by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 01, 2015
(Pictured) Thai tourism officials hope subsidies will bring more groups to cities like Chiang Mai.
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Last March, when a 10-month-long martial law was lifted in Thailand, it appeared that tourism to this politically divided country would begin to bounce back. But the Aug. 18 bombing in Bangkok at a popular religious shrine downtown, which killed 20 people and injured dozens, threatens to derail that process.

A report released after the bombing by U.K.-based BMI Research warned that, "Now that an explosion has struck a major tourism hot spot, the recovery in the tourism sector, as well as the hotel and restaurant industry, could suffer a setback." Tourism constitutes 10 percent of the Thai economy, according to the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau.

The bureau had been working hard to boost hospitality in recent months, having rolled out a new marketing campaign, "Thailand CONNECT the World," and unveiled a new strategy targeting meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions business, including generous financial subsidies for groups of 100 or more.

Following the opening ceremony of its Connections Plus 2015 event in Chiang Mai in July -- attended by about 100 planners from a dozen countries, including Australia, China, India and the United States -- TCEB vice president Supawan Teerarat told M&C the bureau is pushing global and regional initiatives to foster international confidence in Thailand for the MICE industry.

Between October 2014 and March 2015, Thailand welcomed 476,079 business travelers, having an economic impact of US$1.23 billion. Top contributors to the MICE sector include China, France, India, Indonesia and the U.S.

"We know not all of Thailand is ready for the MICE market, which today represents only 2 percent of our GDP," said Teerarat. "We also know the MICE market is very sensitive to political unrest. But we want to promote cities that are ready."

After the Bangkok attack, the TCEB reported that all 72 events scheduled between August and October 2015 were going forward as planned. An information center at Suvarnabhumi Airport assists organizers and attendees. The bureau, in collaboration with the government, can contract out some security services upon request; planners can apply for financial assistance to offset the additional expense.

"We strongly believe that creating understanding among the target markets is pivotal to restoring confidence and allows MICE visitors to make informed decisions about the current situation," said TCEB president Nopparat Maythaveekulchai.