Look out for God’s Own Conventions now as Kerala goes all out to pitch the State as a MICE (meetings incentives conferences and exhibitions) destination.

“We are in MICE mission mode,” said the State’s Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran as he announced the launch of a new Kerala Conventions Promotion Bureau that will bid to host big conferences.

The Minister was speaking at the 12th Conventions India Conclave here, organised by the Indian Conventions Promotion Bureau (ICPB) under the patronage of the Union Ministry of Tourism. This year, Kerala was the partner State, hosting the event attended by major MICE buyers with an eye on a slice of the business travel pie plans to expand its tourism offerings from just leisure and family travel.

As Suman Billa, Joint secretary, Ministry of Tourism, said, “Fifty- two per cent of all travel in the world is MICE and it flattens seasonality.”

Tourist arrivals

Later speaking to BusinessLine , Rani George, Tourism Secretary of Kerala, said that the State, 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 fewerthan 2,000 attendees.

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.

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.

‘Responsible Tourism’

George said that Kerala would use the “Responsible Tourism” positioning to pitch for the MICE business and it already has green protocols in place for conferences and events.

Would Kerala, which is perceived as an aspirational destination be cost effective for MICE? George said that the State offered value for money as it provided plenty of add-ons like scenic locales, exotic cuisine and attractions like Ayurveda. Besides, she said, the Kerala Conventions Promotion Bureau would bring all stakeholders, including hotels, airlines, tour operators, events companies and conference hosts, together to work on a competitive rate.

Union Tourism secretary Suman Billa highlighted how the Centre was doing its bit to help grow MICE tourism in India through proactive policy moves. Globally, MICE is a $808-billion market but pegged to touch $1,800 billion in the next five years. India has only a small share of this market but working to increase it.

e-conference visas

For instance, three weeks ago, India 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.

Billa also said that 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 announced 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 ₹1,000 crore, but to start with ₹500 crore is being released. 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.

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.

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