Sanya is upgrading its MICE infrastructure and offerings as the city's government sees the importance of the sector's contribution to the local economy, but there are also concerns about the oversupply of hotel rooms, the absence of a large convention centre and the lack of international flights.
As the only tropical island in China, Sanya is well-placed as a MICE destination, particularly as it is only a short flight from Hong Kong and many mainland cities, says Anne Yu, director of sales and marketing at the Mandarin Oriental, Sanya. She says the natural beauty of the island along with the mild climate makes Sanya a distinctive destination, particularly for companies planning outdoor events and functions.
Yu says MICE has become a crucial part of the modern service sector in Sanya and has played a vital role in its tertiary industry. "The city government is making active efforts to encourage and drive MICE growth, formulating a series of support policies and relevant incentives to rigorously boost the industry's expansion and push forward the transition from traditional tourism to prestigious MICE." Julian Wong, general manager of the Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, says the abundant supply of international branded resorts with MICE facilities on various beaches and across different categories has also made Sanya an ideal MICE destination, in addition to its cuisine, including seafood, and the culture of its indigenous people.
Sanya has seen a steady amount of MICE business, and the wedding segment has shown positive trends as well, according to Yu. "[Mandarin Oriental] has organised a number of events over the past few years, such as car launches, an incentive group from Britain, various meeting groups, and the Hainan Rendez-Vous luxury brand exhibition."
Steven Deng, executive assistant manager of sales and marketing at the MGM Grand Sanya, says MICE business in the city rebounded in the second half of 2015, mainly in the automotive, finance and beauty industries. The hotel also confirmed more business from the IT and manufacturing sectors.
However, according to Wong, 2015 was generally not a great year for MICE business in Sanya. The central government's continuing austerity drive has taken a toll on Sanya because it is perceived as a leisure destination rather than a business one. Wong says most hotels recorded a reduction in MICE-related demand last year, but he expects this year should be better as there was a rise in demand in the last quarter of 2015 and at the beginning of 2016. "With the government austerity drive stabilising and companies gradually increasing their spending on off-site meetings, conventions, incentives and product launches, we should see a better trend in MICE business to Sanya this year."
But there are still challenges for the further growth of Sanya's MICE business. Deng says the rapid expansion of new hotels has caused an imbalance between supply and demand. And he and Marriott's Wong agree that the city is in need of a large exhibition centre that can handle major international events.
Another obstacle, Yu says is the lack of key direct international flights. At present, most guests travelling from abroad have to connect via Hong Kong or a mainland Chinese city. This has limited Sanya to a mostly domestic market, Wong adds.
Wong says the sector's stakeholders should combine their efforts to market and promote Sanya as a MICE destination - for example, working with cruise lines to increase incentive traffic.
Deng expects the opening of the world's largest single-duty free store and planned upgrades to the city's infrastructure will help to improve visitors' impression of Sanya.