This year will see growing demand for MICE events in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in China where some of the major MICE cities have upgraded their infrastructure.
The evolution of technology will continue to shape the industry and loyalty programmes will play a bigger role in generating bookings, while event planners are looking for more memorable experiences to reward their clients. These major trends, as observed by industry experts, also represent good opportunities for the sector.
Michael Issenberg, chairman and COO of Accor Hotels Asia-Pacific, says spending on meetings in the region is expected to rise by 2.1 per cent this year based on the American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast. "While the economy will slow in China, we still expect to see increased demand for MICE as Chinese companies continue to see the benefit of such meetings," he says.
Issenberg says it will be another strong year for meetings in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Bangkok. "The formalisation of the Asean Economic Community last year will also provide excellent opportunities for intra-regional events in those countries. With the Asean nations also agreeing to introduce MICE Venue Standards by 2017, we expect events to grow in those nations as travel is made easier and standards rise."
He says the impact of technology is one of the major trends, with the increased use of websites, social media and mobile applications to provide information. Asia-Pacific companies are also looking for electronic requests for proposal and expecting speedy responses on information and pricing.
Another major trend, Issenberg says, is the impact of loyalty programmes, with 43 per cent of meeting planners saying they are influenced by hotel loyalty programmes when selecting venues, based on a Meetings & Conventions Asia survey. To meet this trend, the hotel group is enhancing its Le Club AccorHotels Meeting Planners programme.
Despite the growth of MICE events, meeting professionals are taking a more careful approach to spending as prices are projected to increase at a faster pace, says Carina Chorengel, senior vice-president of brands and commercial strategy of Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.
Chorengel says that while cost is important, companies in the Asia-Pacific are looking to reward employees with more memorable event experiences. This affects how planners explore the five key components of an incentive trip: destination selection, property selection, food and beverage, entertainment and gifts. Food and beverage is also key to the quality of the delegates' experience, she says, citing the expectation of a local food experience as part of the incentive trip for all ages, and more attendees are seeking wellness-driven food and beverage options such as organic, sustainable food and an awareness of food allergens and intolerances.
In China, more meetings and MICE activities are expected as a result of efforts by tourism offices and organisations to promote destinations, says Wendy Huang, Greater China vice-president of sales and marketing of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
In the mature MICE cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, the city governments are improving infrastructure to increase their competitiveness, Huang says. Shanghai has upgraded its meeting infrastructure with the new National Exhibition and Convention Centre, while the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in June will bring more MICE opportunities. In the second- and third-tier cities, the focus is more on urbanisation and improvement of transport access to increase their attractiveness to event organisers looking for new destinations. Huang says growth in the online travel market and environmental awareness are the two major trends in China's event industry this year.
"Transactions in China's online travel market were expected to reach 352.38 billion yuan (HK$420 billion) in 2015, up 26 per cent, according to EnfoDesk; and the figure is expected to increase to 498.34 billion yuan by 2017," she says.
In response to the green trend, Starwood has created the Starwood Sustainable Meeting Practices programme to reduce energy and water consumption. It has also piloted several new initiatives to increase convenience for its guests and meeting planners.
The internet has become an important marketing tool for hotels, says Coco Ren, director of sales and marketing of the Grand Hyatt in Chengdu, one of the fastest-growing second-tier cities for MICE.
"In the old days, email blasts and phone calls were the two main promotion techniques; now with the click of our fingertips we can trigger a new round of campaigns and, even more amazingly, we can respond and interact with clients in a way we never imagined. Business deals that used to take days and months to close can now be done in the blink of an eye," she says.
To meet the challenges, hotels need to stop operating the way they are used to. Ren says Grand Hyatt Chengdu is working closely with local media platforms and social influencers to explore different ways.
"We are responding quickly to the market, blogs and messaging platforms, and we use every source we can find to promote our MICE and events businesses."