Bangkok’s buzz wins corporate visitors

Posted on September 5, 2012

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No one really talks about it, but every week Bangkok’s top-ranked hotels play host to hundreds of corporate seminars and meetings.

Rain or shine, corporate delegates, mainly in their 20s or 30s, head for the Thai capital for presentations, sales pitches and seminars designed to motivate Asia/Pacific marketing and business development teams.

If they could cast a vote for their favourite meeting city, the bets would stack up for Bangkok to beat its competition by a considerable distance.

Corporations recognise Bangkok’s pull and when its competitive hotel prices are dropped into mix, it’s a hard act to beat.

An executive working for an international corporation in technology estimated the company organised around 10 seminars monthly and as long as Bangkok’s political environment remained stable it was the first choice ahead of Kuala Lumpur.

Hoteliers might be tempted to point to their facilities, meeting packages and their five-star service as the main reasons for success. They have a point the city’s hotels are as fine as they get and the rates a steal. But there is much more to Bangkok’s magnetism that helps to make this city one of the most popular venues for corporate meetings. It has a buzz to its lifestyle and entertainment.

For example, Bangkok scores high points in surveys that tap the opinions of expatriates on the most liveable capital cities in Asia/Pacific. They are attracted to the city’s vibrant lifestyle.

A recent Mastercard survey measuring travel trends suggested Bangkok will close this year as the third most popular city for travel after London and New York. It will top the charts of Asia Pacific cities with an estimated 12.2 million trips worth an annual spend of around US$19.3 billion.

In a word Bangkok has  buzz. Corporations might demand delegates’ full attention during the seminar, but Bangkok’s versatile entertainment scene grabs their attention after the sun sets. That’s good for business and encourages a positive environment for a seminar and happy delegates.

New generation entertainment is right there at the top rather than jaded bar lands that attracted the crowds in the 80s and 90s and gave the capital’s night life a negative image.

Today, the choice is more likely to be a street of chic restaurants, spas, wine bars and late-night drinking spots with rock bands than the jaded bar strips of Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Soi Nana.

On the golden mile of Sukhumvit Road’s five-star hotels, Soi 11 is referred to the as the new entertainment hub. Like most trends in Bangkok it was not planned by city authorities, or real estate developers. It evolved, slowly hardly warranting a mention.

Once the corporate meetings close, the second phase of networking begins in wine bars and chic restaurants. There are some unusual choices – a tapas bar in Soi 11 that has a comprehensive wine list at reasonable prices. Then there is a Peruvian restaurant and bar at a location called Above 11, which reflects the trend to create roof-top bars, where you can spend the cocktail hour enjoying the view of the busy tourist district below. Another roof-top venue is the Nest on Phoenix. The soi is packed with boutique hotels, spas, garden restaurants, a few quaint open-air Thai bars and even a teak house offering home-stay accommodation.

Skytrain accessibility transformed Sukhumvit and its small lanes into one of the most vibrant entertainment and shopping districts in the city. Hop on, hop off, the Skytrain you can be at your favourite pre-dinner bar venue in minutes and with little or no fuss transfer in minutes to a classy spot for dinner that would have taken 40 minutes on traffic congested streets pre-Skytrain era.

For most  young and energetic corporate visitors, Soi 11 remains the most popular place to be, or that is how it is described by gurus of the night scene.

Here are tips from those who do the ground work, live in the area and are drawn to its fun entertainment scene designed for international corporate travellers.

Cheap Charley’s (cheapest beer outside of a 7-Eleven store) is a fun place to meet before going out, while the hot bar on Soi 11 these days is Oskar. Q Bar is still the reigning nightclub as it underwent a makeover about a year ago and is more popular than ever.

Bed Supper Club gains mixed reviews. It is still popular mainly on the back of media reports written during its hey-day, but it is faces plenty of competition.

That doesn’t mean people don’t go there, but it tends to be people who don’t know where else to go or they are relying on yesterday’s recommendations. Several new clubs are under construction on Soi 11 as well, which is yet another sign that the district’s potential for partying has not tipped the brim.

Thonglor (Soi 55) district, further up Sukhumvit beyond the Emporium, has always been popular with Thais, but is now catching the attention of expatriates and corporate visitors.

Entertainment gurus tell me that “low key” people spend time at Fat Gut’z and Funky Villa, Demo and Muse all considered popular clubs. RCA is anther zone that is great for the younger (under 25) crowd with rock and heavy metal bands entertaining at a variety of locations. Route 66 comes highly recommended.

There are a few other fringe places such as Glow, but they tend to be a bit out of the way for people so they only get good attendance when there is a particularly good DJ or theme party.

BK Magazine is still the best way to keep up with what’s happening. Despite an overload of web sites, Facebook pages and e-mail lists, BK tends to hit the spot with its recommendations.

There are quieter more sedate options depending on your mood.

Patravadi Theatre & Studio 9 comes highly recommended by reviewers who claim visitors will experience the best modern dance performances in Bangkok.

Established by actress Patravadi Mejudhon, the open-air theatre and studio is credited for its fusion of Thai and Western dance styles. It’s a little pricy at US$13 a ticket, but worth it in sheer entertainment value.

Not my cup of tea, but Bangkok Opera is growing in reputation according to the popular tourist guide, Bangkok 101 magazine. It is credited with being Thailand’s first European-style opera, fusing Western styles with Thai stories. Tickets from US$16. The venue is at Baan Ruamjit, Sukhumvit Soi 22.

Definitely my first choice, the classical art of Thai puppet theatre has been mastered by the now famous Joe Louis troupe, which is about to move to a new permanent home at Asiatique, a brand new waterside entertainment complex, just beyond Ramada Riverside Hotel (former Menam). The Joe Louis Theatre will be the main cultural entertainment feature of the waterside venue late September.

Siam Opera opened in 2008 and fuses traditional Thai dance to opera with symphony and musicals. Close to the Skytrain the venue is located in the popular Siam Paragon Shopping Complex.

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Posted in: Bangkok