Future of the MICE industry… My thoughts

As an industry based around international business, showcasing, global interaction and celebration, the 2008 recession cut right to the core of the MICE industries principles. With sudden budget cuts, staff redundancies and an unpredictable global economy, companies halted their “unnecessary” spending almost overnight. 4 and 5 star hotels suffered exponentially with standard rates exceeding those companies could afford, venues that were designed to house thousands were struggling to fill even their smallest of breakout rooms and Event Management, PCO’s and Incentive Travel Companies whose sole income is based around businesses showcasing their products and successes where suddenly out of crucial business.

Meetings once organised in far flung locations where a far cry from the new recession-friendly local boardroom spaces on offer. Incentive Travel was at an all-time low. Budget constraints and stringent cuts meant luxury bonuses and staff treats were few and far between. Conferences and PCO’s struggled to maintain high delegate numbers with marketing budgets being slashed and the favoured 3* or nothing approach becoming a daily battle and finally Events, whose specialism is centered around celebration and affluence faced the fact that companies willing to splurge large sums on extravagant parties was perhaps a wishful dream of the past.

However, with the economy improving, Industry predictions indicate that the MICE sector in 2015 is poised for vigorous growth. Once again there is a demand for exhibitions and events to showcase latest products, for meetings to encourage brainstorming sessions and for conferences to attract clients. More and more lesser known countries are promoting themselves as MICE destinations, hotels are realising their greater potential as venues and not just places to sleep and once specific Travel and Events companies are now offering specialised MICE services and activities.

The 2008 global recession gave the industry an opportunity to reflect. That it has done, and the principles behind the MICE industry have evolved. Below are just a few common themes of this natural development.

Predicted themes of the MICE Industry in 2015

1. INCREASED DEMAND – The demand for meetings both in-house and externally has increased exponentially since 2008. Demand across all sectors from telecommunications to healthcare has seen meetings professionals “back in the game”. With B2B opportunities a mainstream priority for most companies and training and staff development an increasing influence, meetings are required more than ever before. Meetings and events are still critical drivers for businesses to engage with employees, partners and customers worldwide.

2. CHANGING MEETING STYLES -Meetings are no longer constrained to lecture style for 40. Meetings hosting delegates in their hundreds are now in order, requiring a refreshing outlook for venues, capacities and styles. Last minute offers are no longer available, with popular venues being booked years in advance. Companies are aiming to maximise the value of each event and reduce the average cost per attendee, thus event capacities are increasing in a bid for companies to reduce their fixed costs.

3. RETURNING TO LUXURY- Budgets are still being tightly monitored but increased profits throughout most industries in 2014 has relinquished the accountants tight grip a little. The luxuries of days done past may still be a far cry from reality however little doses of indulgence are far from out of bounds. However, industry wide staff cuts  has entailed that many companies are looking for more localised events and meetings destinations whereby time away from the office is reduced and unnecessary expenditures reduced.

4. CREATIVE SPACES – Innovative approaches and novel ideas are conducive to growth. Competition for global business has meant that meetings are now a marketing and PR tool employed to showcase companies. Where lecture style meetings would once have sealed the deal, more and more meeting planners are targeting the unusual, the weird and wonderful when sourcing meeting venues. Castles, aquariums, mile-high meetings and rooftop bars are now becoming the norm.

5. ONLINE ENGAGMENT- Meetings and Events are becoming more social than ever. The demand to create more engaging programmes for attendees and to redefine the meetings experience is the catalyst behind the increased utilisation of social media tools and digital solutions. With each conference promoting its own hashtag and organisers encouraging attendees to live tweet and post photos, the use of social media in the meeting room is no longer disapproved of but rather actively encouraged.

6. TECH-SAVVY – Technical advancements such as iPads for delegates and smart-phone apps have meant that the collection of delegate feedback is easier to monitor and collect than ever before. No longer is there the need to fill out forms with branded pencils, delegates can simply offer feedback as quickly and as simply as they can send a text. Similarly event apps and gadgets are streamlining registration processes and drastically cutting the man hours required in organising attendee.

