Countries and regions across the world have long understood the potential of the MICE segment as a vehicle 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, both regionally and globally, aided by greater air connectivity. At the same time, the industry has been shaped by new technologies and rising security concerns, as well as budget constraints caused in part by the 2008 global financial crisis and the lower oil price environment that emerged in mid-2014. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about MICE.
The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), a global industry network, reported in its “Statistics Report 2016” that the MICE industry has seen significant growth, with the number of meetings held globally doubling from just under 6000 in 2006 to over 12,000 in 2016. The ICCA’s global rankings of annual meetings per country were dominated by Western markets: the US, Germany, the UK, France and Spain comprised the top five. Notable emerging economies that performed well included Argentina at 19th, Mexico (21st) and Thailand (24th).
Looking forward, the emergence of new industries such as financial technology, driven by the arrival and growth of global markets for blockchain technology, are likely to have a positive impact on the sector, according to the Incentive Business Travel and Meetings (IBTM) “Trends Watch Report 2017”. “These markets create opportunities for entrepreneurs, trade associations and corporate organisations to share knowledge, network and communicate. They create new businesses, business growth and industry communities; exhibitions, meetings [and] incentive programmes,” the report said.
While IBTM was optimistic in its most recent report about the potential positive impacts of disruptive technologies on the growth of niche markets for the sector, it was more cautious about the short-term prospects for core industries that have traditionally generated demand, particularly construction, pharmaceuticals and conventional banking, all of which have experienced the knock-on effects of government efforts to curb risk.
The MICE industry is made up of a large number of players, including event organisers, sponsors, planners and accommodation providers. This means that becoming established as a centre of the industry requires a time investment to develop ample infrastructure and awareness, as well as considerable financial resources.
In the Gulf, Dubai plays a dominant role: the emirate accounted for around $351m in 2015, or 27% of the $1.3bn GCC-wide MICE market, according to the PwC subsidiary and consulting firm Strategy&. Much of this was centred around the Dubai World Trade Centre, the emirate’s largest and most high-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 hubs, 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 24th-most popular global destination in terms of the number of association meetings organised, according to the ICCA, Thailand’s MICE sector continues to deliver growth. In FY 2016/17, which ran from October to September, the country received 1.05m MICE visitors, representing a 4.7% increase on the previous year, according to data from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). With MICE travellers estimated to spend an average of two to three times more money than leisure visitors, this highlights the importance of the industry, which contributed $3.2bn to Thailand’s GDP in 2016.
A number of other emerging economies have recognised the importance of expanding their facilities and building a reputation as a location of choice for conferences and meetings. “We are seeing growth across Africa, and we need 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. We are on a positive trajectory, but not yet where we want to be,” Susan M Ongalo, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Federation, told OBG. “MICE is growing, and we are trying to ensure areas other than Nairobi have facilities that can hold big and small conferences,” she added.
Other countries are also trying to expand their offerings outside of major cities as they look to tap growing demand for social and cultural engagement opportunities, which are often available near natural and historic sites away from large urban centres. This can also help to revive traditional tourist destinations, as business attendees increasingly wish to travel with their partners or families, a trend that is especially evident in Mexico, according to Blanca Rodríguez, managing director of Banyan Tree Capital México, a luxury tourism investment firm. “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 alongside business-related activities,” Rodríguez told OBG.
At a November 2017 meeting of the Events Industry Council (EIC), a non-profit federation for industry firms, the top-five trends shaping the sector were outlined. These included safety and security; cybersecurity and data-protection regulations; demonstrating relevance; workforce trends in relation to 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.
There is a strong focus on added security in the sector, as countries need to prove that they are a safe option. This includes risks related to violence and terrorism, cybersecurity and dangers related to extreme weather hazards, such as the flooding seen in South Asia, the US and the Caribbean in recent years. When highlighting top industry trends towards the end of 2017, Karen Kotowski, president and CEO of the EIC, observed that security was the number-one concern for most members. Indeed, a report published in early 2018 by the Ostelea School of Tourism & Hospitality in Barcelona highlighted that Turkey had lost more than 45% of events it had previously hosted following the terrorist attacks and political unrest of recent years.
