As India can proudly boast of the oldest relics & monuments of ancient civilisations, cultures, language, with diverse climatic environs thrown in to make it a mini-continent, it is today one of the fastest growing destinations for conventions and meetings of all shapes and sizes. With this viewpoint in mind, the 12th edition of Conventions India Conclave (CIC) organised by Indian Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB) was successfully held in Kochi from August 29 to 31. This mega-show of ICPB proved to be a stepping stone for the growth of MICE tourism in Kerala as well as in India.
The tone of the 3-day conclave was set with a majestic snake-boat race on 29th afternoon, a traditional race using canoe boats which has a history from Kingship period. The event was inaugurated with the lamp lighting ceremony headed by the Honourable Tourism Minister of Kerala, Mr. Kadakampally Surendran, along with the ICPB chairman, Mr. Suman Billa, ICPB Vice-Chairman, Mr. Chander Mahasharmani, Smt. Rani Gerorge, Secretary – Tourism, Govt. of Kerala and others. Speraking in his keynote address, Mr. Kadakampally Surendran Honourable Tourism Minister of Kerala highlighted about the bright prospects of MICE tourism in Kerala as well as in India. He said, “state’s tourism sector is in ‘MICE mode’and is ready to tap the vast potential present in this field. This year, as partner state to the Indian Conventions Promotion Bureau (ICPB), state’s game plan is to tap the MICE market, by which tourism sector players can hope to earn revenues even after the peak August-January tourism season ends.
Kerala gets around a million international tourists annually, but these arrivals are mostly in the peak tourism season. In contrast, a growth in the MICE segment will not only add extra revenues to the sector, but also spread out the tourism activity around the year instead of putting demand pressure on rooms during a short period on the calendar. The domestic demand for MICE business is also on the upswing and Kerala is fully ready to host such events.” He also announced the launch of a new Kerala Conventions Promotion Bureau that will bid to host big conferences.
Post his address, he also launched the 2nd state chapter of ICPB i.e.- Kerala Chapter, an initiative aimed to boost MICE tourism opportunities in the state of Kerala. The conclave also witnessed the launch of the much-awaited ICPB MICE Planner which focused about the present, past and future of conventions in India and role of ICPB in it.
Addressing the gathering, the Chairman of ICPB and the Joint Secretary in The Ministry of Tourism, Mr. Suman Billa reflected upon the various steps taked by the union government in this regard and highlighted how the Centre was doing its bit to help grow MICE tourism in India through proactive policy moves. He said, “Two weeks back, the government has announced that e-conference visas would be opened up for the private sector as well. So far, only government and PSU conference delegates could apply through e-conference visa, but now seminars and meetings hosted by private sector can also get this. Bringing down the cost of e-visas from $80 to $25 would also significantly help the tourism sector as well as MICE.
In addition, the government has now decided that during off season the visa fees would be further discounted to $10. Another measure to help India host more conferences is by helping associations financially when they pitch for events through a special corpus that has been set up for the purpose. For instance if a medical association is pitching for an event to be held in India, the Tourism Ministry could release funds for the hosting of a gala dinner that could help swing the event in India’s favour. The proposed corpus is for Rs. 1,000 crore, but to start with Rs. 500 crore is being released.”
Notably, Mr. Billa also said that 28 per cent GST on events is bad optics for the industry and the Tourism Ministry would be taking it up at the next GST Council meet. Talking about the role of states in tourism sector, Mr. Billa said that “while the ICPB as a national umbrella body had helped the growth of MICE, to expand it further, States need to pitch their venues and to that end they are being encouraged to set up their own promotion bureaus.
West Bengal was the first to set up a state chapter and now Kerala has become the second State.” Talking to Exhibition Showcase on the sidelines of the event, Mr. Billa said, “Globally, MICE is a $808-billion market but pegged to touch $1,800 billion in the next five years. Fifty- two per cent of all travel in the world is MICE and it flattens seasonality. Although at present, India has only a small share of this market but it is constantly working to increase it.”
In her Keynote address, Smt. Rani George, Tourism Secretary of Kerala delved upon the concept of ‘Responsible MICE’ in Kerala. She said that Kerala would use the ‘Responsible MICE’ positioning to pitch for the MICE business and it already has green protocols in place for conferences and events.
In this the locals would be kept at the forefront, while tourists in a supporting role. She further said, “Kerala, which clocked one million foreign tourist arrivals, gets 10 per cent of India’s international tourist supply but most of these visitors arrive during peak season. Kerala Tourism is now trying to come up with offerings to fill up empty inventory during the lean season and MICE is seen as a perfect fit.” With four international airports, plenty of convention centres, and a high inventory of branded hotel supply, she said “Kochi as well as other cities in the State were well placed to bid for events that had fewer than 2,000 attendees. Currently, Kochi ranks only 11th among India’s MICE destinations (Delhi tops the list) but the Kerala Government has come up with an aggressive plan to change that.” According to her, 64 per cent of all MICE events had attendees in the 600-1,200 range and Kerala could pitch for these, rather than chase the big 5,000-plus-participants events.
Addressing the Gathering , Mr. Chander Mahasharmani, the Vice-chairman of ICPB said- “This year the theme of the Conclave is “Mapping the Sustainable MICE Future of India”. The focus area during the Conclave is to aim to be top ten meeting destinations in the World by 2023. There are around 80 exhibitors including Kerala tourism which will have a pavilion at the (CIC). There are over 120 buyers from across the globe.”
Convention industry in India faces various challenges including fierce competition by the neighbouring nations and other marketing issues. “The challenges we face in the Convention Industry will be discussing during Convention is how ICPB as a frontal marketing organization of the Ministry of Tourism can market India as a preferred Convention destination. Apart from the marketing, the other challenge is to compete with other countries
especially with neighbouring countries as most of them have a provision to underwrite the bid support and financial assistance for Conference,” Mr. Mansharamani further said.
The three day event also witnessed several insightful panel discussions on various concurrent themes like – ‘How India can double the number of International meetings to be anyway closer to the top 10 destinations in the World’, .ICPB – Your one-point contact’ etc with some prominent panelists including Mr. Vinod Zutshi, Former tourism secretary, Govt. of India, Mr. Dipak Haskar, CEO, ITC group of Hotels, Mr. Senthil Gopinath, CEO ICCA etc. inter-alia.
Speaking to Exhibition Showcase on the sidelines, Mr. Mausam Bhattacharjee, Director, Sales and Marketing, Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty said- “MICE tourists are better money spenders compared with leisure travellers. Conference travellers on an average spends around $1511 a day. While inbound leisure travellers spent around $600 a day.
In last one year, we have organised numerous conferences in Kochi. With ICPB, all the stakeholders unitedly make attempts to bring more MICE events to Kochi. Even the Kerala government and tourism department are taking the initiative to attract more MICE to the state.”
The conclave also had a spellbound cultural evening, filled with rich traditional performances of kerala artists. This included the traditional folk dance of kerala,
Marked by intense networking sessions, presentations from various state tourism board and a large congregation of diverse insightful ideas, the event ended on a note of laughter, a stand-up comedy by Ms. Niti Palta. Broadly, the three day conclave gave plethora of opportunities to boost tourism prospective in Kerala as well as in India, but more importantly events like this act as a cultural bridge for in the country bringing a large number of delegates across the country and world at one place and creating a new unity in diversity, in the God’s own country.