The meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry is on course to reach US$1.24 billion in value in the next five years, with the Asia-Pacific region tipped to register the highest growth rate for the business.
But industry analysts also point to challenges ahead-demand for MICE venues, for instance, could outstrip supply. The growth of the mid-market and economy categories of hotels and resorts, fuelled in part by the strong demand from millennial travellers, has created an expanding inventory of accommodations that often lack MICE facilities.
MICE players will have to balance out demand and supply amid a backdrop of robust growth, Even as MICE spending, particularly for corporate meetings, is projected to rise this year, opportunities could be missed.
Bullish growth drives opportunity
Adding holistic value to a delegate's experience is key to growth - The Bangkok Convention Centre @ Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok.
For leisure property companies, the balancing act is a perfect opportunity to grow their MICE business. Even as challenges abound, the upside provides enough reason to stay bullish for this year moving forward: overall market stability, strong growth in travel, and the adoption of technology in the MICE business are key elements in sustaining the growth.
"The MICE business is growing at a remarkable pace and organisers look increasingly for opportunities to add holistic value to the delegates' experience. The key for hotels and resorts is how to leverage their leisure offerings and come up with, and execute, a growth strategy that addresses the demands of the market," says Winfried Hancke, Corporate Director of Operations F&B at Centara Hotels & Resorts.
Centara is casting a keen eye on the MICE market. Its city properties - Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld and Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok - are already established MICE properties. The CentralWorld property, for instance, can accommodate up to 1,000 persons theatre-style, and the convention centre's Convention Hall can accommodate up to 7,000 persons for cocktail receptions.
Giving organisers extra options such as non-traditional venues and set-ups @ The Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort Pattaya.
Centara is focusing more on developing its MICE capabilities and putting a footprint in the market, starting with a campaign called New Agenda: Meetings Redesigned. The programme incorporates a choice of non-traditional meeting venues and set-ups suitable to aid the meeting objectives. Centara's internal teams are able to stage short and effective activities ranging from indoor to outdoor pool events.
The Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort Pattaya, for instance, provides leisure facilities like the Lost World themed water park with free-form swimming pools, a lazy river, and waterfalls and waterslides that can give planners some extra options when designing their meetings or incentives packages.
Organisers benefit from integrations of effortless meeting planning tools for fast bookings; set-up of delegate communications via messaging; one stop service support and organiser privileges.
Creating bonds through team building
Teambuilding is an important consideration in choosing a venue. Centara has invested in this by working with a teambuilding outfit for unique and effective teambuilding activities.
As the MICE industry continues to look for better deals, particularly on how return on investment for both planners and clients can be better quantified and justified, activities lined up for attendees are getting special attention. Teambuilding, for instance, ranks high on the list of must-dos for planners.
Companies like Centara have invested in meeting this requirement. They work with a teambuilding outfit that is called upon to create unique yet effective teambuilding activities for clients. This is aside from its own teambuilding programme that utilises popular activities like sports to meet client requirements.
Some of its programmes include "Beats Work" teaches participants the basics of samba to promote the importance of standard operating procedures to achieve excellence consistently; "Travel Show" introduces teams to the task of scripting, directing and shooting their own travel or food show to teach participants the value of planning resources and role-playing; and "Thai Traders," a perfect meetings icebreaker where teams are taught the "rudiments" of information gathering, haggling, and building trust.
Going local helps engagement
Go Local @ The Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin, recognised for its heritage value.
Another trend that promotes engagement is local experience. Destination and Event Management Agency Pacific World Global Product Development Manager, Tania Pasi says, "Experiences that tie guests are growing in popularity." The trend, Pasi adds, is also popular with locals. "They enjoy becoming the hosts and helping to design the activities."
Centara, with its popular beach properties in Thailand, knows the value of going local. The Centara Grand Mirage Resort in Pattaya, Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket, Centara Grand Beach Resort Samui, Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin, and Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Krabi create a local blend in the MICE fare that make them popular choices for MICE groups.
Thematic design touches liven up the meeting area foyer @ the Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket.
It helps, too, that Centara's properties have been recognised for its heritage flavour. Its Hua Hin property has been listed as a top heritage hotel in Asia by CNN Travel, among the "most beautiful heritage hotels to come out of the 19th and 20th centuries." It is the same with the Phuket property, which takes architectural inspiration from the classic Sino-Portuguese style that is characteristic of Phuket.
The leisure property chain has certainly done its bit to push Thailand's MICE to a record 13% growth in the first half of 2018. The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) said the destination welcomed 547,623 MICE travellers between October 2017 and March 2018, generating revenue of US$1.2 billion.
It also helps that Thailand is one of the preferred destination for MICE travellers in Asia. Pacific World reported that of total requests for Asia, Thailand was the top choice at 18%, followed by China (15%), Indonesia (14%), and Hong Kong (13%).
Tempting cuisines lure the MICE
For "going local," nothing beats world-famous Thai cuisine.
Food and beverage has always been an important factor in site selection. F&B is getting a higher profile in the choices that MICE travellers are making, in part because it is an integral component of the "go local" trend, and in part because of innovations and personal choices in how food and beverage are sourced and prepared.
"Locally grown 'farm to fork' initiatives are instigated throughout Centara properties, as Chefs seek out local growers and communities in support of their farms. Guests benefit by being provided a fresh, healthy and balanced meal choice," says Winfried Hancke, Corporate Director of Operations F&B at Centara Hotels & Resorts.
As F&B becomes "staple fare" for the MICE business, Thai leisure properties, including Centara's Grand Mirage and Grand Beach resorts, are getting a boost from the popularity of Thai cuisine, one of Asia's most recognisable food. In the Philippines, for instance, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is promoting "gastronomic tourism" as a key part of its key marketing campaign.
Digital connections make it easy
Enhancing customer experience and integrating a technology strategy is critical to growth in the digital age.
As MICE travel continues to grow, hospitality chains like Centara are poised to reap the benefits of a more focused growth strategy. This extends to technology, one of the more critical components of any growth strategy in the digital age.
Centara, for one, made a tech move by accepting WeChat Pay transactions on its websites for online room res nervations. The chain already has 15 hotels that use close to 100 electronic data capture devices for QR code scanning via WeChat Pay. It is now the largest hotel group in Thailand offering Chinese tourists omni-channel payment, a nod to the giant Chinese travel market.
"As consumer behaviour evolves, Centara has adopted an omni-channel strategy to stay relevant and provide a great customer experience. We embrace these types of disruptive opportunities to better serve our guests and stay on top of the industry," says Centara chief executive Thirayuth Chirathivat.
This article was brought to you by Centara Hotels & Resorts.