression.

Generally, Westerners are treated with a certain degree of separation to the more strict cultural ladder subjected to the local population. You can, however, ensure that you are taken seriously. Wearing the appropriate business attire is always a good first step. Developing a relationship with the people you intend to do business with is key. Personal connection is much more significant in Thai business practice than in the West, so take the time to get to know your local counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects of the nation’s social ladder that you cannot control, such as the emphasis placed on age, gender and ethnicity. As a general rule, showing general respect for people older than yourself can go a long way.

Tradition, for better or worse has a large part to play in Thai society. Photo: Creative Commons

These rules may seem daunting, but Thailand is a rapidly modernising place, with more and more of the working population speaking multiple languages and possessing overseas tertiary educations, there is now a significant amount of wiggle room when it comes to the more traditional practises of business. Tradition is important, but to the majority of Thai business people, the drive to become a modern and accepting nation often outweighs any cultural bias.