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The Great Indian Small City MICE potential!

India MICE Micepoint

The story so far! In an electoral year, the pundits continue to scream ‘disaster’ on losing employment opportunities amid the GST, demonetization, fluctuating oil prices, the high cost of imports, etc. What has stood out is an industry which has been notorious for being accused as simply one of ‘under-performing’. The Indian hospitality industry is adding more inventory than ever before. With the new entrants primarily from the real-estate domain, who’s new found love to create wealth, go multi-utility and don the Hotel Owner hat and hope they play the ultimate host!

While major cities still continue to hog the headlines in terms of inventory being added, the tier-2 and tier-3 cities are the ones grabbing the action! Realty consultancy JLL India indicates that over the past two years, top-notch hotel chains, domestic and international, are mushrooming in a surprising new segment: Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

 The study shows that cities such as Bhubaneswar, Ludhiana, Itanagar, and Nagpur are witnessing a spurt in the construction of big hotel chains. In 2016, 40 hotels signed up to launch properties in Tier 2 cities. In 2017, twenty more companies invested in smaller cities. And by 2018, the total tally of hotels being set up in the Tier 2 segment was 65. Total room counts across sixteen Tier-2 cities went from 4,465 in 2016 to 6,113 in 2018.

Karan Rahan, Senior Associate, Hotelivate, told in a recent interview that said approximately 50 per cent of the supply pipeline of rooms will come up in tier 2 and tier 3 cities such as Lucknow (1,200) Agra (1,200), Kochi (1,100), Udaipur (1,100), Dehradun (900), Vijayawada (900), Varanasi (700), Guwahati (700) and Gorakhpur (400).

 The realty boom continues to add to the semi-urban growth story in India. According to JLL, the retail sector is estimated to grow to Rs 1 trillion by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 12-15 percent. Malls have seen investments of over $ 750 million in 2017, almost double of what the segment saw in 2016. The retail sector in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities has witnessed a much higher investment of $6.2 billion between 2006 and 2017, as against $1.3 billion of the same in Tier-1 metro cities during the same period, according to a CII-JLL report.

One of the key drivers is the UDAAN (‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik’) scheme offered by the Govt. of India, where tickets are being subsidized at re-activated airports and a growing economic spotlight. 235 routes cleared by the Aviation ministry cover 16 unserved and 17 under-served airports and six water aerodromes. There are 50 airports which are already being served and will be connected to these under-served and unserved airports. The winner of the bid gets a three-year exclusive right to operate flights on the route. The fare for half the seats in a flight is capped at ₹2,500 for an hour of a plane journey of approximately 500 km and a 30-minute helicopter journey. The selected airline provides 50% of the flight capacity – with a minimum of 9 and a maximum of 40 seats for planes and a minimum of 5 and maximum of 13 seats for helicopters.

With increased purchasing power, the advent of bigger brands into tier 2 and tier 3 cities seems a natural market acquisition process. As more event management companies take flight in smaller cities, the realm of booking technology for events has also exploded. The event and movie booking App, Townscript (A BookMyShow-owned DIY ticketing platform) has been seeing phenomenal growth. Townscript is now looking to move beyond urban cities and focus on expanding aggressively in tier 2 cities. One-and-a-half years ago, tier 2 cities contributed to only 10% of Townscript’s total tickets sales, which has now increased to 33%. Townscript is looking at increasing this further by entering more markets and expand its presence to towns such as Jaipur, Patna, Kochi. The App helps event organizers to go live within 10 minutes. Having the world’s lowest Mobile data charges, the cheaper access to technology has catapulted this genre. With events generating higher profitability than movie tickets, the scope to delve further into this market is a natural upswing! Even the Food delivery App ‘Foodpanda India’ has smaller cities and towns contributing over 40 percent to the company’s business in the country.

According to a report by India Brand Equity Forum, Indian media and entertainment (M&E) industry grew at a CAGR of 10.90 percent from FY17-18; and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.10 per cent to touch Rs 2,660.20 billion (US$ 39.68 billion) by FY23 from Rs 1,436.00 billion (US$ 22.28 billion) in FY18. While the events and activations industry in India is expected to cross Rs 10,000 crore mark by 2020-21, as per an Ernst & Young – EEMA (Event and Entertainment Management Association) report. The industry, which was at Rs 5,631 crore in 2016-17 overall, has been growing at a 16% CAGR, even overtaking the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) industry, which is growing at 11-13% CAGR.

