Exhibition Showcase Talks To Nichapa Yoswee, Senior Vice President of Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB)

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ES. Please share with us your professional journey. What have been the major milestones and most amazing achievements and moments in your career?
Nichapa. Every step of my professional journey has crafted and sharpened my professionalism. Starting my career in 1988 as an executive secretary of the Chairman of CP Group which has been an elite conglomerate in the food and IT industry, I absorbed the art and science of coordination and prioritization which has shaped my character ever since.

  • My second career was at an exhibition company, Reed Exhibitions Thailand. My 23 years with the company with a humble start in marketing communications until becoming Managing Director, I breed my critical professional traits and found my love for this industry. And I proudly led the company’s exhibition portfolio into the top rank of the Southeast Asian region with double digit growth each year.
  • Then I was invited to serve the country at large with Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau or TCEB, spearheading the MICE Capabilities Development. I initiated the establishment of MICE Academy to incubate MICE future leaders; enforced international standards to upskill professionals and supplier; introduced sustainability to Thai MICE operators, food waste prevention, and.guideline on carbon-neutral events and ISO event sustainability.
  • Now I am in charge of Strategic Marketing and Business Development to make Thailand a preferred MICE destination in South East Asia.

ES. Please share with us your take on this situation
Nichapa. I would like to share my empathy with all MICE entrepreneurs facing the unexpected and unfortunate situation. But at the same time I would like to urge all to use this crisis as an opportunity to forge stronger collaboration in finding creative solutions and maximise this harsh uncertainty as a means to reprioritize our portfolio which can be crafted into new and future business opportunities. We need to prove the strength and resilience of the industry.

  • I believe every government is working strenuously to strike a balance between infection prevention and economic breath. One of their priorities is to assist SMEs, which include MICE entrepreneurs. We can assess to what extent such assistance can be utilized for our business plan and our portfolio reprioritization that can contribute to the recovery of the industry.
  • • In the end, I think we should be thankful for all medical professionals and staff for their dedication to keeping the infection under control and saving lives of the infected. If our MICE industry makes a strong recovery, they are undeniably the one whom we must sincerely feel grateful. If possible, we should look into how MICE industry can contribute to the development of medical and health sciences in order that the whole society can benefit from such development in the future.

ES. What do you see the roadmap ahead for MICE Tourism?
Nichapa. The economy will.shape scenario. Hygiene, safety, ROI, Content, Technology will play key elements as new norm in business events. Clients will be health conscious so exclusiveness, chartered flight, hotel and restaurant buy-out can be sought-after. MICE operators need to be flexible and adaptive.

ES. What can be the recovery guide for MICE?
Nichapa. As long as international travel is constrained by health and safety measures, the primary focus to boost the recovery is domestic market. As of now the government has allowed internal corporate meetings at the outside venues. Of course, under these circumstances, incentives to attract domestic meetings must be made available. Hygienic procedures must be put in place, content must be creatively designed to deliver strong return on investment and unique experiences, technology must be utilized to safeguard safety and save time. All in all, such available elements will lead to sustainability of the market which is the key for recovery. On the part of TCEB, we have designed the support schemes to attract domestic meetings by lowering some criteria so that the planners and organizations become motivated to hold the meetings.

  • Meanwhile we have also worked out the support schemes for overseas markets so that we are fully prepared to attract them once more lockdown measures are lifted for international travel to resume.

ES. What do you see as the upcoming trends of Exhibitions & Conventions?
Nichapa. The domestic market will become a primary market this year and possibly next year due to less barrier of travel, especially if the domestic situation can be recovered for business reopening. On a wider scale, global rotation of conventions is disrupted by the pandemic. It is, therefore, possible for regional convention to make a stronger presence. Technology will play a strong role in upgrading customer engagement and generate touchless experience. Hybrid or virtual events can be the answer as long as guarantee on safety cannot be firmly established. For exhibition, it is possible that show can be smaller, virtual platform will be used for match-making, thus, creating exclusive community for the show. One key trend is the sustainability of the event under the new normal environment which can be achieved by addressing hygienic concern in a strong manner.

ES. What is the silver lining of this pandemic?
Nichapa. The silver lining is the ongoing development of vaccine. Once available, it will elevate the confidence of business travelers to travel overseas. Let’s encourage those dedicated to vaccine development. While waiting for such breakthrough, we should make the silver lining ourselves by making preparation for the new business landscape. As I said, it’s time we reprioritize our portfolio, focus on the real core, streamline our business, reflect more strongly on the purpose reskill or up-skill ourselves and our manpower. At least when the lockdown is eased, we can restart operation with fresh and new strength. For Thailand, one silver lining is the government will be considering the fourth phase easing of the lockdown measures in June. We expect more room will be opened by that time for MICE business. TCEB and the stakeholders have drafted MICE Venue Hygiene Guidelines for the fourth phase easing and that will ensure the government that our industry is ready to deliver service with safety.

