Written by: Andrew McArthur-Edwards
Same Same .. but kinda different
In late 2021, I made a promise to our staff that we would do an overseas conference in the early part of 2022. As the months went on, I feared we would get no further than Sentosa and the hope of bringing in people from our Australian and Malaysian operations would not be realized.
In February, we started to look at the option, and after some debate, we agreed to take the risk and organize a trip to Changmai for staff and families. We started planning in earnest to get up to 70 people on a four-day stay in the land of smiles.
Thailand tourism has been hugely affected by the events of the last two years, this was the first overseas conference group since before the pandemic which has always been a mainstay of their economy. Our ties with Thailand are close from the years of taking groups there in better times. It seemed a good opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves, the industry, and our clients that traveling for a conference in Asia was once again possible, and with fabulous support from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau who helped us work through the government regulations the ball started to roll and things started coming together.
Apprehension of travel reduced the group size almost immediately, and the others rushed to dust off and renew passports. The paperwork, meeting both the insurance required for Thailand and insurance we needed to protect staff was cumbersome and tricky to navigate, I’ll get to why this was so important later. Direct flight options from Singapore had been reduced to one every two days and flying via Bangkok still added a number of additional safety regulations which increased travel to days instead of hours. Those traveling from other destinations had an overnight stay in Singapore or enjoyed an extended stay in Bangkok before proceeding.
Rules imposed for quarantine and testing at first seemed nearly insurmountable and navigating the weekly changes to what was allowed was tricky. Eventually, the testing protocols became PCR before leaving, PCR and six hours quarantine on arrival (this is ending in April), and a medically administered ART test on the day prior to return.
After the inevitable loss of four people from positive tests before we left, further reducing our group to around 50 people we were off. Scoot were incredibly welcoming and the plane trip felt more like a party as we occupied half the seats and enjoyed the build-up to a great week. The airport felt like they were dusting off facilities just to cater for the first organized group in two years both in Singapore and in Thailand.
Additional paperwork of course in Thailand, however rather than the usual queue at customs, they laid out seating and helped everyone navigate through the requirements, and we all cleared without issue.
A mobile testing unit allowed us to do all the required testing on-site at the hotel before releasing everyone to their rooms for room service and a night of quarantine. (okay, perhaps we group quarantined in a suite for a great chance to get to know each other over a lot of drinks 🙂
The Shangri-la Changmai were made us feel special, though things took a while to get up to speed with a sudden increase in people arriving at once. They did everything they could to ease arrangements. Whilst the staff were great, the hotel had a feeling of being closed up for two years, again, we were probably half the clientele in the premises and most floors seemed yet to open. Looking around the town, it felt similar everywhere, with hotel window boxes you could see the floors that were open and the ones where plants had been let to die.
Again, the work of staff to try and prepare and stay ahead of the needs of a large group for the first time in two years meant pleasant, but slightly slow service for the first day until they had once again got into a rhythm and ran the way you normally take for granted in top tier premises.
Masks are required, but otherwise, it was fairly easy to conference as normal. Catering was superb, albeit too much the majority of the time as staff went out of their way to impress.
The Town and Activities
Changmai has suffered from the lack of tourism, the famous night markets are only about a quarter open, however, still plenty of choices and opportunity for everyone to experience the culture. The nightclub choices are limited with most being closed, which only meant that those that were open did a roaring trade and had a fun relaxed atmosphere. They have not forgotten how to cook and have fun!
The wonderful thing was the lack of queues. The famous Tiger sanctuary, famous as much for the wait as anything else was suddenly ours to have an extraordinary VIP experience you could usually only dream of.
A great team-building exercise created a tour of the city and a chance to give back as we supplied and assembled some much-needed wheelchairs for the local community.
I’d do it again tomorrow.