Security and engagement key to growth in the global conferences and exhibitions industry

 

Countries across the world have long understood the potential of the MICE segment to drive high-value tourism and economic development. In recent decades this has led to significant investment, with nations working to position themselves as centres for the industry, aided by greater air connectivity. The industry has been shaped by new technologies and rising security concerns, as well as budget constraints brought on by such things as the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2014-17 lower oil price environment. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about MICE.

Performance

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), a global industry network, noted in its “Statistics Report 2017” that the number of meetings held globally has doubled from under 6000 in 2006 to 12,563 in 2017. The rankings of meetings were dominated by Western markets: the US, Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy comprised the top five. Notable emerging economies that performed well included Argentina at 21st, Mexico (22nd) and Thailand (25th).

Looking forward, the emergence of new industries such as financial technology, driven by the arrival and growth of markets for blockchain technology, are likely to positively affect MICE. According to the Incentive Business Travel and Meetings (IBTM) “Trends Watch Report 2017”, this shift opens “opportunities for entrepreneurs, trade associations and corporate organisations to share knowledge, network and communicate”, facilitating the creation and growth of businesses.

While IBTM was optimistic about the potential positive impacts of disruptive technologies on the growth of niche markets, it was more cautious about the short-term prospects for core traditional drivers of demand, particularly construction, pharmaceuticals and conventional banking, all of which have experienced the knock-on effects of government efforts to curb risk.

Standing Out

The MICE industry comprises many players, including event organisers, sponsors, planners and accommodation providers, so becoming an established MICE centre requires substantial time and capital to develop infrastructure and awareness.

In the Gulf, Dubai plays a dominant role: the emirate accounted for $351m in 2015, or 27% of the $1.3bn GCC-wide MICE market, according to the PwC subsidiary and consultancy Strategy&. Much of this was based around the Dubai World Trade Centre, the emirate’s largest and highest-profile conference centre, which contributed a record $3.27bn in retained value to Dubai’s GDP in 2015.

Meanwhile, in the Asia-Pacific region, Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul are key centres, whereas in Latin America, Buenos Aires, Lima and Mexico City are the top-three destinations, according to the ICCA. Paris, Vienna and Barcelona lead in Europe, while in North America, Montreal, Toronto and New York stand out. As the ICCA’s 24th-most popular global destination in terms of the number of meetings, Thailand continues to see growth in MICE. In FY 2016/17, running from October to September, the country received 1.05m MICE visitors, representing a 4.7% increase on FY 2015/16, according to the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). With MICE travellers spending an average of two to three times more than leisure visitors, the industry contributed $3.2bn to Thailand’s GDP in 2016.

New Opportunities

Other emerging economies have recognised the importance of expanding their facilities and building a reputation as a location for conferences and meetings. “We are seeing growth across Africa, therefore the need arises to construct high-quality facilities in Kenya. Both here and across the region, we are trying to catch up and position ourselves in the market. Kenya’s tourism industry is on a positive trajectory but are not yet where we want to be,” Susan M Ongalo, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Federation, told OBG. “MICE is growing, and, together with the county authorities, we are trying to ensure areas other than Nairobi have facilities that can hold big and small conferences.” Nations are looking to tap growing demand for cultural engagement at sites away from large urban centres, which can help revive traditional tourist destinations. “As Mexico’s economy becomes more interconnected, more lower-middle income segments are travelling for work purposes. This, combined with their extra disposable income, often means they travel with their families, which has led to a boom in the demand for traditional tourism facilities for children,” Blanca Rodríguez, managing director of luxury tourism investment firm Banyan Tree Capital México, told OBG.

Key Trends

The Events Industry Council (EIC), a nonprofit federation representing industry firms, outlined the top-five trends shaping the sector at a November 2017 meeting: safety and security; cybersecurity and data-protection regulations; demonstrating relevance; workforce trends in disruptive technologies; and diversity, inclusion and the value of global perspectives, particularly in terms of encouraging diversity in supplier selection and greater representation across the sector.

