Outbound MICE and India: Growth and challenges

If destinations are serious about adding numbers and attain their statistical ‘Nirvana’, it will hold in good stead to focus on MICE movements.

Photo: Unsplash

When the going is good and the cats are at play, can the Indian MICE still be stuttering around? What started as a trickle is almost reaching a range of a matured storm! The globetrotting Indian is all set to disembark on International shores on a stomping spectacle of money, aspiration and, of course, bragging rights! 

International Research body DPI Research states “India is poised to be the world’s fastest-growing outbound MICE tourism market, generating over US$ 45 Billion by 2025 in revenue and will generate more than 2 Million outbound MICE tourists by 2020.” The ‘World Travel and Tourism Council’ (WTTC) reports Indian spends outside the country while traveling abroad has doubled in the past 10 years, from $7.5 billion in 2005 to nearly $16 billion in 2015. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that India shall account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020, growing at an annual growth rate of 10 – 12% over the last seven years and further expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 7.23% during 2016 – 21. UNWTO further estimates Indian spend power as being at least four times that of the Chinese and Japanese. The average Indian spends USD 1,200 per visit as compared the Americans, who spend USD 700 and the British, who blow up USD 500! 

The growth figures augers a favorable response from the National Tourist Offices, who are vying for a piece of the Indian action. The Indian mission of the United States, a destination previously perceived as a major VFR market has now undertaken as per Export USA, activities to stimulate the MICE market and counter perceptions of the US being a difficult destination due to concerns about visas, costs, and distance. 

The Indian MICE market will grow exponentially and, if numbers do indicate, it is poised to be the fastest growing MICE markets in the world! If destinations are serious about adding numbers and attain their statistical ‘Nirvana’, it will hold in good stead to focus on MICE movements! Indian traditional businesses prefer short-haul destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia (mainly Bali), Sri Lanka and Dubai. What will endure as a MICE Destination catering to the needs of the Indian MICE market, here are a few attributes: 

Planning a board meeting at Gambling Meccas of Las Vegas and Macao to organizing a fun-filled dealer rendezvous on the Ibiza water-front no longer raises eyebrows. Well, even our well-oiled Swamis has discovered new occasions and added to their followers by holding their Satsang’s and Yoga discourses in middle of the high seas, aboard some of the finest luxury cruise-liners. 

Easy and cheap visas: Bulk of the Indian MICE market is highly cost-driven. The rule is simple, the higher the cost of visas, the lower the destination preference. Preference for Visa on Arrival / E-Visas / Group Visas. Long visa approval time over 7 days will help you stay uncompetitive. Indians love free visas! There was one wedding group from Kolkata, which took over 20 helpers to lift luggage of guests! The higher the number of documents for the visas, the less popular the destination gets. Credit to the US Consulates in India, they sometimes offer Group Visa interviews for Indians. Indians would be probably the only consumer anywhere in the world, wherein, if not for the cumbersome visa procedures, can actually plan and execute an event in Europe on a week’s notice! 

Direct flights and connectivity: With air connectivity, currently on steroids mode, in spite of Jet Airways losing its wings, the logistical support to destinations for multi-city boarding of delegates have also helped in the rapid rise of meetings and events held overseas! Three – Four hours of flight-time are ideal, but not a compulsion! If you are looking at bigger group movements from India, the higher the connected cities are with the destination, more chances of one bagging the event. Multiple Airline embarkation points are nice, but never underestimate the power of an Indian wedding group, where at one instance, a planner had to charter three aircraft to ferry marriage guests from Kolkata to Port Louis in Mauritius, paying three times the average fare! 

Indian food: What is about Indians and their food preference? Well, it is what it is..Indian food is mandatory for big groups, though some will surely try the local fare. Get your list of Indian restaurants out, speak with the Convention Hotel on getting Indian food. Educate them about the preference for Indian food, Jain Food, Indian Vegetarian food (not Asian Vegetarian). Also, explore opportunities for Indian Chefs to fly down to help cater for the group. At most Indian mega weddings, having an Indian Maharaj being flown down is almost certain! The One big Gala Dinner can be a raucous affair, running late into the night (on a heady mix of noise, music, and unlimited alcohol), especially if you are catering to a dealer meet! One Cruise-liner found it the hard way when they had to refund the fare to other guests, who were clearly discomforted by the behavior of some of the members of this elite group recently! Availability of Hard liquor is important while Wine and Cheese are for those from a nearby planet! Your catering manager will have his hand’s full, but that’s the way it is! Do not see this change in a hurry! and of course, Dinner starts any time after 8.00 pm and at most times go on till dawn. 

