Last May, Tiens, a Chinese conglomerate, treated its top performing employees to a four-day trip to France,
visiting Paris and southern France to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The 6,400 employees required 140 hotels for accommodation. The whole trip cost $19 million, small change for the billionaire-owner grateful to the contribution of his staff to the profitability and success of his conglomerate. If the personal funds spent by the employees are to be counted, the amount will be higher.
Also last May, ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries meet in the island resort of Boracay in the Philippines. Boracay Island is the most popular summer vacation place in the Philippines with its sugary-fine white beach. The organizers pampered the minis- ters and their staff with beach parties and tropical-themed festivities in the evening and between sessions, highlighting the country’s tourism tag line – It’s more fun in the Philippines!
The holiday trip to France and the APEC ministerial meeting in the Philippines are examples of meetings, incentives, confer ences and events (MICE), a lucrative tour- ism market segment. Corporations, professional and industry associations, private international organizations and multilateral organizations hold regular meetings, conferences, exhibits and events. They even give holiday trips as incentives to top per- forming personnel or as rest and recreation measures. In today’s harried environment, work-life balance is the mantra for corporations who would like to avoid burn-out of its employees. Also, to further push for higher productivity, top performers are given incentives to travel abroad to rest and renew their energy and motivate them to work harder.
Myanmar’s recent experience with MICE was during the hosting of ASEAN when it assumed chairmanship of the regional association for 2013-2014. The country hosted preparatory meetings and the main summit where heads of states not only of the 10-member countries, but also world leaders from the US, China, Japan and India. The successful handling of the ASEAN activities showed the country’s capacity to manage MICE. There is however a need to sustain the interest in the country’s capacity to host MICE clients.
Official data showed in 2014 there were 3 million tourists who visited the country and spent an estimated amount of $1.14 billion. Of the total number of tourists, 70% were from Southeast Asia, and the rest are from Europe. At present, Myanmar is attracting backpackers and group tours interested in its temples, remnants of colonial architecture and unexplored areas. Tourism development activities are thus geared towards addressing this market segment.
MICE, a more profitable market segment can become part of Myanmar’s tourism market. There are several reasons to develop the country as a MICE destination:
- Participants to MICE have more purchasing power;
- Participants stay several days in the venue and may extend more even after the event;
- Satisfied MICE participants are good word-of-mouth marketing channels;
- MICE are regular activities, and repeat customers can be expected.
The MICE market can be classified into three main categories. First are private companies. Continuing growth experienced by the Southeast Asian region is a reality that will support not only trade but also tourism. It will further be sustained by the ASEAN economic integration. Chinese and Indian companies are another source of customers as it shares common borders with the country. Western multinational companies with offices in the ASEAN region will also be a good source of MICE clients.
The second set are professional and industry associations – bankers and financial professionals, engineers, doctors, accountants, etc. both at the national level and regional levels meet regularly. These organizations meet not only as a function of an association but also organize conferences to introduce new technologies or enhance skills and capacities. Corporate sponsors also organize conferences and events to highlight their products and services, and these are attended by professionals using the products.
Advocacy groups and international development agencies are the third group. These include groups advocating for the environment, health, gender and other development issues.
The main question now is not how do we trap the MICE, but rather, is the government interested in making the country a primary MICE destination? The government and the various stakeholders in the tourism sector should decide if the market segment is worth exploring and serving. If it decides to develop itself as a MICE destination, the government and the various stakeholders have to consider the following:
Good and affordable facilities
The principal consideration is the venue. MICE require not only accommodation facilities, but the most important are the function rooms – a spacious plenary session hall that can accommodate a big number of participants. Space is important because in contemporary events, the activities will not be limited to sitdown meetings but will included groups dynamics that require physical activities and thus more space. Hotels make their ballroom double also as the plenary session halls. Adjacent rooms for small group or break-out sessions are also needed.
The function rooms should be complemented with good public address system. Another important support is translation services for conferences with different nationalities as participants. Internet connection is another element in the package that clients will look for in a venue.
Aside from the functional element of the venue, security of the participants to the MICE activities should be assured. Venues should have a comprehensive security measures that will prevent any untoward incident that will happen to participants.
At present, Myanmar is expensive compared to its neighbors. Most of the MICE facilities are in Nay Pyi Taw, far from the popular tourist spots that participants can visit as a side trip.
Looking at the ASEAN member-countries as the primary MICE client, Myanmar has to improve accessibility with the neighboring countries. The e-visa was a good move and will facilitate fast processing of docu- ments for foreign participants coming to the country. More flights connecting key cities with the main MICE areas like Yangon and Mandalay is also important. Other gateways should be opened to areas potential as MICE sites. The quality roads and transport facilities between the venue and tourist areas have to be improved.
Places of interest within the venue
Within the venue, there should also be activities that will make the life of the participants interesting. A variety of activities is necessary to relieve the tension and the stress related with the conference or the event. The more “distracting” the activities, the better for the participants who will look for alternative activities.
Hub of tourist places of interest
After the events, there are participants who would like to explore the area and places of interest that are distinct. This element makes Yangon and Mandalay as the best place for MICE. Nay Pyi taw may have the most number of hotels that can host MICE activities, but it is too far to most popular tourist spots that participants can visit. Developing MICE areas other than the key cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw is a must if the tourism sector is serious in its effort at capturing MICE clients. For a start, areas in the Mon state like Mawlamyine, Taungyi in the Shan state, or even Ngapali in Rakhine state can be considered.
Selling Myanmar as a MICE destination requires an integrated campaign with full government support. The marketing approach has to be prepared involving all stakeholders to generate maximum support focusing on the actors in this specific market segment.