Tourism boards are hopeful that MICE events will be among the early segments to rebound and spur tourism globally, says Sakshi Sharma
History is evidence of how epidemics have had a direct and an immediate impact on airlines, travel aggregators and agencies. And undoubtedly, the travel and tourism sector is the first and worst hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These unprecedented times have forced the tourism boards to re-think radically. Nevertheless, their sight is fixed firmly on the future. Ideas are being floated as to how they will be able to function under such chaotic situations.
Recently, it was demonstrated that events can be held to everyone’s satisfaction even under these conditions. Gradually, some progress is being made to hold some exchange events and economic activities as the travel restrictions are being relaxed and participant numbers are increasing.
Alexandra Kaszay, managing director, Vienna’s The Hofburg Congress Centre, tells us that meeting one another and communicating face-to-face will come again. “The longing for that is huge, that’s the message we’re getting from most conversations. People will have to adjust to events with fewer guests on site and instead more participants joining in externally,” she says.
In line with the safe and gradual resumption of events, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is starting to accept applications for organisers to pilot Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) events of up to 250 attendees from October 1. There will be pilot events taking place under this arrangement such as the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) Conference, in October.
The move takes into account the importance of the MICE sector and its interest in the business events, and, in turn, a ray of hope for a fresh beginning of travel. This resumption will help MICE retain critical capabilities, while safeguarding jobs and livelihood in the industry and other related sectors. It is a major part of the tourism ecosystem and that of the economy as a whole, as it supports numerous ancillary businesses, thus, contributing to jobs and growth. Opening up bidding processes for MICE now will help build liquidity across the travel supply chain. It can, hence, spur tourism in India and at large.
Raymond LIM, area director, India & South Asia, STB, says, “Overall, visitor arrivals from India to Singapore have seen good growth in the past few years. This can be attributed to the increased air connectivity between Singapore and India. There is a healthy flow of business travel at both sides due to the well-connected economic exchanges. The leisure destination position that Singapore enjoys among the Indian consumers are also other reasons why it is one of the top MICE source markets for Singapore, particularly for meeting and incentive travel. This is a key sector with quality visitors providing high tourism yield.”
He adds, “The evolved Indian MICE traveller tends to seek out more unique experiences. In this aspect, we are home to a diverse range of events and MICE venues, including unconventional destinations, which can provide creative solutions for event owners. Beyond the meeting room, business travellers and delegates can enjoy a wide range of unique and interactive leisure experiences.”
Neliswa Nkani, hub head — MEISEA, South African Tourism, believes that MICE is soon going to be consumer-centric. She says, “Companies and destinations will need to incentivise both corporates and suppliers. We have collaborated with policy-makers, industry leaders and media to educate about travel trade.”
According to organisations like UNWTO, WTTC and others, MICE events have wider implications for destinations as wherever events go wider, tourism activities follow attracting a lot more leisure tourists in the ensuing months and years. Prashant Chaudhary, Representative of Russian Union of Travel Industry in India believes that Russian Tourism will emerge stronger from the COVID-crisis and these events will lead the way. “It has already begun,” says he.
It is noteworthy that the country recently hosted one of the leisure shows ODYKH in its original physical format in Moscow. Prashant shares, “The MICE sector of tourism is being opened. It impacted the larger domestic, inbound and outbound of the tourism markets. Russian charter flights are already seeking permissions and landing slots to Goa, probably the most popular destination for Russians in India.”
Arzan Khambatta, head, Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) India, tells us that the convention and exhibition industry has been one of the fastest-growing emerging sectors in the recent years. “Rich cultural background and tourism resources help us meet the needs of different events,” he says.
Well, given the current situation, COVID-19 has definitely impacted the industry in many ways. But the tourism boards are hopeful that MICE will be among the early segments to rebound and spur tourism globally. In the coming months, they plan to work extensively with MICE agents and corporates in India to facilitate arrivals once travel restrictions are lifted completely.