There is a growing market for an upmarket, luxurious, boutique small meetings. Even in this case, it should be noted to include a vegetarian and Jain menu. The Indian luxury market is predominantly vegetarian, with over 80% of the top 500 Richest people in the country, belonging to communities that can relish, endure and nurture Vegetarianism! Remember, meeting a South African DMC, who had started working with the Indian market, remarking that for the very first time, he came across a term called ‘Non-Vegetarian’. If catering to a South Indian group, don’t forget to offer Curd Rice, you’ll win them over for life! Well, just some food for thought! 

Hotels and event infrastructure: Paramount! Indian companies rarely chose anything less than a four-star hotel’ Preference is given to hotels with good ratings, service standards and above all, flexibility. Big groups – get ready for requests for triple sharing, late-check outs (it can vary from 30 minutes to 12 hours!) and last-minute cancellations/additions, etc. In Room-dining and baggage services are expected! The request is simple – Best in the ‘value-for-money’ deals. India is probably, the world biggest last-minute market and one’s ability to adapt would only enhance your ability to win over! Indians cherish helpful assistance over the stiff-upper-lip extreme professionalism. 

Unique MICE offerings: The market for unique meeting spaces, though on the upswing is still small! Jungle Safari camps, Meetings in Antarctica with the Penguins, Breakfast with the Orangutans, Weddings on the turquoise waters and other bewitching settings, etc., all offer tremendous niche opportunities and a growing market! A Travel Agent recently was even planning the logistics for a program in Turkey for Indian corporate to organize a team building activity on the Bosporus strait in Istanbul on a Yacht race from the Asian to the European Side of the country! 

With only about 2% of the population having traveled abroad or even own a passport, the potential is immense and only poised to grow. The Outbound MICE Market from India is no mood to slow down! The onus to tap a market, wherein the rewards to the economies are immense by hosting an Indian MICE traveler clearly lies with discerning destinations and convention-bureaus! and of course..more MICE to catch!


“Future Meeting Space” research to focus on role of events in corp comm

The GCB German Convention Bureau has launched the third phase of its “Future Meetings Space” research project, looking into the value of meetings and events in a changing business environment.

The GCB German Convention Bureau has launched the phase III of its “Future Meeting Space” research. Scheduled to be completed in December 2020, this latest project is designed to build on the prior two research phases by looking at the following five questions:

  1. What is the future role and purpose of meetings and events in organizations’ communications mix?
  2. What are the different purposes and objectives of business events?
  3. Based on the above, what are the requirements and expectations of target groups and stakeholders?
  4. What is a successful event and what means are there to measure success?
  5. What are the required competencies and skills needs by organizations and employees?

The project is supported by the GCB and the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC) as well as Maritz Global Events Inc., Xing Events GmbH, KFP Five Star Conference Service GmbH, SevenCentres of Germany and Radisson Hotels. Research is carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, which is part of Fraunhofer Society, Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization.

The goal of this third piece of “Future Meeting Space” research is to establish the ongoing value of meetings and events at a time when technology is enabling new ways to interact. The final research report will identify requirements for industry stakeholders and provide appropriate strategies as well as develop competency profiles for event planners and suppliers. With a view to measuring success, the research will also identify relevant KPIs so that in particular event planners within corporations and organizations can document the value of meetings and events.

As part of the research process, a catalog of innovations that were produced in the first research phase in 2016 will be updated to reflect digital developments, trends and innovations (e.g., big/smart data, social profiling, 5G, AI, cybersecurity) and their relevance for meetings and events. “If phase I looked at the ‘how to’ aspect of future meetings, and phase II determined the ‘who’ aspect, including evaluating different participant needs, phase III will now complete the picture and explore the ‘why’ of meetings and events,” says GCB managing director Matthias Schultze.