“The Kenya Tourism Federation has carried out terrorism awareness training for industry operators in conjunction with Western diplomatic missions in recent years, as it seeks to overcome perceptions of insecurity and risk following the September 2013 terrorist attack on Westgate Mall, which killed 67 people, as well as further sporadic attacks from Al Shabab militants,” Ongalo told OBG. “Kenya’s tourism authorities see MICE as a particularly important segment because of its positive multiplier effects. Once people come for conferences, they will shop, eat and spend money on entertainment. This has positive effects on the wider economy, not just on the tourism sector,” she said.
Cybersecurity has also become a key area of focus. While the EU has pushed ahead with its General Data Protection Regulation, which is effective from May 2018 and provides a framework for the processing of personal data, all regions of the world are putting more emphasis on online security.
New technologies are expected to reshape the MICE industry in significant ways, meaning that to stay ahead of the game, players need to embrace cutting edge developments. A January 2018 report by Allied Market Research, titled “MICE Industry by Event Type – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2017-23”, underscored this. “Currently, technology plays a vital role in MICE business growth as many corporations adopt e-conferences as a substitute for face-to-face meetings and conferences,” the report said, adding, “the major restraint for the growth of the MICE industry is the operational cost associated with these companies. 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 global 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 personalising user experiences through technology and data collection. As such, MICE destinations in possession of well-developed ecosystems for ICT innovation are poised to benefit.
In conversation with OBG, Florencia Scardaccione, CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Argentina, underscored the growing influence of technology and data in tourism. “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,” she said. “In this sense, the city is in a preferential position, being ready to take advantage of new opportunities arising from the use of online tools given both the technological competence of our workforce and the proliferation of IT companies.”
Technology is helping event organisers track a whole range of important indicators, from delegate movements to overall participation and sentiment. In addition, the BCD Meetings and Events “What’s Trending” report published in 2017 pointed to new technologies and activities, such as novel seating arrangements and personalisation, as ways to generate an experience that will translate into brand loyalty.
While technology is changing the MICE landscape, engagement will be the primary factor shaping the sector in 2018, according to the global destination and event management company Pacific World, based in Barcelona. “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 time of 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. We’re seeing a new generation of global citizens that are committed to the idea of an open and interconnected world.”
According to the BCD report, destinations need to consider ways to create 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, the capital city of Lima offers up its 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 Pichu. Meanwhile, Morocco is capitalising on its national and international transportation links to present itself as a gateway to the Atlas Mountains, as well as to the cities of Marrakech and Fez.
While technology has the capacity to enhance the MICE experience, real-life engagement remains an important factor. “Fortunately for us as a convention and exhibition centre, people still have the desire to meet. There is a strong demand for face-to-face meetings, interaction with peers and listening to experts in their specific fields,” Trevor McCartney, general manager at the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC), told OBG.
This trend is also present in Thailand, where it is being incorporated into plans. “MICE venues are best when hotels, restaurant and entertainment facilities are positioned next to each other. We understand this, so Thailand will be looking to develop this ecosystem further,” Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of the TCEB, told OBG.
Value of Training
As in the majority of sectors, investment in training is usually a good barometer for the general health of the industry. The IBTM report states that, “When the training ‘tap’ is turned on, it usually signifies an imminent uplift in incentive programmes, conferences and large meetings; and is an indicator of a company investing in staff and growing its business. At the moment this tap is on, and the confidence our members have is high.”
According to the EIC, a number of factors are affecting the industry employment, with the role of 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 counsel said.
Another key emphasis right now is on human resources. McCartney pointed out that the ICCA, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, the International Association of Convention Centres and the Professional Convention Management Association have all helped to create industry-wide standards. Many countries are also focused on further improving standards, by creating specialised departments to work with educational institutions to offer courses that are tailored to prospective sector employees. Oman Tourism College, for example, introduced a bachelor’s degree in event management in the 2014/15 academic year.
Overall, the next few years are likely to witness substantial growth in traditional and emerging MICE markets, buoyed by improving global economic conditions, the emergence of new industries and a growing appetite for travel. Alongside this, trends such as an increased focus on security, an effort to create new experiences and the enhancement of existing offerings via technology will help shape the industry in the near and medium term.
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