The inaugural ASEAN MICE Forum at IT&CMA and CTW Asia-Pacific 2015 opened with a panel discussion of a topic which may have particular resonance as the ASEAN Economic Community takes effect from the end of this year. The potential for MICE travelers to visit more than one destination within a single program should favor secondary destinations across the region and spread both education and investment more widely. On stage to talk about the issues were Addie Pornthip of Destination Asia, Sarah Randall of Centara Hotels & Resorts, and Hugo Slimbrouck of Ovation Global DMC.
From the outset it was clear that multiple destination visits for the M, C and E of MICE are rather uncommon, with the possible exception of product launches or promotional tours. If more than one meeting is scheduled, then “nine out of ten will be to the major business hubs,” argued Sarah, while Hugo stressed that the short time frame involved in meetings kept them strictly to one destination, adding that “multi- destination programs only happen in incentive travel as add-ons.”
One area to focus on, however, is the potential for cities which are perhaps less well-known to develop a niche for themselves in certain industries. Hugo noted that he had been selling different Indonesian destinations to different business sectors, and that the tourism appeal of each was only third or fourth on the list of priorities. Conventions in such cities were “good for the local economy, good for junior staff who have a chance to attend, and also attract investment.”
With incentive travel clearly identified as the most likely source of multi-destination bookings, the panel moved on to some of the trends and concerns they had personally encountered.
Addie brought up two points, noting that Thailand had seen a large increase in incentive groups from Latin America, which could be attributed largely to the Middle Eastern airlines – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – making such journeys both affordable and relatively convenient. The ASEAN region has never before been so accessible to so much of the world, and this is important because long haul incentive travelers usually want to see as much as possible, playing into the hands of the multi-destination program.
However, one problem faced by incentive travel buyers is the matter of consistency. While branded hotels can offer similar standards across the region, consistency is a bigger challenge with airlines. Low-cost carriers offer accessibility to a plethora of destinations, but the lack of comfort is a poor fit for incentive travel. Hugo, however, was not convinced. “Not everyone has a large incentive budget,” he said, “so low-cost airlines are sometimes perfect for add-ons.” In fact, as company finances tighten, “authenticity is becoming the new luxury.”
Sarah concurred, adding that the idea of authenticity “opens up the possibility of secondary destinations defining specific roles for themselves in terms of the experiences they can offer.” CSR is increasingly important, as is the opportunity to engage with local culture.
This still leaves the problem of logistics: it is undeniably easier to plan for one destination than two. Hugo’s recommendation to incentive travel organizers was to “make sure you are dealing with a single contact person,” while Sarah’s suggestion from the seller’s perspective was always to offer trusted advice instead of hard sell. “If you’ve listened to what the client wants and your property isn’t really suitable, it‘s better to point them in the right direction than keep pushing your own product. They’ll come back to you again later.”
Hugo agreed. As for the question of whether or not MICE will prosper on a multi-destination basis, his advice was perfectly clear: “Listen carefully to what clients are asking for,” he urged. “They’ll tell you the future trends.”