Apart from the innovation catalog, six so-called future meeting scenarios were developed in phase I of the Future Meeting Space research. Phase II, which ended last December, focused on event success factors, concluding that to satisfy attendees, event planners should focus on knowledge transfer as well as surprising or disruptive elements that bring about a change. The survey also identified different attendee types that need to be considered when creating events. Results from from phase I and II are available here:

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The Indian hotel branding story

Most international brands that have bombarded India in the last decade or so, have brought with them their perceived brand value.

Photo: Unsplash

India has been one of the early players in the hotel branding business with the mighty Taj and The Oberoi being the discerning pioneers, who devised together peerless standards and famed Indian hospitality into a globally acclaimed brand-standard! The brand is what the brand brings to the table. It brings a promise of what the brand hopes to deliver, thus creating the essence of consumer familiarity and recall.

 Indian entrepreneurs have always loved to name their immovable asset after their loved ones: Daughters and sons, wives and parents. Some interesting names that have christened their hotel empires after families include the Oberois, Marriotts and the Hiltons, while the Tatas decided to name it after India’s marquis monument of love and the Imperial Tobacco Company (now just known as ITC), flush with nicotine-infused wealth have experimented with franchises, upgrade franchises and now ITC (some might even accuse them of selling cigarettes in guise of luxury hospitality!). ITC, the great Indian multi-brand, multi-dimensional Moghul has been for some reason, been reasons known to itself has been unable to create a luxury brand. In spite of being a well-respected marketing company with an envious cash-balance to boot, is yet to discover the potential of owning a marketable Luxury Brand name. The Luxury Collection, currently franchised from the Marriott – Starwood network does not give it the edge. ITC cannot be a mere asset owner and should commence investing in creating a brand synonym with its bespoke hospitality collection. It’s second-rung brand ‘Welcomhotel’ is too complicated-sounding a brand to make sense of as well. Gone are the days, where asset-owned brand command market valuation.

Leela, the bespoke ingrown hospitality brand, named after legendary late Capt. Nair’s better half has taken in regular Global franchises but insisted on co-branding it with the ‘Leela’ tag. But, with the present unenviable condition, where the brand along with its fabulous properties are on the block, the ‘Leela’ brand built on solid high-class hospitality credentials are sure here to stay for a long time. If ITC does indeed get its hand on this cult Indian brand, it should rebrand all its luxury properties as a ‘Leela!’

 Taj has recently undertaken its round of brand consolidation with multiple brands of Taj getting a re-shuffle. Taj is now a basket of four brands – These include Taj, SeleQtions, Vivanta and the vanilla flavored Ginger. The ‘Taj’ will always be marquis and peerless, SeleQtions – a sub-brand with a ‘misspelt’ sounds confused and will require a lot of moolah to take it across the line. Vivanta has already had a considerable marketing investment and positioned itself as a no-nonsense five-star proposition. Glad to see Taj continuing with it!

Most international brands that have bombarded India in the last decade or so, have brought with them their perceived brand value and global brand standards that not necessarily equal the Indian big four, but have expanded and have become bigger in numbers. The inability of Indian brands to create brand standards that could be replicated and create a marketing ecosystem among discerning hotel owners around India and abroad has resulted in global brands running all the way to the bank. For Indian hotel brands, investing in brand-building is almost like an after-thought and will do it only on gunpoint. Indian hotels have been quick to copy global revenue management practices where they see an opportunity to add to the bottom-line by way of optimizing customer spends (The Hall Rentals on banquets is one such a shining example of a revenue enhance or a scam, depending on which side of the desk you are).

It has always been a difficult mindset-drive for hotel brand owners like our big three to shift from being an owner-driven hotel brand to engage, manage and market properties of third parties. Globally, it is now, among the major brands other than Shangri-La, have opted to be asset-light and grow by being brand-owners. This can be very well articulated by, when Colony Capital, a PE Fund bought the Grand Ol’ Lady of Singapore ‘RafflesHotel‘ for USD 1 Billion in 2005. This is a ridiculous amount for 100 key inventory and a single hotel to boot. The surge of the Raffles brand has changed hotel brand valuation on its head. Since then, AccorHotels bought a collection of the brands which included Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands, for $2.7 billion! No one has been talking about the real-estate valuation here!