ES. What do you suggest to entrepreneurs who are facing stress in these times?
Nichapa. The crisis will come to an end finally. Stay positive and be future-focused. Become a thought leader making new creativity so that we can enjoy the sunshine. Since the impact of the crisis escalated, TCEB has been working closely with the stakeholders in finding how to develop new products and more attractive incentive program that will fulfill the emerging concerns and requirements.

ES. Will our industry remain the same as before? What are the areas which will see drastic changes?
Nichapa. I believe everyone in the industry accepts that the pandemic is the first phenomenon shaking the industry at the extent we have never experienced before. Of course the landscape will change as long as health concern is not yet completely tackled. To keep business alive under the new environment, we must exert more creativity on content, how to produce stronger ROI when we are bound by higher hygienic standards, touchless experience and crucial role of technology. All in all it is the redesign of the events. And the redesign will of course incur higher cost so it’s possible we will witness marketing partnership among suppliers and related parties to deliver package that can appeal to the clients.

ES. Do you think that even if exhibitions open, the exhibitors and visitors will likely to return? What is your assessment on the dynamics of this scenario?
Nichapa. They will return! Based on research of a number of organizations, they dearly miss live events, face-to-face interaction. But this will come true when they are assured of heath safety, no travel restriction, and more facilitation for their travel and participation in the event. Organisers themselves need to change their mindset, sharpening their focus on how to accommodate the clients’ needs and concerns. I think exhibitions are pure business and are desperately in search of business continuity. They will resort to more tools and technologies that can maintain their blood under the new constrained environment.

ES. What has been the impact of this pandemic on Thailand’s MICE sector?
Nichapa. Like everywhere, the pandemic has caused the postponement and cancellation of TCEB-supported events. 29 cancellations and 88 postponements, a loss of over 126,000 overseas travelers. Due to our experiences with past crises, TCEB has been, however, operating in crisis mode since January and set up COVID center in February to update the situation in Thailand for our clients. We are aware of the importance of assistance for the industry when they are facing with harsh uncertainties that cut their revenue stream. We have set up fund for venues to set up health and hygiene procedures, additional fund for both domestic and overseas events. We have eased up support criteria for events and are now working with the government to secure more funding to shore up the industry. All are aimed at compensating for their loss of business. Besides TCEB is launching the project to support organizers to hold webinar for meetings, use virtual platform for exhibitions and upskill their workforce with our e-learning platform. All measures are implemented under our 3Rs plan; response, recovery and restoration.

• On the part of the government, they have launched economic stimulus packages since March, providing soft loan, extending credit line, tax relief, higher tax deduction, wage compensation for business sector. And they have just passed the law on borrowing to inject fund into the economy. Travel industry is one of their targeted sectors because travel industry has been one of our major sources of income and has contributed to our GDP.

ES. TCEB and industry associations are working hand-in-hand to spearhead Hygiene Discipline for Thailand business Event Industry. Please elaborate this statement and can you share with us the new checklist and measures in practice?
Nichapa. TCEB and our stakeholders in the private sector are acutely aware of health, hygiene and public safety issues. They are a decisive factor for the continuity of our business and industry. We have collaborated to produce the industry guidelines that conform to the government’s overall preventive measures.

• Under the guidelines, the 5 key measures on hygiene and public safety established by the Ministry of Public Health must be strictly adhered to as follows:
1) limit the number of attendees (1 person per 2 sqm space), 2) body temperature screening (a system, such as application, is required for looking after, transferring and following-up the patients), 3) distancing practice within business premises, such as meeting room, elevator, restroom, canteen, 4) tracking system in case a delegate becomes ill after visiting the premise, and 5) queuing system with the separation of waiting areas before entering the premises

