Greater coordination effort between states and centre needed to boost MICE segment in India: Neil Paterson

Neil Paterson, General Manager, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre & Hyderabad International Convention Centre spoke to TourismFirst and discussed impending challenges facing the MICE segment in the country and efforts needed to boost India’s image as a world-class MICE destination.

Neil-PatersonWhat is the single biggest problem in running your convention centre? What needs to be done to address the issue?

Hospitality is a dynamic industry and employee turnover is one of the biggest challenges that the industry faces today. Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) and Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre (NHCC), being one of the preferred MICE facilities in all of South Asia, attracts a large number of MICE and business travellers. For us, one of the major challenges is getting the skilled employees and retaining them. Both international & national visitors travelling for MICE events have a specific set of requirements as they come for different nature of events and have diverse backgrounds and expectations. To serve these guests up to their satisfaction, making their stay and meetings at the property a memorable and flawless experience demands a proactive understanding and a superior skillset at the employee front. Hence, in order to bring in such top tier talent and train them as per AccorHotels service standards is imperative. With growing opportunities in the industry, it becomes a challenge to find good resources and retain them for long term. Well planned initiatives like regular training schedule, employee engagement plans, understanding and supporting the work-life balance, openness for flexible timings, specially designed programmes to benefit employees and developing resources with initiatives like the AccorHotels New Gen Leaders program help in addressing this issue.

How has the last year been in terms of business? What are some of the expectations from this year and how has the demonetization impact shaped up?

 Both HICC and NHCC have been integral to the growth of MICE, helping catapult Hyderabad to be amongst the top 4 Indian MICE cities, based on the sheer number of events we have hosted at our venues.

2016 was a successful year for Hyderabad; we at HICC hosted several large conferences, attracting more than 300,000 international and national visitors to the city. The contributing segments included IT, medical, agriculture, financial services and aero sciences. We expect 2017 to be much stronger with higher number of conferences. Apart from the segments which has performed well in 2016, various international associations and conference boards will also contribute in this year’s progression. Demonetisation did not have a major impact on us, as lead times in our business are higher, both the guests and hotel had enough time to plan around and overcome the issue. With things normalising now and the increased emphasis on going digital, business is upbeat and we have a positive outlook for the future.

The Indian MICE landscape is set for an infrastructural change. The iconic Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan, in the capital, was recently put under the hammer for redevelopment. Even though the step is bound to give this segment a much-needed boost, what are some of the other elements that need to be looked in to for sustained development of the sector?

Better coordinated, concerted and planned efforts between central and state government will be instrumental in facilitating the growth and improvement of MICE movement in India. Development of MICE focused venues and functional spaces will allow MICE operators to choose India as a destination for renowned meetings and conferences. Infrastructural progress including increased connectivity to emerging tier 2 cities will surely have a positive impact in promoting these upcoming destinations among MICE organisers thereby bringing in more meetings and events to India.

India, with its focus on MICE, is set to become a serious competitor for the South East Asian as well as Middle East countries in the segment. What should be the marketing approach to promote this sector in order for it to reach its true potential?

A big push is required to market the ‘Brand India’ as a global MICE destination. We should focus on setting up more city convention and visitors bureaus. The India Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB) is already taking necessary steps in order to actively promote MICE in India. Apart from ICPB, ‘Hyderabad Convention Visitor Bureau’ (HCVB) is the only city specific convention bureau which dedicatedly promotes and brings MICE events to the city, successfully positioning Hyderabad as a MICE capital of the country. That said, we still have miles to go. Vigorous participation in global MICE fairs and expos will be key towards building awareness and to showcase what India has to offer. Furthermore, it is pertinent for existing hotels and conventions facilities to join forces in promoting India as a preferred MICE destination. Involvement in large numbers will communicate a cohesive promotional effort and commitment to the industry. Other strategic steps like compelling MICE specific promotional material about India, promoting MICE in India with the support of global media, organising international media and FAM Trips, road shows and hosted buyer programs will bolster the country’s MICE proposition.

Compared to its current roll, how much more do you think does the MICE segment need to achieve in order to become a significant economic contributor?

India’s current share from Global MICE market ranges from 0.5% to 0.68%, which needs to be doubled in the coming five years for it to have a significant impact on our economy. Focused efforts by existing and upcoming MICE venues in getting a fair share of International Associations’ business to India will definitely boost the economy and bring in socio-economic benefits.

MICE is generally perceived as being part of the tourism industry but in the broader sense, it can be said that the MICE segment is essentially a part of the ‘knowledge’ industry (exchange of ideas, global best practices, technology etc.) Do you think that there is a need for this change in outlook?

There will always be an overlap between MICE & Tourism. However, MICE is a much bigger industry and has enormous potential for India to tap into. There is certainly a need for India to broaden its perspective towards it and develop the country’s infrastructure and connectivity to attract more MICE business.

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