Reflected candlelight shimmers from the marble floor of the lobby in the Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai. Beside a picture of the King of Thailand, seven young girls clad in gold satin perform an immaculately choreographed traditional dance to celebrate his birthday.
They pride themselves on doing everything well at the Shangri-La Chiang Mai. It may be one of the reasons it’s been acknowledged by the Thai government as having the best meetings facilities of all five-star hotels in this relaxed city of 130,000 people.
They’re certainly the biggest. There’s a total of 2,350 square metres of meetings space here, including a ballroom that can accommodate 1,800 and an auditorium that can take 99. In the sprawling gardens, there’s plenty of room for special events like dinners, team building, lunches, cooking classes, yoga and other recreational activities. Venues in the grounds include the cabana area adjacent to the pools, ideal for smaller events; what the hotel calls its “secret garden;” and the swimming pool area itself which can be used for functions, cocktails and dinners.
In some ways this is a typical Shangri-La hotel, with the marque’s well-known tropical gardens, peaceful aromatic spa, selection of pleasant restaurants, sparkling pools, obliging and smiling staff, and 277 flop-down-on-the-bed-and-sigh rooms.
The mountainous surrounds of the upland city, about 40 minutes flying time north of Bangkok, and the hotel facilities combine to make it an enticing venue in every sense, according to Wiyada Sornprapha (top left), Director of Sales and Marketing.
Moreover the Shangri-La is the only hotel in Chiang Mai that has a comprehensive security system for checking vehicles and bags coming into the property, which is much valued by clients, especially those holding high-profile international events here, says Wiyada.
Another huge advantage is the property’s location, adds Communications Manager Saranya Buntem (top right). “We’re in the city, yes, but we’re close to markets, five minutes’ walk from our night market, shops, restaurants and the river and we have wonderful gardens and facilities in the hotel,” says Saranya. “The airport is 15 minutes’ drive away. It seldom takes more than ten minutes to get anywhere in Chiang Mai.”
Unlike many other Thai cities, Chiang Mai has no big shopping offer or beaches but it’s culturally rich with – because if its elevation – refreshing weather, says Wiyada. And not everyone wants to shop and breathe traffic fumes. “It’s perfect for those seeking a less hectic city experience in a serene and natural green environment,” she explains. She points out that it was declared “Best City in Asia” and “Third Best City in the World” at the Travel + Leisure awards in 2017. It was also recently designated a UNESCO Creative City.
But one of the best attributes of the Shangri-La, perhaps, is cost. Room rates start at around 130 US dollars, while the full-day conference rate is around 60 US dollars, including lunch. “That’s fantastic value considering we’re a five-star hotel and have indoor and outdoor facilities,” says Wiyada. “We’re very flexible. And when we talk about value, we’re not just referring to price; it’s also about value-added and the offer that we have generally.”
The hotel’s events campaign tagline is “Meetings Made More Rewarding”. In practice that means additional benefits that conference organisers don’t expect, like free cocktails, complimentary upgrades and discounts from the master bill.
And organisers and delegates can select what they like to match their requirements. There’s a “one-stop” events service, with dedicated staff helping organisers through every step of the process, from the time they arrive, she says.
Rates across the board for rooms and meetings depend on the season, with especially good deals available during the “green” period from April until October, Wiyada adds.
MICE clients include Thais (17% of the total business), mostly from Bangkok, while better air accessibility has resulted in growing trade from elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. For example there are direct flights to Chiang Mai now from major cities in China, Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and from Hong Kong, which is two-and-a-half hours away.
Indeed the expansion of the China business has been remarkable, adds Wiyada, with Chinese people travelling more than ever before and accounting for over a fifth of the hotel’s MICE enquiries. The Shangri-La has appointed staff who speak Chinese to help cater for this influx.
Events clients also come from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Europe, the US and Australia. About a third of the conference business is corporate, and a significant percentage of these inbound visitors bring their spouses with them, seeking a holiday or engaging outings, such as visits to the nearby elephant sanctuary.
“Weddings are also a big business for us, both for locals and internationally,” says Wiyada. “We’re considered to be the leading wedding venue in town because of our capacity and car park.”
With beautiful assets, business for the Shangri-La Chiang Mai is likely to continue to expand, and official government figures support this view. Last year, Chiang Mai welcomed around 10 million tourists, 7 million of whom were locals and 3 million of whom were foreigners. As of November, tourist arrivals to Thailand had reached 34.43 million, up 7.53 percent, generating an estimated Bt1.8 trillion (AUD 86 billion) in revenue for the country.
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