If you line up 20 boxes that Bangkok ticks that places like Singapore, KL and Sydney don’t, it wins on price, food, service, luxury and setting, says this hotelier. And the City of Angels has one other, matchless attribute.
“If you’re bringing eighty or a hundred people to a conference and you tell them it’s in Bangkok or Thailand, they’ll be excited,” says Paul Counihan, Cluster Director of Sales and Marketing for the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort and Spa.
“On the other hand if you say it’s in Bhutan or KL, they might decide to give it a miss. That’s because Thailand has an allure that makes it a wonderful choice for MICE decision-makers.”
Paul Counihan (pictured) should know. The engaging, effervescent 36-year-old is a career hotelier who admits to having started pulling pints when he was 14 years old in his native Ireland.
He’s lived and worked in Bangkok for the past nine years, and in his current post has helped make the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort – a sprawling, leafy resort on the banks of the Chao Phraya River – a five-star property that challenges brands like Peninsula and Shangri-la for luxury and service.
Thanks in part to Bangkok’s growing international appeal, the Anantara Riverside is attracting unprecedented levels of business and enquiries, Paul says. “The number of events we’ve hosted recently or that we have booked in is extraordinary.”
Recently a global pharmaceutical company had their annual conference at the hotel. It’s also hosted a German car manufacturer’s Asia-Pacific team, an airline’s internal meeting and launch, and a clean energy organisation among others.
Another key reason for his property’s – and Thailand’s – success as a MICE destination is price, Paul observes. The feedback he and colleagues are getting from clients in Australia, Singapore and elsewhere is that with the current economic and political uncertainty in the world, organisers are seeking to cut costs, while wanting to reward their people with great incentives at the same time.
‘Cheap as chips’
Room rates at Anantara Riverside Bangkok including all taxes, services and gourmet breakfast served on the hotel’s serene riverside terrace start at 5,000 Thai baht (about USD 140). Day conference rates range from USD 50 per person and delegates can upgrade up to USD 100 per person per day if they want to tailor-make the experience with, for example, additional servies like in-room baristas.
“In a city like Sydney you’d be paying $450 per night at a minimum to get into a place anything like this, with all additions on top of that,” says Paul. “We do fantastic private gala dinners for clients with over 20 live stations and 30 chefs serving, for around USD 50 per head; that’s cheap as chips.
“I’ve been in Bangkok for almost ten years and I want to cry sometimes at the prices I confirm for our premises, because it’s such good value! If I go to a meeting in Singapore and pay three times in a four-star hotel that I’m paying for a five-star suite on the river at Anantara, I’m reminded again that Bangkok is a winner.”
This may all help explain why the Anantara Riverside, a pleasant shuttleboat jaunt away from the centre of Bangkok, is seeing growth in events business that would normally have gone to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and other such destinations.
“We’re seeing more quoting up against other international cities than ever before,” Paul says.
The hotel is the flagship of the Anantara brand (owned by the Minor International group), which now operates 35 resorts in 11 countries.
With 408 bedrooms, which recently benefited from a USD $20 million upgrade, it’s set on 11 acres with 1,200 trees and 283 plant varieties growing on site. From the walkways of the lavish gardens and rooms, the Chao Phraya River and its teeming boat traffic are invariably visible.
The 12 meeting venues, spanning more than 3,000 square metres, all have natural light and include a grand ballroom that can comfortably seat 600 and which recently also underwent a million-dollar upgrade.
Avani opening next door
These spaces will be complemented by the addition of Avani Riverside, a new hotel, events and shopping precinct (opening scheduled April 2016) located adjacent to Anantara Riverside Bangkok. The $90 million Avani complex has 26 storeys, and when entirely complete will have 68 bars, restaurants and shops, and meeting facilities of 4,500 square metres (the new ballroom is pictured below). Each of the 248 Avani guest rooms and suites will have uninterrupted river and city views, Paul says.
Avani hotels, also owned by the Minor group, are what Paul describes as lifestyle, contemporary and international-style properties while Anantara represents more of a retreat and an experience – “luxury, relaxation and cultural experience of the location”. Avani is the first purpose-built hotel that Minor’s created worldwide.
“Meanwhile we’re developing an Avani in Perth, on Australia’s Gold Coast, and we’ve got 12 in Africa, having taken over half the Sun hotel group last year.”
Paul recognises that, now more than ever in the MICE market, corporate people are making big budgetary decisions when opting where to put their key people together for four or five days for an event. “Corporations see it as an opportunity to get two, a hundred or a thousand people in a room because that helps drive their business for the next year and beyond.
“We take the product we offer seriously, to create the right environment in which to conduct business and reward people, entertaining delegates and giving them a fantastic experience.”
For example at Anantara Riverside Bangkok the outdoor terrace has its own purpose-built stage and a light show, and executives can arrange to have private breakfasts on the river for up to 80 colleagues, he adds. Helping to ensure the success of tailor-made events are 630 staff. “It’s their dedication and service, which comes from the heart, that defines their work and our reputation. Their welcome is authentic and it’s what international guests expect.”