“Flash mobs in Bangkok: is this Thailand ?”
by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Director, MCI Dublin and VP Ovation Global DMC
I thought I was in the middle of a Flash Mob. It was evening rush hour and I had just gotten off the Skytrain. I could hear music playing all over the station and people were stopping in their tracks and standing to attention. Jeremie beckoned that I too should stop, whispering “T.I.T”. Then I knew. It wasn’t a flashmob. It was the twice daily public broadcast of the National Anthem – after all, this in Thailand!
There were many occasions during my week in Bangkok when this acronym flashed across my inner radar. Sitting motionless in traffic for a full 15 minutes and then taking a full 45 minutes to travel a measly 2km, for example. Or exiting an air conditioned super-luxury shopping mall where Armani Jeans are priced at $275 onto the sweltering street where the “same” jeans are available for less than $20. But also marveling at a spotless, graffiti-free public transportation system in a city with more than 9 million inhabitants or feeling perfectly safe on the bustling, heaving pavements amidst gentle, fun loving, non-aggressive people. This is indeed Thailand.
Like other high rise Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Bangkok has a meetings and events infrastructure to rival most destinations. It keeps one foot firmly in the rich and deep cultural legacy of its Thai past and one in the vibrant excitement of a modern metropolis and it balances the two with audacity and panache. Its unique cultural quotient makes Bangkok, potentially, a top ranking motivational destination while no less than 5 mid sized convention centres ensure its appeal for meeting planners.
One of these convention centres is the Bangkok Convention Centre at Centralworld which incorporates the Centara Grand, flagship of the rapidly expanding, Thai owned Centara Hotels and Resorts. Philip Hall, an ex-pat Brit, is Director of Sales and Marketing for the group and treated us to lavish canapés and drinks on the 55th floor of the hotel overlooking the Baiyoke Tower, Bangkok’s tallest building. Next day sales manager, Ma Xu aka Max took us around the convention centre where a 600 person ophthalmology congress was taking place. With 10,000 square metres of uninterrupted meeting space connecting directly with the BTS (Bangkok Transport System), Centalworld shopping mall and the eponymous deluxe hotel, new meaning is brought to the clichéd “one stop shopping”.
And shopping is, indeed, a major draw in Bangkok. You can browse and window shop for the latest Italian suits and the most expensive Swiss watches in multi-level malls the size of Texas then purchase perfect knock-offs at MBK or Chatuchak / JJ market for 10% of the RRP. But it’s not only clothes. All the latest technological gadgets and digital paraphernalia including Apples and Blackberries, some not yet even officially released, are available straight up or “jailbroken”, at heavily discounted prices.
Clustered in the city centre area within walking distance of the BCC there are a number of International and Asian owned quality hotels. Four Seasons Bangkok spikes global standards in service and hospitality with more than a splash of Asian spice to create a truly memorable guest experience. Constructed around a number of atriums, Four Seasons Bangkok has over 350 guest rooms, extensive function and banqueting space and all of 7 unique and diverse food outlets. It has a real urban resort feel and boasts an amazing collection of traditional Thai Art including an astonishing hand painted mural on silk executed over two generations depicting the history of Bangkok. The art theme continues in the guest rooms where hard woods are complemented by Jim Thompson throws and silk murals. But it’s not only traditional – in collaboration with local H Gallery there’s an exhibition of Xavi Comas photography in theParichart Court.
Close by, the rather large and Asian owned Amari Watergate – Bangkok’s 3rd biggest hotel – is presided over by the rather petit and Swiss Pierre-Andre Pelletier. Assisted by fellow Francophone Tristan de La Porte and native Thai Chatrapee Kantariyo, the Lausanne trained Pelletier is nothing short of a class act. He runs average occupancy in the late 80s and over one quarter of his business comes from repeat customers. Managing over 600 guest rooms with entry level dimensions of 42 square metres Pierre-Andre and team have just completed a full refurbishment which includes linens by the ubiquitous Jim Thompson and includes the installation of water fountains in the bathrooms of the 29 suites. No less! An innovative food outlet will shortly open serving Spanish, Arabic and Asian tapas in a trendy, “too-cool-for-school” setting.
And school is precisely where the folks at Grand Hyatt went to when they wanted inspiration for their new, groundbreaking meeting product, The Campus. The traditional exterior of the hotel belies the vibrant, exciting innovations that have been brewing here over the past two years specifically in its meetings product. A massive over-sized double level entrance lobby presents an appealing but perhaps typical scenario – clubby feel, accent lighting, red leather sofas with dark soft cushions, hard wood floors etc On the lower lobby level, however, an Ivy League Style backlit crest marks the entrance into an extraordinary re-interpretation of what usually constitutes a suite of “meeting rooms”.
Styled around a university theme The Campus brings meeting attendees on a journey back to school with informal hang-out areas, fuzzball tables, Apple Macs and comfort food. The Campus uses nostalgia to promote knowledge and understanding while Greek lettering, deployed as a graphical device throughout the facility, hints naughtily at the chaotic high-jinks of frat societies. Simply brilliant!
But that’s not all. Pavinna Wattanavekin, Director of Sales and Theeraya Somboon, Associate Director of Sales (MICE) then brought us to “Residence”, yet another novel meeting concept which was debuted in Bangkok and is now rolled out at several Hyatts in the Asia-Pacific region. This concept plays around the familiarity and coziness of a home. Each of the 5 “rooms” is set with formal and informal areas and all interconnect back to a central hub where refreshments and lunch are served in the casual, dynamic environment of a live, bustling kitchen.
The MCI Academy, which involved about 80 Asian and Middle Eastern managers, was based in the Sukhumvit area where there is another cluster of wonderful hotels most notably the Sheraton Sukhumvit and our host hotel, and its Starwood sister, the Westin Sukhumvit. It was a perfect learning environment for us with all meeting rooms connecting back to a common lobby area where creative and innovative breaks were served each morning and afternoon. On our first evening our great friend Linda Maksudi, Senior Manager Starwood Sales Organization AsiaPacific, hosted a spectacular dinner for us at the award winning restaurant of Starwood’s Le Meredien.
So this is Thailand, or, at least, this is a flavour ofThailand’s intriguing capital. In almost a week there I saw nothing of Bangkok as depicted in The Hangover 2. But I did see pink taxis. And yellow and green taxis. And red and blue taxis. I did eat incredible food on the street for half the price of a Big Mac in Europe. I did notice how in rainy season the skies grow moody and cross every day from about 4pm onwards and how darkness falls very fast. I did light candles at a Buddhist shrine and offer garlands to the four-faced Brahma God, Than Tao Mahaprom, for the safe arrival of my grandchild. And when the national anthem played at 6pm I stood erect with all the others at the station, and showed my respect for a King and his astonishing country.
Padraic Gilligan was in Bangkok on the occasion of the Asian edition of the MCI Academy. He would like to thank his MCI colleagues Avinash, Leonie and Jacqui for all their work in pulling a great learning event together. He would also like to thank our strategic partner Oriental Events and, in particular, Jeremie Descelles, an “outside” insider, for helping him to negotiate the topographical and cultural minefields of Bangkok and for steering him successfully in and out of the MBK. Massive thanks are due too to Nuttida Suphasith (Director of Event Management) and all the staff at the Westin Sukhumvit whose handling of the Academy was flawless.