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Monday, 03 August, 2015, 12 : 30 PM [IST]

MICE Tourism: Game-changer for India Tourism

India has acknowledged the importance of tourism, including MICE, and therefore has introduced various initiatives and schemes to augment tourist inflow and development of infrastructure. A sound MICE policy, newer MICE venues, and an aggressive publicity campaign could ultimately take India to the top, echo industry stakeholders. Akansha Pandey reports

The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences/ Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) business is one of the major revenue contributors to the overall tourism industry of India. Where domestic MICE business has been the saviour, the inbound MICE segment of India is growing at the rate of 15 to 20 per cent annually. In the coming years, Indian tour operators feel that with the prospect of a booming economy and pro-active government, infrastructure is bound to grow, which in turn will develop MICE Tourism.

Recalling the earlier days, Naveen Rizvi, Executive Director, TUI-Meetings and Incentives and ICE-Integrated Conference and Event Management, said that to promote India as a MICE destination, initiatives were taken in the 1950s when The Ashok Hotel was opened in Delhi as a premier convention property, followed by the generously-spaced Vigyan Bhavan. However, the infrastructure developments could not keep up with the pace as compared to those in South East Asia and China. The slowdown of growth in the past has pushed India to a back foot today. MICE venues with international standard facilities at Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia are way ahead than India in marketing and hosting prominent MICE events, Rizvi said.

Addressing a press conference Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy (DIPP), Govt. of India, also spoke in favour of creation of exhibition and convention infrastructure across India, besides the existing international stand-alone MICE venues in Hyderabad, Lavasa, and Jaipur. MICE is a thriving tourism segment in destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, he pointed out. India needs at least one MICE bureau and one convention and exhibition centre of international standard in each city. The convention and exhibition segment can provide round-the-year business to the industry, he suggested.

Naveen Rizvi
Amaresh Tiwari
Mario Habig
Anup Nair
Sanjeev Joshi
Shuvendu Banerjee
Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar
Sudhir Nair
Shashi Razdan

Optimistic Outlook
Rizvi said that with the improvement in infrastructure and up-gradation of prominent airports in gateway cities such as Mumbai, Delhi- NCR, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai, India is on the right track and on its way to establish itself as a quality MICE destination. Opening of convention centres and hotels with facilities of holding large MICE events will eventually enable India in bidding and winning more international conventions than before, felt Rizvi.

Amaresh Tiwari, Managing Director, A T Seasons and Vacations Travel, highlighted that despite all the hurdles, private players have created prominent MICE infrastructure in cities such as Hyderabad, Delhi-NCR, Chennai, Jaipur, Indore, and Mumbai, and they aim to continue making investments.

Mario Habig, CEO - Inbound Business, Le Passage to India, believes programmes such as ‘Skill India’ are expected to provide trained workforce on the lines of international standards, thus attracting a lot of industries from the world over. Besides, today India is serviced by over 80 airlines from more than 45 countries, making it an easily accessible nation. With FDI relaxation in aviation and the slow, but steady revival, of the national carrier, the expectations are looking good for the country, stated Habig.

Growth of MICE business is needed to boost tourism in India, and incentive travel is perhaps the fastest growing travel segment, claimed Anup Nair, Managing Director, Incentive Destinations. International event and incentive planners are looking for destinations where motivational experiences can give superior business results, and India being a culturally rich destination with varied tourism offerings should not miss this opportunity to capitalise on incentive travel segment, asserted Nair.

Reboot ICPB
Although India Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB), under the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), was established in 1988 with the sole objective of promoting MICE business in India, its journey hasn’t been very satisfying. Tiwari added that in the past 27 years, ICPB has organised just seven conventions. This year would record the eighth convention of ICPB. This in itself reflects the unfortunate state of affairs at the Bureau itself, he lamented. “ICPB was conceptualised on a PPP model where both sectors were to come together to promote MICE business in India. Unfortunately the ICPB secretariat was never strengthened enough with marketing fund to promote India as a premier MICE destination,” Tiwari opined.

Sanjeev Joshi, Director, Tourism India Management Enterprises, averred that for the past three to four years, ICPB is faced with internal strife, which has resulted in its gloomy image. Joshi added, “MoT needs to seriously look at restrengthening ICPB and probably changing the format of selecting the Board Members. Besides, with the new leadership of Dr Suman Billa, we are quite hopeful that things will change.”

