MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conference, Exhibitions) tourism constitutes a key segment of the tourist industry globally, expected to be valued at USD 1.5 trillion by the year 2025. Despite its strong potential, the contribution from MICE tourism in Sri Lanka has been modest, causing the island-nation to lose out on a potentially strong revenue generating niche. But in keeping with the present dynamism in Sri Lanka’s tourism’s revival strategy, the Sri Lanka Tourism is in the process of drawing up a 5-year ‘MICE Industry Development Plan’ in collaboration with private sector tourism partners and airlines. The strategic plan will encompass conference and exhibition industry promotion; promotion of corporate meetings; incentive tours; association meetings and MIC industry information/ data collection system initiatives for a 360-degree way ahead for growing this business segment. If Sri Lanka captures even a small slice of the global MICE tourism market, it would help overcome tourism seasonality in the industry by providing year-round tourism revenue since MICE tourism is usually non-seasonal.
Sri Lanka has some key strengths to attract MICE tourism such as Destination appeal; Culture and Heritage; Foreign Hotel chains; Developing infrastructure; Safe destination/ global recommendation; ICCA memberships; Favorable climate and a speedy Online Visa process. Nevertheless, some key existing barriers to growth need to be urgently addressed and mitigated.
While the construction of new international 5-star chains in Colombo is attractive for high net worth travelers, the industry needs a wide mix of different tier hotels to ensure adequate room capacity for large MICE events. Considering the different budgets of MICE clients, Sri Lanka should be able to offer ample room capacity across all classes of hotels.
The lack of the necessary conference and exhibition venues is another obstacle that needs to be overcome by having more venues such as BMICH in Colombo and at several tourist hotspots to enhance the appeal of Sri Lanka as MICE destination. Other than the commercial capital of Colombo, all other major cities lack modern international conference centres that can compare to those in Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia. Sri Lanka must have at least 2 to 3 multipurpose convention centres so that several large-scale MICE events can be held in the city simultaneously. It is estimated by Meeting City Ranking of Union of International Associations that over 800 conventions take place in the city-state of Singapore every year!
While Sri Lanka is on the radar of MICE operators in South Asia, in order to attract MICE business from Europe and other developed regions, the country needs better connectivity. More direct flights from key source markets are vital to facilitate the MICE business. Apart from the national airline, we need to attract more foreign airlines to fill the vacuum created for direct flights from European destinations to Sri Lanka and the Civil Aviation Authority must see the possibility of filling this vacuum with other international airlines.
Attracting high net worth MICE customers will also require the provision of superior service levels and Sri Lanka faces a shortage of manpower in this regard. In order to cater to the future of MICE tourism, Sri Lanka needs to urgently put in place the requisite tourism training structure and certification to ensure world-class service levels across all functions in the hospitality industry.
With the aim to drive higher profitability in the tourism sector, taxation on the sector too needs to be relaxed as the present high taxes account for 25% of the total room rate. A more simplified and long-term taxation policy with a five-year window at the least, would help facilitate MICE business.
Culture, retail therapy and nightlife constitute a key offering in MICE tourism but the opportunities in this segment in Colombo are minimal. Delegates must have easy access to shopping, nightlife, theater and maybe a possible game of golf during their short stay. Organizers must plan to have activities and pre/post tours to give the maximum exposure to these attractions.
It is a bygone conclusion that digital platforms, Internet connectivity and appropriate IT infrastructure are imperative for successful MICE events, which Sri Lanka is in a position to offer.
Despite being an island – with the sun, sea and sand being obvious attractions, Sri Lanka has a lot more to offer as a destination and needs to market natural, cultural and historical diversity to MICE travellers. Taken together, the island will hold even more appeal than destinations such as Thailand. Markets such as Bangkok and Singapore in the region are as equally known for their MICE offerings as for leisure and this is the identity that Sri Lanka Tourism is striving for. Apart from the proposed global tourism campaign, a comprehensive marketing strategy and well-focused promotional campaign to develop MICE is the need of the hour identified by tourism authorities.
Marketing this segment requires deep pockets and Sri Lanka will need to strength the budget for marketing of MICE tourism to create the desired impact. Industry predictions indicate that the MICE sector is poised for vigorous growth and the demand for MICE events are on the rise. Effort needs to be made to establish relationship with meeting planners and incentive houses in the region to package and market Sri Lanka as a MICE destination.
As Sri Lanka Tourism pushes for recovery and growth, MICE tourism can emerge as a key revenue generation niche for the industry.