Among the Indian chains, The Taj, Oberoi, and Leela have been successful in managing and marketing luxury properties for asset-owners in a limited way. But, with most real estate companies seeing value in multi-use development, and investing in a hotel is still seen as a wealth generator, the opportunity to bid and create superior service barometers is immense. As the world shrinks, support for global RFPs and value of a reliable GDS is paramount, in crossing all the ticks in choosing the right the luxury franchise, but a home-brand like Leela still commands a considerably higher average than its peers on the GDS in Bengaluru.

 Consider this for small measures and ambition – OYO has over 13,000 franchised and leased hotels, and over 450,000 rooms, adding over 64,000 rooms every month, globally. The company has targeted 2.5 million rooms by 2023. This has also brought in changes in the form of OYO diversifying from a pure aggregator model to own inventories through a network of franchises or lease operations. Oyo still does not own a single hotel but is valued at USD 12.5 billion. Of course, AirBnB continues to be the world’s highest-valued chain with a valuation of over USD 35 billion!

 The Indian brand game has been a game-changer in the three- and four-star domains with home-grown brands such as Sarovar, Lemon Tree, and Fortune having been more nimble-footed in acquiring hotels via management, marketing, and franchise mechanisms. Sarovar operating over 75 hotels in 50 cities with over 4500 rooms was acquired in 2017 by Louvre Hotels Group, the second-largest in the hospitality group in Europe for an undisclosed sum.

Brand Finance, an independent brand valuation consultancy in its 2018 report on Hotel Brands said “The combined value of all Hilton brands and Marriott brands in this year’s top 50 ranking amounts to $14.7 billion and $12.9 billion, respectively”. AirBnB was not included by virtue of now owning properties themselves. However, I am sure, in the coming years, it would get more difficult to ignore the likes of AirBnB and Oyo!

The top 10 hotel brands (in the order of ranking), according to Brand Finance’s report. Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Hampton Inn by Hilton, Shangri-La, DoubleTree by Hilton, Courtyard by Marriott, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Ramada Worldwide.

With no hospitality or travel-related Indian home-grown brand in the top 50, there sure is more room to grow to the upper echelons. The Brand Finance rankings depicted Indigo Airlines is up from 95th last year to 62nd now, while the iconic Taj Hotels brand has fallen 14 places to 93rd with brand value dropping below US$300 million. The report stated, “Like so many other hotel brands it has been hit by the impact of technology, with aggregator sites creating pricing pressure and Airbnb introducing competition”.

Though Indian hotel brands have been a late starter in the hotelbranding enterprise, it is never too late to reach out what might just be the world’s second-fastest-growing hotel market.

What transpires, when you wake up one fine morning and decide to re-brand your property? The brand wars to take over the Indian hospitality space has only just begun. Gear up and enjoy the ride…

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ICCA releases statistics report for 2018

The release of 2018 Country and City Rankings marks yet another successful year for the association meetings market, with the global meetings industry trade association capturing a total of 12,937 rotating association meetings taking place in 2018, at an increase of 379 additional meetings compared to the number recorded at the same time in 2017. The highest annual figure the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) has ever recorded in its yearly Statistics, these new rankings signal industry growth is continuing on a strong and robust trajectory.


Paris, which previously held the top city spot in 2016, returns in 2018 to claim first place. The U.S.A. continues to top the country rankings.

Association meetings market expansion solidifies

According to ICCA Statistics, between 1963 and 2013, the number of international association meetings doubled every 10 years. Released in October 2018 to coincide with its 55th year anniversary as an association, ICCA’s latest industry report on the 55-year growth of the international association meetings market, “A Modern History of International Association Meetings – Update: 1963-2017”, confirmed that this exponential growth trend has now slowly transcended into a more mature, yet still solid, growth pattern between 2013 and 2017. The 2018 figures seem to confirm this trend.