When smaller cities vie for action, meeting spaces continue to add opportunities in terms of weddings and social gatherings, corporate sales conferences, Product launches, etc. The country simply loves to celebrate! With made-to-order occasions created out of thin air or a six-month-long meticulously designed wedding, hotels in India never had it this good. The Indian hospitality industry’s unique revenue trait, where Food & Beverage contributes more to the revenue kitty than the segment is credited. The Meetings industry’s mite seldom goes challenged with the discerning Indian finds more occasions to celebrate! Events to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, kitty parties, family and friend’s get-togethers, naming ceremonies and of course, the big fat Indian wedding all bring cheer to the table!

Trying to adopt a Hotel management model, where the focus is primarily on room sales will spell disaster for the owner-driven hotels in the country. Speaking about the new era hotels that seem to be flooding the market with imported standards especially from Europe and US, who seem more interested in getting to the magic number of 100 properties in India, than creating a right variation to their product to suit the Indian market. Service and amenity standards currently being enforced in the name of global parity is absurd. There have been investments made in crores to create a profitable entity, and have left Indian hoteliers in the lurch, not necessarily due to the economic situations we endure.

How do you explain to a prospective client, who wishes to book a hotel for his residential conference or wants to host his big fat Indian wedding, that he can take his room business, but has no venue to host the banquet! Indians, by trait, need an excuse to get a gathering on to host a lunch or dinner! The scorn for Food and Beverage sales is not justified, when in India, sometimes F&B sales constitute up to 50% of revenue. It should do well for hotels to broad base their client profile. Every hotel in the three – four-star range should have meeting spaces of a minimum of 3000 square feet. 

The idiom that India lives in the villages is out of place when the villages vie to become towns and towns aspire to be recognized as a city! The progression seems natural and the need for quality hospitality and event spaces is aspirational, to say the least!

What Prime Minister Narendra Modi says

“India is a young country where 65% of the population is aged less than 35 years, and we are enabling them to think of innovative solutions. Further, we have tried to localize the start-up innovation culture and you will be surprised to know that till now 44% of the start-ups are found in Tier II and Tier III cities, today. These start-ups have been founded across the 419 districts of India. Moreover, almost 45% of the start-ups are founded by women entrepreneurs.” 


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!

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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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ATM 2019 highlights

Here’s what happened at the four-day mega event in Dubai.

Photo: Unsplash

The 26th edition of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) was held in Dubai from April 28 to May 1. The four-day event played host to travel agents, tour operators, hoteliers, event management companies, travel technology providers and other relevant players in the travel and tourism space around the globe.

This year’s ATM was a landmark opportunity for industry stakeholders to discover new trends shaping the travel landscape and explore innovations changing the face of travel trade worldwide.

Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market, announced that ATM remains the focal point for the Middle East’s travel industry and continues to be at the forefront of the digital revolution.

“Whether that’s through innovative applications ranging from voice and facial recognition, chatbots and beacon technology to virtual reality, blockchain as well as robotic concierge, the guest or passenger experience is destined to become even more automated,” said Curtis.

In view of this, technology in travel was one of the most discussed topics at the mega event. The Travel Tech Theatre at ATM, sponsored by Sabre, served as a sounding board to a variety of tech topics, including how emerging technologies are simplifying travel experience, how social media can be effectively used to positively change the perception of a destination, and how immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are engaging travelers. The sessions also shed light on virtual payments and pointers on choosing the right digital influencers.

The Digital Influencer’s Speed Networking session provided an opportunity for exhibitors to take part in mini-meetings with over 50 travel bloggers to explore ways to work together in the future.

The event also focused on the importance of creating compelling brand content that would help travel companies sell better, Dr Hamish McPharlin, Head of Insight, BBC Global News, shed light on ways to deliver content with impact and efficiency.

‘Women in Travel’ was another sought-after topic at this year’s ATM.  Women today are looking to forge opportunities of their own. The Women in Travel meetup at ATM 2019, which attracted huge participation, served as a motivational platform for women entrepreneurs as well as those working in the travel and hospitality sectors. The session taught women how to acquire self-confidence and cultivate leadership qualities.

The ATM Global Stage also played host to Travel Agent’s Academy. This educational platform came in handy for travel agents to network and learn about new destinations. The three-hour free training also imparted knowledge of how to sell destinations better.

The focus was also on hotels. The ATM Hotel Industry Summit turned the spotlight on upcoming developments, technologies, and concepts that are set to shape the hospitality sector. A panel of industry experts discussed new infrastructure, regional development hotspots, and hotel models that would help scale new heights in delivering world-class customer experience.

Shedding light on the future of travel, a panel that comprised top brass from Google, Booking.Com, Sabre, and Emirates, discussed how the global travel landscape is rapidly evolving with the lines between traditional and non-traditional travel retailers blurring.

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