by Terence Baker | February 01, 2006

beach in Phuket, Thailand

Paradise postponed: Incentive groups are scarce in Phuket, Thailand.

More than a year after a devastating tsunami hit Southeast and South Asia, most U.S. incentive groups are steering clear of the region, according to industry experts. This holds true for incentive-caliber destinations such as Phuket in  Thailand and Penang in Malaysia, and despite reports from national tourist boards and hotel chains (such as Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts) that many affected properties are back in business.
    Judy Jackson, director of industry relations at Fenton, Mo.-based Maritz Travel, said incentives to the region had been considered a developing market for Maritz prior to the tsunami. Afterward, however, “We had only one serious inquiry for Phuket that resulted in a site inspection, but no trip,” she noted. And interest now, she added, at least for
the short term, is negligible.
    However, Jackson and other planners, as well as incentive suppliers, see glimmers of a turnaround in 2007 and 2008.
    “I have sent quotes [for trips to Southeast Asia] to groups looking to travel in 2007, but only to those whom I know favor adventurous incentives,” said Janet Lallier, senior transportation manager at Carlson Marketing, based in Minneapolis. 
    Likewise, “We are pitching Thailand for an incentive later this year,” said Valerie Bertelsen, a senior buyer at Carlson.
    Planners say the destination must overcome other factors besides the tsunami, such as long travel time from  the United States. 
    “Actually, I think the tsunami largely has been forgotten,” said Ken Broadhead, program manager, transport operations, for the West Des Moines, Iowa-based incentive firm ITA Group. “The main concern now is bird flu.”