Catalyst

Filling up India’s Conventions Calendar

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on September 06, 2019 Published on September 06, 2019

Ideal settings: Mahatma Mandir   -  The Hindu

The domestic MICE industry looks to grow its share to at least 2 per cent of the global pie

The Hannover exhibition centre in Germany, one of the largest convention centres in the world, is spread across 5,54,000 sq metres. Stuttgart, Berlin, Dusseldorf, all have fairly massive meeting spaces too.

By contrast, if you add up all the convention centres in India, they total to just 5,00,000 sq metres of space. Although the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) business in India is pegged at ₹25,000 crore and growing at 8 per cent, year on year, it has a miniscule 0.5 per cent share of the global industry, which is estimated to be around $808 billion (₹5,814,570 crore). The US and Germany lead in MICE, while India trails at 28th place — even tiny Thailand is ahead of us.

However, delegates and speakers at the 12th Conventions India Conclave held recently in Kochi were hopeful that with more than 12 new venues coming up in India, things could change.

As Chander Mansharamani, Vice-Chairman of India Conventions Promotion Bureau, a body that tries to attract more events to India, pointed out, “Once those come up in the next couple of years, MICE space in India could cross 15,00,000 sq metres.”

The big debate at the CIC event was how to rev up the growth of MICE and take India’s share to at least 2 per cent of the global industry pie.

“For that, the entire ecosystem — from convention centre builder to hoteliers to event planners right down to flower vendors — has to chip in and pitch collectively,” said Suman Billa, joint secretary, Ministry of Tourism. But first, do we need world-class convention centres?

Exciting new venues

Among the upcoming venues is the mega facility at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan being readied by the India Trade Promotion Organisation, which includes a five-star hotel and several meetings arena. There is also the ambitious ₹25,703-crore, 90-acre, India International Convention and Expo Centre coming up in Delhi’s Dwarka area, where 20,000 delegates can congregate easily. In Bengaluru, the Karnataka government is creating the Bangalore International Conventions Centre on 35 acres of land near the airport.

Apart from the government, the private sector too is creating a lot of convention infrastructure — there is the international convention centre that Reliance Industries is rolling out at its Jio World Centre in Mumbai’s BKC area. In Kerala, Yusuf Ali’s Lulu Group International, which opened a 10-lakh sq ft convention centre plus five-star hotel project last year at Bolgatty Island in Kochi, is creating more space this year. It is set to open another Hyatt hotel in Thrissur and expand the existing convention centre there.

There is an economic imperative behind the race to set up big MICE venues. For starters, it can help India improve its dismal international tourist arrival figures. Also, as Billa points out, there is a lot of downstream spending that happens during business conventions. Most visitors tend to stay on extra days, sampling tourism offerings or splurging on shopping and experiences, and the whole city where the event is held benefits.

Mausam Bhattacharjee, Director of Sales and Marketing at Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, corroborates this. Although Kerala is predominantly a leisure market, the Grand Hyatt, since its opening last year, has logged 250 MICE events, of which the four-day APICON event, which saw 9,000 delegates per day, was the largest. The hotel catered 40,000 meals at the event. Seventy per cent of the hotel’s revenues have come in through the convention centre it manages for the Lulu Group, far higher than all expectations, points out Bhattacharjee.

Ideal settings: The ballroom at Grand Hyatt, Bolgatty, Kochi

 

Not surprisingly, the hotel is firing on all cylinders to attract more events, offering unique experiences. But competition is intense and hotting up.

At the CIC, where nearly 150 potential buyers were in attendance, there were big pitches from Bhopal’s Minto Hall, which positioned itself as a heritage convention centre playing up its association with Viceroy Minto, Gandhinagar’s Mahatma Mandir, managed by the Leela Hotels group, that wooed visitors with the Gandhian philosophy card and the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre that played up its hi-tech credentials.

Trends and shifts

While the new venues sound exciting, the takeaway from the conclave was that India should not wait for big box spaces but aggressively chase the small events for which it already has the infrastructure.

“The trend is that conferences are breaking up,” said Senthil Gopinath, CEO of ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), advising attendees not to go after the larger pieces but chase smaller ones.

According to him, 90 per cent of the conferences in the world are events with less than 2,000 delegates, which even non-metro venues in India can easily host.

And while international conferences are prestigious and bring in big bucks, Gopinath also advised focusing on the domestic, which yields more volumes. Currently, a lot of Indian corporate incentive meets are being grabbed by Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore — why not try and stop these exports by offering equally ‘value for money’ experiences?

Admittedly, with 138 destinations competing worldwide for conventions, it’s a tough field.

But according to Gopinath, conference buyers are looking for venues that are flexible, format-rich, and fun while events themselves are getting to be fast-paced, and super-focused. While pitching, convention hosts should focus on these trends. He felt that India’s biggest strength was its variety and diversity of locales.

The other big strength was its huge knowledge economy. If you consider that the biggest MICE buyer is the medical fraternity, then the presence of a vibrant population of doctors in India only helps the country’s pitch.

Could video conferences hurt the growth of MICE? According to Gopinath, they have only helped the MICE segment — as forward-thinking conference organisers enhance participation through webinars, live streaming and more. “People will always love to meet,” he sums up.

Published on September 06, 2019
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