2018 City rankings: Paris storms ahead in first place

Paris climbs to the top of the city rankings by a number of international association meetings with a landslide margin of 40 meetings above second place holder Vienna. In 2017, Paris and Vienna held joint second place, with 190 meetings each. Last year’s number one Barcelona falls to fourth place, with Madrid entering the top 5 for the first time since 2015 in third place. Among the top 5 cities for another year, Berlin falls to fifth place from fourth in 2017.

Remaining in the top 10 but changing position are London, Prague, Singapore, and Lisbon. London, Singapore, and Prague drop to seventh, eighth and ninth place respectively, and Lisbon climbs three positions to hold the sixth place. Bangkok rises seven places from 17th to 10th, knocking Seoul out of the top 10. Seoul falls to 15th place, surpassed by top 20 risers and joint position holders Amsterdam and Tokyo, which jump from 16th to 13th place and 18th to 13th place respectively. Buenos Aires stays firmly in 11th place and Hong Kong rises to 12th. Dublin drops four places to 18th, and Stockholm holds the 19th place for another year. Montréal, QC, and Rome drop out of the top 20, and newcomers Brussels and Taipei enter in 17th and 20th place.

Table 1: Top 20 city ranking by number of meetings organized in 2018

Rank City # Meetings
1 Paris 212
2 Vienna 172
3 Madrid 165
4 Barcelona 163
5 Berlin 162
6 Lisbon 152
7 London 150
8 Singapore 145
9 Prague 136
10 Bangkok 135
11 Buenos Aires 133
12 Hong Kong 129
13 Amsterdam 123
Tokyo 123
15 Seoul 122
16 Copenhagen 120
17 Brussels 112
18 Dublin 104
19 Stockholm 103
20 Budapest 100
Taipei 100

2018 Country rankings: The U.S. remains unchallenged

In an unsurprising turn of events, the U.S.A. remains in the top country spot, unchallenged for over two decades. Germany remains in second place and 2017’s number three the United Kingdom drops to fifth place, overtaken by Spain, which rises to third. After exiting the top 5 last year, France re-enters in 2018 in fourth place. Italy replaces France in sixth place, and Japan and China-P.R. remain in seventh and eighth place for another year. The Netherlands and Canada swap positions, coming in at ninth and 10th respectively.

Portugal remains in 11th place and the Republic of Korea climbs one position to 12th. Brazil and Poland fall one place to 17th and 19th respectively, and Switzerland drops to 20th place, while Australia and Sweden climb to 13th and 14th. Austria remains in the top 20 but falls four places to 16th. Newcomer Argentina regains its position in the top 20 after falling to 21st place in 2017, knocking Denmark from 20th to 22nd place.

Table 2: Top 20 country rankings by number of meetings organized in 2018

Rank Country # Meetings
1 U.S.A. 947
2 Germany 642
3 Spain 595
4 France 579
5 United Kingdom 574
6 Italy 522
7 Japan 492
8 China-P.R. 449
9 Netherlands 355
10 Canada 315
11 Portugal 306
12 Republic of Korea 273
13 Australia 265
14 Sweden 257
15 Belgium 252
16 Austria 240
17 Brazil 233
18 Argentina 232
19 Poland 211
20 Switzerland 208

The most respected global comparison of destinations’ performance in attracting international meetings, ICCA’s annual country and city rankings are highly anticipated by the meetings industry. However, ICCA continuously seeks to emphasize that this annual report is a snapshot of just one segment of the meetings industry, focused on charting the growth of international association meetings. Only those meetings that meet ICCA’s stringent assessment criteria – rotating between at least three countries, have a proven attendance of at least 50 participants, and are held on a regular basis – are recorded within the global association’s annual statistics.

ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath said, “Although the most comprehensive global benchmark of the international association meetings sector, the ICCA rankings should not be mistaken as providing an overview of the entire meetings industry. We always seek to encourage and advise ICCA members to consult other rankings and collect their own meetings statistics to help them provide a full picture of their performance.”

“We have recorded our largest ever annual snapshot of the immediate past year’s meetings data in 2018. These results closely follow the release of our 55-year history of the international association meetings market in October 2018. ICCA’s latest figures uphold the mature, robust growth pattern we identified in this report and provide more evidence of our firm belief that the association sector continues to be an unrivaled stimulator of global societal development and force for progress across the globe,” said Gopinath.

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