How MICE is Fueling Hospitality Industry Growth in China

By Deborah Popely Assistant Professor, School of Hospitality Management , Kendall College | May 08, 2016

"Growth" and "China" are so often used in the same sentence that it has almost become cliche. Even recent reports of economic slowdown in the world's second largest economy seem to barely make a dent in the continuing upward trajectory of China's service sector, of which hospitality and tourism are significant parts. Estimates are that by 2023, China's hotel industry will become a $100 billion industry with 6.3 million rooms and reach 8 rooms per 1,000 capita (approximately on par with the U.K.)(1). Some analysts believe that China is the most important market for global operators such as Marriott, Starwood, Intercontinental and Accor, which have over 400 new Chinese hotels in the pipeline. Although luxury brands have been at the forefront, the even greater growth opportunities appear to be in the mid-scale and budget categories, while the high-end brands are in a consolidation phase(2).

Within the context of the hospitality industry, the conference and events sector is a rising star, estimated to be growing at a rate of 20% annually. In 2013, 340 meetings took place in China, making it 8th largest meeting destination in the world(3). The 2014 China MICE Buyers Report found that the majority of Chinese event planners anticipate planning more meetings in the coming year, although these meetings are likely to be shorter and more cost-efficient in response to the Chinese government's efficiency measures(4) (although it should be noted that shorter events and smaller budgets are consistent with worldwide MICE trends). Tier 2 and tier 3 Chinese cities such as Chengdu, Wuhan and Tianjin are building convention centers, hotels and other venues to keep up with growing domestic and international demand for meetings in China.

International MICE Market

Marquee events traditionally gravitate to first tier or "world cities" that have the infrastructure and image to draw global attention. New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong hold the top five positions due to their worldwide financial, cultural and political influence(5). By contrast, second-tier and third-tier cities, typically provincial capitals or coastal cities, tend to attract less prestigious local and regional events that demand less in terms of space, transportation, technology and communication capabilities. However, with recent growth in the size and mobility of the international MICE industry, spurred on by the end of the 2008 recession, many smaller cities around the world (for example, Austin, Auckland, Amsterdam, Dublin, Barcelona) are beginning to compete on a global basis for high visibility international events(6).

According to Greg Clark, chairman of London's Business of Cities think tank, multinationals are becoming more agile and willing to experiment with new destinations, as long as these locations can provide a commensurate level of "accessibility, talent, tolerance and technology."(7) This necessitates the development of sophisticated, full-service, business-oriented urban environments that deliver engaging visitor experiences while facilitating high-level business interactions.

Smaller cities are recognizing that business events can be an engine for attracting corporate investment, but this may necessitate creating a shift in perception. For example Miami, long viewed as a vacation and retirement destination, has invested heavily in developing MICE infrastructure as part of a business-focused rebranding strategy. Some cities are purposefully differentiating to serve particular business niches. Dublin is leveraging its academic, research and technology assets to identify itself as a "knowledge hub." San Francisco has developed as the first choice for hi-tech industry events thanks to its favorable association with Silicon Valley's startups and superstars.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.