by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE
SITE launches with a bang in Bangkok
2019 launched with a bang for the global incentive travel community with 375 of us gathering in Bangkok, Thailand for SITE Global Conference, our first time back to Asia since New Delhi, 2016. We were told we’d be bedazzled, beguiled and bewitched in beautiful Bangkok and we were. And so much more!
Over 3 intense days of connections, learnings and discoveries, we were enveloped by a destination in an on-going process of repositioning, regeneration and renewal under a compelling new MICE campaign entitled “Thailand – redefine your business events”. Partnering with SITE, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) created a destination experience that reinforced all the existing positive brand attributes of the Thai capital while showcasing a new emerging destination with an attractive art scene, a burgeoning start-up culture and a dynamic core of creativity.
Pre-event days at The Athénée Hotel, Bangkok
The SITE board of directors and SITE Foundation board of trustees convened in advance of the Global Conference at the dishy Athénée Hotel – a Luxury Collection Hotel located in the leafy Lumpini district of the city, surrounded by embassies, major corporations, other luxury hotels and the magnificent Lumpini Park. El Kwang of Untangled Group, newly elected SITE board member, SITE Global Conference co-chair and recent resident of Bangkok, led an dawn delegation there to discover the park as a buzzing hive of activity with Tai Chi, Line Dancing, Walking, Jogging and public aerobics all in progress. It was 06:30 in the morning!
Later that same day the red sea of rush hour traffic parted for us as a police escort led us, like Moses and the people of Israel, straight to the dockside where The Peninsula Hotel laid on a private river cruise to Chakrabongse Villa. There we enjoyed a true incentive travel immersion at sunset with great food (courtesy of The Peninsula Hotel), congenial conversation (thanks Selina for the table games) and a fascinating “behind the scenes” encounter with Princes Narisa Chakrabongse who opened her house for us and narrated her intriguing story.
The world renowned Blue Elephant was the venue for our leadership dinner on the evening prior to the formal commencement of the conference. Located in an old colonial mansion, this period structure was shook to its core by the din of conversation and laughter as old friendships were reignited and new friendship were forged. Sponsored by the Thailand Incentive & Convention Association (TICA), led by legacy SITE member Sumate Sudasna, we were also treated to a stunning “up close and personal” display of traditional Thai puppetry.
SITE Global Conference, Bangkok – highlights?
Picking highlights of the Global Conference itself would be a difficult choice. So many aspects of this year’s event exceed expectations judging by the sentiment emanating from social media posts that, by mid morning on the closing day of the conference, had already generated two million impressions.
The AGM, re-positioned and re-vitalised under the leadership of CEO, Didier Scaillet, was an energetic celebration of an amazing 2018 under the capable captaincy of Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, CITP, CMP and a dynamic presentation of what’ll be a landmark year with the ebullient Philip Eidsvold, CIS, CITP steering the ship. And many of us remember when the AGM used to be a yawn-fest!
Phil Hansen’s astonishing keynote – “Embrace the shake” – set a reflective tone for the conference that was picked up again by the extraordinarily courageous TED talks delivered by SITE members during the closing general session. We came face to face with a key life lesson: adversity, set-backs and suffering in our personal and professional lives can be the fiery furnace in which we forge true grit, real character and, often, advanced levels of success. Huge thanks to Phil for sharing his story and for creating with the entire assembly a masterpiece made up of 8 little pieces of each of our lives. Bigger thanks, indeed, to our SITE family members, Ping, Tina and Paul for the raw honesty and unbelievable courage of their stories.
Bangkok is already known as a pulsating, vibrant, full-on sensory destination. However, thanks to TCEB and a brilliant local destination committee co-chaired by the marvellously creative El Kwang we were served up Thailand with a twist and treated to a deep and immersive destination experience as far from a “tour” as Bangkok is from Baltimore. The pre-event Bangkok Discovery Tours were truly hands-on while the Deep Dives revealed a new and unexpected side to Bangkok, all about a nascent art scene, a bourgeoning start-up culture and a palpable sense of creativity bubbling up along the Chao Phraya river.
The Bangkok Manifesto
As the “I” in MICE, only SITE has the moral authority and entitlement to produce a “manifesto” for incentive travel, interrogating its true purpose and identifying its enduring value within the ever-changing business world today. And that’s precisely what we did in Thailand.
Assisted by the magnificent Martin Sirk, former executive director of ICCA, we channelled the collective wisdom of our community over 3 sessions, the entire assembly eventually selecting the 10 statements that’ll constitute “The Bangkok Manifesto”. Big thanks are due to Meet in Ireland who are sponsoring the initiative and to Sli.do, the audience engagement platform, born in Bratislava, that powered the final session.
I feel I’m touching the surface with this recap as there’s so much I haven’t mentioned – the social functions, the educational breakouts, the inspiring CSR action and truly powerful sessions on human trafficking in this, the month dedicated to the topic worldwide. This was truly a ground breaking conference for SITE and for the incentive travel community worldwide.
Finally – thanks to our host hotel, The Shangri La, Bangkok
A final shout out to our host hotel, The Shangri La, Bangkok. Over the years I’ve stayed at various Shangri La properties around Asia and the brand has been well represented within the incentive travel industry by the likes of Eldridge Mayor-Parry. However, General Manager Caroline Cheah and Director of Sales & Marketing Joanne Chung delivered a truly exceptional hospitality experience across all departments from conference & banqueting through guest rooms. Bravo!
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney & Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training. All three attended SITE Global Conference in Bangkok.