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!


Thailand Golf Travel Mart 2019 attracts buyers from around the world

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) organized the fifth Thailand Golf Travel Mart (TGTM) 2019 between August 6 and August 9 in Chiang Mai as part of an ongoing strategy to further develop a very important source of high-spending, long-staying customer segment.

The event has attracted a contingent of 116 top golf tour operators from 24 countries, primarily from China (22), Japan (17), India (9), South Korea (8), Singapore (7). To broaden the exposure of Thailand’s golfing attractions, TAT invited 59 first-time buyers, especially from new markets, such as, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Portugal and Sweden.

Amongst the 97 Thai exhibitors, mainly representatives of Thailand’s stunning golf courses and resorts, 37 are from the Central Region, 23 from the East, 22 from the North, 10 from the South and 5 from the Northeast. They include 39 first-time sellers.

The panel discussion during the event focused on the theme: “Thailand beyond a Premier Golf Destination.” The session featured Tanes Petsuwan, TAT Deputy Governor for Marketing and Communications; Thongchai Jaidee, a renowned Thai golfer, and David Rollo, Vice President, Golf – IMG Events.

The previous four TGTMs was held in Hua Hin, Pattaya, Khao Yai and Phuket, highlighting the geographical and professional diversity of the kingdom’s leading sports tourism sector.

Chiang Mai, the city known as the Rose of the North, is a very important golfing destination with international standard golfing facilities set amidst the backdrop of picturesque natural landscapes, rich history, and culture of the Northern region.

Thailand is among the top destinations in Asia for golf with some 700,000 golfers coming here each year. There are over 300 stunning courses nationwide with comparatively low green fees and high professional standards. The World Golf Travel Agents Association recently named Thailand as the “Best up and coming Destination for Golf Vacations.” Chiang Mai itself was voted The Next Golf Destination of the Year Asia & Australasia 2017 by International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO).

Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing, Asia and South Pacific, said, “We are very pleased with the great response to this year’s golf travel mart. We have rotated it all around the country ever since its inception in order to maximize exposure of the tremendous diversity of our golf products, especially in the emerging provinces. This year, we are encouraging the invited golfers to try out Lamphun, 20km from Chiang Mai, a small province where investors have developed four breathtaking golf courses with gorgeous scenery.” As with other specialist niche-market travel events, the TGTM will be carefully monitored to ensure that TAT remains abreast of global trends and delivers the right product to the right buyers. Chattan said, “With every passing year, Thailand faces increasing competition for the tourist dollar on the global stage. We are looking forward to networking with the buyers and listening to their feedback on how we can best maximize opportunities for both of us.”

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“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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