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Wednesday, 25 September, 2019, 17 : 00 PM [IST]

MICE Tourism, Calls for A Different Approach

Besides infrastructure development, the government should embark on policy development and innovative marketing to make India a preferred destination for global companies to plan their MICE programmes here, writes Prasenjit Chakraborty.


Tourism, like any other industry is constantly evolving. Of late, the industry in India and globally, has witnessed the advent of new concepts to attract tourists. Ecotourism, Sustainable Tourism, Wedding Tourism are a handful of trends that have gained acceptance by travellers. However, if one takes a microscopic view of the industry in India, it is evident that MICE Tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) is one such concept, which still continues to remain a sleeping giant. Considering a case in point, the Hannover exhibition centre in Germany, one of the largest convention centres in the world, is spread across an area of 5,54,000 sq mtrs. By contrast, if we add the floor space of all the convention centres in India, it is around 5, 00, 000 sq mtrs.

According to an India Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB) report, as the MICE segment entering a matured phase the focus is shifting to Asia Pacific region from Europe, hence, the opportunity for India. India can emerge as the most preferred MICE destination in the Asia-Pacific region.

As per the findings of ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), India ranks 24th globally as a preferred destination for MICE. India has improved its position substantially in the recent times, when it hosted 175 meetings in 2017 compared to 143 for the previous year. However, despite this improvement, India lags behind its global competitors, and needs to focus on addressing vital issues like infrastructure, marketing & branding, taxation, etc. to increase its share.



Key Hurdles
Primarily, infrastructure development and effective marketing are the two important issues because of which the MICE segment in India hasn't been able to take off at a desired level. Even neighbouring countries have realised the value that MICE travel and are making concerted efforts to attract global meetings, conferences and exhibitions. For instance, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have marketed and packaged their convention offerings successfully over the years. India needs to get on the aggressive path by focusing on addressing key issues. "Lack of suitable infrastructure, air connectivity, inadequate marketing and promotional activities, problems of high taxation, security and regularity issues and difficulty in procuring visas along with fierce competition from neighbouring countries are some of the reasons why India is lagging behind on big-ticket MICE events. Firms often organise events in Thailand instead of Goa or Kerala due to high taxation," points out Rohit Walter, Brand Leader, FCM Incoming.

Gaurav Sundaram, President, ProKonsul, also agrees that overall state of infrastructure in the country is also not up to the mark for organising a large scale event. "Distance and connectivity from primary international markets are the other reasons," he adds.

Amaresh Tiwari, MD, A. T. Seasons and Vacations Pvt Ltd, believes that India concentrates more on the leisure segment than MICE, and high GST (Goods and Services Tax) rates are a stumbling block for India to emerge as a preferred destination for MICE. "We spend substantially on the leisure segment, but for MICE our total contribution to the world share is just 0.5%. Besides, GST at 28% is very high for attracting MICE, especially large conventions to India."

As far as big ticket congresses are concerned, India is still confined to Mumbai and Delhi, the key gateways, which are expensive and have reached a saturated point in terms of ground infrastructure. As an alternative, destinations like Jaipur, Vizag and Kochi need to be considered for development. "There have been various international conventions and events that keep taking place across the country, however, when we look at the professional scale, it's not an exciting story. Most events are regional in nature and can't be really termed as world-class in scale just because there are few international participants," says Rupen Vikamsey, MD, Tibro Tours.



Way Forward
In the past few years, the global spotlight has shifted to India. The population in India which was once seen as a baggage is now termed as an engine for growth. "Now when world is looking towards India, all it needs to do is build a robust world-class Infrastructure and roll out a red carpet (and not the red tape)," states Vikamsey. It will be inappropriate to say that India has not made any progress or there is lackadaisical approach from government's side.

The country is adding capacities with new venues and capacity additions like India International Convention & Expo Centre Dwarka, Pragati Maidan, Mumbai Convention Centre and newly opened Grand Hyatt Bolgatty, Kochi and Biswa Bangla Convention Centre Kolkata. However, according to ICCA, approximately 80% of the MICE events in India host less than 500 pax. It is time to look for events which are of greater magnitude. "To make it happen, we have to undertake focussed marketing approach and offer better tax structure," exhorts Tiwary.

In order to provide a momentum to MICE-related travel to India for international conference delegates, the government has extended the e-conference Visa facility to events organised by private organisations and industries as well. So far, this service was available for events organised by the government and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).



Take the example of Singapore MICE Advantage Programme (SMAP) that offers benefits to organisers as well as participants. The criteria are different for Corporate Meetings and Incentive Travel, World Congress & Association-based Conventions and Trade Exhibitions. India should emulate such measures to attract MICE visitors and make the destination attractive for foreign companies.

Though in the recent past there have been a significant development on the infrastructure front to facilitate large scale conventions, but the reality is India has to traverse a long distance. Taking in to consideration, the kind of Infrastructure that prevails in the developed nations known as MICE & Conventions hotspots, we are still behind by considerable miles. "We as an industry with support of government should set timelines to level up in next decade among the best destinations to host largest global conventions," says Vikamsey.

Currently, India enjoys a strong position in the global arena with the diplomatic outreach and aggressive marketing. At this crucial juncture, the government and the private players need to work in tandem to develop convention infrastructure and curate separate policies for the MICE segment. This along with targeted MICE promotions will go a long way in positioning India as a Top of the Mind venue among global destinations, event organisers and corporate entities alike.

prasenjit.chakraborty@saffronsynergies.in
 
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