Security

There is a strong focus on security, including risks related to violence and terrorism, cybersecurity and extreme weather hazards. When highlighting industry trends towards the end of 2017, Karen Kotowski, president and CEO of the EIC, observed that security was the top concern for most members. Indeed, a report published in early 2018 by the Ostelea School of Tourism & Hospitality in Barcelona highlighted that Turkey lost over 45% of events it had hosted following the political unrest of recent years.

“Kenya’s tourism authorities view MICE as a particularly important segment due to its multiplier effects,” Ongalo told OBG. “Once people come for conferences, they will shop, eat and spend money on entertainment, spreading positive effects to the wider economy.”

Cybersecurity has also become a key focus. While the EU has pushed its General Data Protection Regulation, which became effective in May 2018 and provides a framework for the processing of personal data, there is a growing worldwide emphasis on online security.

Technological Change

New technologies are expected to reshape the MICE industry, but to stay ahead of the game, players need to embrace innovation. A January 2018 report by Allied Market Research, titled “MICE Industry by Event Type – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2017-23”, underscored this, noting that corporations are increasingly using e-conferences as a substitute for in-person meetings. “The major restraint for the growth of the MICE industry is the operational cost associated with these companies,” the report said. “However, the use of teleseminars and virtual meetings to eliminate travel expenses may prove to be a significant growth opportunity in the future.”

According to a survey by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), a US-based meeting and event-planning association, 63% of executives in MICE tourism expect an increase in virtual attendance at events. The MPI’s “Meetings Outlook 2018 Winter Edition” report also found that event planners were focusing on using technology to personalise user experiences. As such, MICE destinations in possession of well-developed ecosystems for ICT innovation are poised to benefit. “The role of technology and digital tools in the tourism industry, and more specifically in the MICE segment, is rapidly growing in the region, with Buenos Aires being one of the top-five markets,” Florencia Scardaccione, CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Argentina, told OBG.

Technology is helping track delegate movements, participation and sentiment. In addition, the BCD Meetings and Events 2017 “What’s Trending” report pointed to activities, such as novel seating arrangements and personalisation, as ways to generate brand loyalty.

Engagement

While technology is changing the MICE landscape, engagement will be the main factor shaping the sector, according to the Barcelona-based, global destination and event management firm Pacific World. “In the last year we have seen a change in the way our clients approach travel,” Patricia Silvio, global marketing manager of Pacific World, said at the publication of the company’s 2018 trend forecast in October 2017. “An incentive is not a nice trip to reward an employee; it is an opportunity to interact, learn and experience.”

According to the BCD report, destinations need to look at creating experiences, with travellers increasingly seeking to participate in cultural exchanges, connect with nature and history, and have meaningful and environmentally responsible trips. In Peru, for example, Lima offers gastronomy and connectivity with the city of Cusco in the south-east, allowing conference delegates to extend their stay for a few days and visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. Meanwhile, Morocco is capitalising on its national and international transport links to present itself as a gateway to the Atlas Mountains, as well as to the cities of Marrakech and Fez.

Face Time

While technology can enhance MICE, real-life engagement remains important. “Fortunately for us as a convention and exhibition centre, people still have the desire to meet,” Trevor McCartney, general manager at the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, told OBG. “There is a strong demand for face-to-face meetings, interaction with peers and experts in specific fields.”

This trend is also present in Thailand. “MICE venues are best when hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities are near each other,” Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of the TCEB, told OBG.

Training

As in many sectors, investment in training is a good barometer for industry health. The IBTM report notes that greater outlays for training indicate growth in MICE, causing greater investor confidence. According to the EIC, various factors affect industry employment, with automation, outsourcing, new technology and disruptors changing cost models. “Workforce development, defining career paths, staying ahead of technology, and acquisition and retention of talent continue to be top priorities,” the council said.

Human resources is another focus, with the ICCA, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, the International Association of Convention Centres and Professional Convention Management Association helping define industry standards. Many countries aim to improve upon this, working with educational institutions to offer courses tailored to prospective employees. Oman Tourism College, for example, introduced a bachelor’s degree in event management in 2014.

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