  • MICE Venue Hygiene Guidelines have 3 key practices: pre-event, onsite and post-event.
    1) The pre-event practices include preparedness of staff, transport, setting up of screening point, self-screening application or website for attendees to feedback within 24 hours before the event, manual on permitted number of attendees, instruction on holding large scale activities, hygiene instruction for attendees, etc. 2) The onsite practices focus on use of IT to mitigate risks, arrangement of venue to reduce touch points and regular cleaning of touch points and QR code for registration and satisfaction survey to ease the congestion, room layout for better ventilation, 2-meter apart seating, microphone set up at different points and regular cleaning after use. In case of speakers invited from location outside the host city, the attendees must be informed of safety measures taken to reduce incoming risks, such as shuttle service for speakers or providing accommodation near the venue for the speakers, etc. For exhibition, advance booking technology for visiting exhibiting booths to lower gathering crowds or virtual exhibition technology should be employed to create experiences for those waiting in the queue. Online platform should be developed for product booking or purchase, 3) The post event practices include the employment of waste management system that can prevent the infection, producing a report on event organization for concerned authorities in accordance with the orders and announcements of the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

ES. Can you share about exhibitions opening up in Thailand? Like the way in Korea and Hong Kong.
Nichapa. Now the exhibition center is allowed to reopen for business but the used space is capped at 20,000 sqm. The government will in June consider the fourth phase easing of lockdown measures which I think will open more room for business events to operate. At least the venues in Thailand have so far been investing in putting health procedures and protocols to ensure the safety of all involved in the events. I think their enthusiasm and precaution responses will win the confidence of the government for more opening up. With the prospect of more relaxed measures, the MICE landscape of Thailand will become vibrant in the second half of this year. We have now a list of 47 TCEB-supported shows and non-support events scheduled to open in August until December.  Many of them are ASEAN edition trade shows. The industrial sectors represented are varied from medical, agri-business, infrastructure, energy, food, retail, industrial manufacture.

ES. Germany has also classified exhibitions separate from Mass gatherings. What is Thailand’s take? Do they acknowledge the role of exhibitions and classify them differently from mass gatherings.
Nichapa. Yes we have taken it as a key issue for the industry, differentiating between business event or MICE and social gatherings. We have identified them as a separate sector. Thanks to the clarification, the Thai government has taken different approaches towards the two sectors. In May the government allowed the internal corporate meetings at outside venues but limited the number of participants to 50 under the second phase easing of lockdown measures. In June under the third-phase easing of lockdown measures, convention and exhibition centers are allowed to reopen for business but the maximum space used is capped at 20,000 sqm and activities generating large crowd gatherings are prohibited. Other mass gathering events, such as concert and sport, have remained closed and will be considered under the fourth phase of lockdown easing.

ES. Your 3 takes on how to cope with these times?
Nichapa. • Stay positive, stay open and be humble • Have Patience, wisdom
• Don’t waste the crisis (it’s opportunity to create something new and sustainable)

ES. What is your take on virtual events?
Nichapa. It is undeniably an essential platform of meeting as long as we are not yet ready to fly and travel to attend the event. All of us in the industry must embrace virtual technology to deliver service and be creative on how to use the virtual platform in producing impactful content and strong engagement at least to the extent that they can make up for the lost opportunities of physical meetings. With the possibility of stronger presence of virtual platform, we need to access, acquire and sharpen the expertise in managing such virtual platform in an efficient and effective manner.

  • At TCEB, we have Virtual Meeting Space (VMS) project to support organizers to hold their webinar for meetings and a virtual platform Offline to Online or O2O for exhibitions.

ES. What is your perspective on Air Travel opening up?
Nichapa. Yes air travel restriction is a real shock for our industry. But we have to acknowledge that the aviation authority has been working strenuously to prevent and control the pandemic at the first touch point, putting in place strict health protocols to ensure safety for all. Anyway when the situation improves, each country, I believe, will gradually open the sky because our economies are inseparably connected and business events are one key tool to drive the economy and international collaboration. Prolonging air travel ban will wreak havoc on all countries. Vaccine is being now developed and progress has been reported, so I believe confidence in safety, including air safety, will soar and that will unlock the travel ban finally. At least as of now Thailand has removed four destinations from the list of a high risk zone: China, Hong Kong, Macau and Korea. One possible scenario “Travel Bubble” which has now been the subject of much talk is the countries with low risk or where the situation is put under control can make a deal to open the sky with each other or with one another first.

Then other countries can join if they can control the infection and ready to restart business. This is a positive signal for our industry and the airline must exhibit strong or solid proof that flying is safe. There will always be a way out of crisis.

ES. Your message to the industry?
Nichapa. MICE is a resilient sector. It always comes back stronger. The pandemic has given us extra knowledge on how to treat and focus on safety issues. The situation shall pass and we should be be prepared to bathe in the sunshine again. For our living, the pandemic has taught us about work-life balance and sustainability is the key and core of how we live our lives.