7. ALL INCLUSIVE- Although most worthy companies favour the bespoke tailor-made package, the Meetings Package has experienced a recent surge in popularity. With budget constraints still a daily battle for meeting and events planners, it is easy to see why customised all-in-one packages which offer companies the best value for money and most streamlined approach to meetings management are more popular than ever. With the overarching desire in the 21st cenury for simplicity and streamlining the MICE industry must be sure to retain a bespoke approach and not bow down to simple, generic package deals.

8. TEAMBUILDING – Employee satisfaction is a critical factor for 21st century businesses. As such group activities are making a comeback. With more and more employees receiving bonuses in the form of fun team day trips rather than financial incentives. There is a huge opportunity here for venues as well…Venues that can think creatively and offer not only a bed and meeting space but unique activities as well are on to a winner for 2015. Cookery classes, golf lessons, spa retreats are all additional bonuses that can turn a standard meeting into an incentive for attendees.

9. PRE/ POST TOURS – More and more companies are jumping on the pre and post tour bandwagon. Gone are the days when associations paid for members to fly thousands of miles for a three day conference, now it is expected that attending international conferences is self-funded. In order to maintain high turnouts, incentives such as tours around neighbouring destinations or taster trips with unique experiences for delegates only create an added reason for attendees to book on. You would be more inclined to go to a conference in Nairobi if you had the unique opportunity to experience a private hot-air balloon ride across the Masai Mara after your three day of lecture than if all you would see was the inside of Nairobi Convention Centre.

10. THE DESTINATION- Value for money, ease of access and security are all major factors in deciding a destination for the next meeting, incentive, conference or event. Political instability has rendered much of the Middle East out of bounds for event organisers, global health concerns have wreaked havoc on the MICE industry in certain countries and now home-grown terrorism means that even “reliable” destinations such as Paris of Brussels are now subject to increased risks and concerns.

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Major Challenges of the Future

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel for the MICE industry, it is far from safety just yet. There are major challenges that the industry needs to overcome in order to return higher and mightier than its pre 2008 self.

1. FLEXIBILITY – Venues, hotels and cities need to be open minded about the possibilities that they hold. Have you unused vintage buildings that can be transformed into unusual meeting rooms? Does your hotel have a rooftop bar that could make for a unique and inspiring meeting space? Can your venue not only host a meeting but provide an unusual activity alongside to compliment? Thinking outside the lecture style, boardroom box is the key to attracting and keeping new clients in the coming months and years.

2. MICE ITSELF -Is it an extension of the experiential marketing industry? Is it a subdivision of travel and tourism or is it distinctive in its own right. Finding its niche and sticking to its principles is a fundamental task that the industry has to undertake in order for it not to get swamped by other more noted industries.

3. VALUE – With numbers still being crunched and pennies still being counted, it is critical that the MICE industry demonstrates that it is not an added luxury that can be cut. MICE professionals have to demonstrate to businesses the added value of that meeting, overseas event or conference. Economic growth depends on international collaboration; the MICE industry is the perfect opportunity to develop international B2B partnerships. It must show that it is not the economic problem but part of the solution.

4. TOMORROW’S LEADERS – The MICE industry is exiting, it’s global, and no two days are the same. It offers the opportunity for players to travel, to take ownership of projects and to meet worldwide partners. It is most certainly not a dull industry to work in and in order to expand, develop and understand the challenges of the future it needs to invest in its own future first.

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Onwards and Upwards

Realising the mistakes of the past and viewing the 2008 recession as not an overarching disaster for the industry but rather as an opportunity for reflection, streamlining and innovation is key if the MICE industry is going to bounce back bigger and better than ever before. Tackling the above challenges is not an easy task and is strenuous demand; however it is a mandatory one and should not be received lightly.

Most importantly the industry needs to invest not just money but TIME in tomorrow’s leaders. It is critical that the industry invests in young talent, in tomorrow’s leaders and managers. It is only through today’s investment that we will encourage the innovation of tomorrow.

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