Overcoming Challenges
Lack of infrastructure has been the greatest challenge for the growth of MICE Tourism in India. Even after 50 years since the country’s first convention centre was constructed, the MICE segment in India still has quite a long way to go. The largest exhibition centre in India, Pragati Maidan, needs an urgent refurbishment. As of today, India is not even equipped to host an event of 10,000 and above delegate-capacity. The country is in need of an additional convention facility for both large as well as small meeting spaces, urged Habig. Along with the same, what is critical is to formulate a sound MICE policy and its enforcement, he stressed.

Additionally, in order to seize the current opportunities, Joshi said, newer all-inclusive destinations and MICE hubs must be planned and structured in a futuristic manner. MoT, together with the Centre, needs to rehash and promote India’s image as a premier MICE destination overseas through prominent media and publicity campaigns, asserted Joshi.

At the same time, the government should also roll out strict measures in place for the safety and security of the tourists and its people alike. The increasing number of criminal offences in India has created a negative impact on the image of the nation. It will be difficult to attract MICE business from abroad with a tanned image, stated Rizvi.

Hotels augmenting MICE Supply
As per the Cushman & Wakefield‘s Hotel Views - 2015 report, the demand for MICE business in Mumbai is expected to grow steadily with the Reliance Convention Centre set to be developed at Bandra-Kurla Complex by 2017. The proposed development is likely to span an area of 18.5 acres, with a project cost of Rs 7,566 crore.

The recent introduction of inventory with JW Marriott Sahar Airport alone adding a whopping 585 room-key and 55,994 sq ft of total event space, and Taj Lands End, Mumbai with its proximity to the airport, boasts of 85,000 sq ft of both indoor and outdoor MICE space, have indeed added a feather to the city’s MICE supply cap.

The demand for meetings is on the rise in Delhi- NCR, and though companies are not splurging, luxury venues are not being ruled out either, claimed Shuvendu Banerjee, Director – Sales and Marketing, Crowne Plaza Gurgaon. He added that as demand for MICE is growing in the region, it is expected to steadily outpace the increase in supply. However, high interest rates and the short payback period make financing expensive for the newer MICE spaces to grow. Likewise, with so many hotel and stand-alone projects, the uncertainties in investment atmosphere could be a major worry for the hospitality industry, opined Banerjee.

Destination wedding is the new trend and has gained momentum with elite families from across the globe, considering Udaipur is a primary destination for organising weddings. The city hosts about Rs 30 to 40 multi-million budget weddings every year. For the same, many new hotels have incorporated conference facilities, and the influx of MICE business has also seen a rise, with corporate entities choosing the ‘City of Lakes’ for team-outings, mid-size conferences, training, offsite and corporate events.

But at the same time, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, Executive Director, HRH Group of Hotels, lamented that there aren’t big standalone MICE venues to accommodate large gettogethers. Rajasthan too, remains one of the Indian states with the poorest air and intra rail connectivity. For the MICE market to grow, the state needs to rethink its policies and work in tandem with the industry associations, believes Mewar.

MICE Tourism and business travel have grown on an average of over 15 per cent over the years, said Shridhar Nair, General Manager, The Leela Goa. The wedding segment especially has been fuelling the demand for the hotels in Goa. There has been a 20 per cent increase year-on-year in the wedding business, and with the growth in business travel, the gap between season and off-season has shrunk quite dramatically. MICE-centric hotels in Goa are as busy during monsoons as they are in the winter season.

While no doubt that the industry has witnessed growth in outbound MICE traffic, there has been a steady trickle of domestic and inbound corporate travel, which is picking up speed as India improves its infrastructure and establishes itself as a quality MICE destination, believes Shashi Razdan, Director of Sales and Marketing – South Asia, Golden Tulip Hotels and Resorts.

While convention centres in India are taking time to develop, hotels have already begun to meet the growing demand. Some of them have started building convention centres attached to their accommodation, and others are offering as many MICE facilities as possible within their premises. With a promise of brand quality, the offerings have started to place MICE Tourism in India on the domestic and international map. Today, MICE business contributes no less than 10-12 per cent for business hotels and 20-25 per cent for hotels with bigger conventions and large room inventory, concluded Razdan
 
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