The MICE sector is growing fast, driven by international and domestic guests alike who look for new regional flavours as well as familiar tastes of home – so there is something for everyone at the buffet.
From halfway across the world, around the region or even locally, millions of people attend MICE events every year. The sector is like a melting pot where domestic, regional and international travellers meet. Of the 110 million who came to ASEAN in 2014 – for business and leisure – almost half came from neighbouring countries.1
Looking at the bigger regional picture, ASEAN is working hard to build the MICE sector and its efforts are paying off. An Asia Pacific MICE Expo study found that the industry grew by 133% between 2008 and 2014, and industry watchers at EventNook anticipate even better years to come.
Most significantly, the ASEAN Economic Community, launched last year, spearheads greater economic integration across the bloc. That includes easier travel within ASEAN, making large-scale events more accessible, adding to the growth potential of the MICE sector.
The overall number of MICE travellers is set to increase. In Asia, the meetings which business travellers attend are often slightly smaller than in other parts of the world so there is more room for expansion, and industry experts told AMEX they anticipated fast growth in the number of attendees in 2016. The spend-per-meeting is also expected to rise.
It’s certainly a lucrative market. Karthik Rajan, Vice President of Public Sector and Government Practice at consultancy firm, Frost & Sullivan, calculates that in Thailand, business travellers spend 3.5 times as much per day as leisure travellers, and almost twice as much per trip. In Malaysia, that figure is 3 times as much as leisure travellers,2 while in Singapore it is around 1.7 times.
Thailand is leading the charge in ASEAN with an average growth rate of between 5 and 10% each year, and an increase in MICE visitors of nearly 20% in the past 12 months. Other nations are no slouches, either. Singapore has been an events hub in ASEAN for a long time, hosting over 3.5 million business visitors in 2014, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.
The smaller picture is of MICE events hosting millions of international, regional and local travellers, so hotels cater to domestic as well as international guests at MICE events. Even as they court the foreign dollar, they don’t neglect local diners who can make up a majority of the attendees.
For example, travel management company Radius Travel estimates that 70-75% of meetings in the Asia Pacific area are held domestically. So while most official MICE figures emphasise international visitors, many are from within a country. They may not have travelled a great distance, but their expectations will be as high, if not higher, than those of attendees who have crossed borders to be there.
These business travellers also look for F&B outlets within the hotel where they can meet clients and partners with some privacy; better yet, enjoy healthy eating options so that they don’t have to leave the hotel to find someplace else for dinner.
Local MICE attendees are also likely to return more often, simply because it is more convenient for them than for overseas guests. And because they often play host to international attendees, they will expect high standards when dining.
Even international guests may not be from too far afield, as most travel takes place within the region. Almost 80% of travellers are from neighbouring countries, according to a World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Report 2015, so keeping cuisine local at the buffet table can be a successful strategy for hotels.
Finally, at a more personal level, the millions of MICE attendees are all individuals who expect to be treated as such.
It helps to have a clear idea of which country most visitors come from, as nationalities differ in their travelling styles. One survey reports that Chinese and Indonesian business travellers place a premium on feeling important, for example, while Singaporeans look for comfort but keep a tight rein on what they spend. Taking a closer look at trends by having a deeper understanding of the travellers is important.3
Yet most business travellers have some things in common. Many visitors are showing a taste for luxury after the recent budget-conscious years, and more people are attending each meeting, reports Benchmark Hospitality Information. They also look for simple things in a hotel room to help them work efficiently.
That said, it’s not always about work for MICE travellers. Destinations, resorts and hotels which can mix business with leisure and offer more recreation, with a relaxed setting that’s conducive for work, provides time-starved MICE travellers with greater convenience – and can expect greater spending from these visitors.