As one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, the travel and tourism industry contributed $8800bn to the global economy in 2018, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Within this market, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment is driving high-value tourism, economic development and FDI.

A 2018 study, Global Economic Significance of Business Events, conducted by Oxford Economics in collaboration with the Events Industry Council and its partners IMEX, Hilton, the MPI Foundation and the PCMA Education Foundation, revealed that business events generated $621.4bn of direct GDP on a global level and contributed a total GDP impact of $1500bn that year. They also led to the direct generation of more than 10.3 million jobs and affected a further 25.9 million more. 

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A total of 50 countries accounted for 96% of the overall $1070bn in direct spending in the MICE segment, with the US, China, Germany, the UK and Japan rounding out the top five. The region that showed the greatest interest in business events was Asia-Pacific, with its citizens accounting for almost one-third of the 1.5 billion participants worldwide. 

Hilton's embrace

“MICE is a key priority for Hilton and accounts for a significant portion of our business,” says the company’s senior vice-president and commercial director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Patricia Page Champion. “More than half of our guests are business travellers.”

She adds: “As far as MICE hotels are concerned, we identify high-demand areas in which to open and invest in hotels. For this, a chosen location will usually have a strong transport hub infrastructure as well as easy access to, or be located in, prime urban locations and large-scale exhibition centres.”

Mid-2019 will see the opening of the Hilton Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre, which will connect directly to one of the UK’s largest exhibition centres, the Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre (AECC). “Aberdeen City Council is focused on broadening the local economy across a number of sectors including tourism, and it is estimated that the AECC will bring an additional 31,000 business visitors to Scotland, making this market a strategically viable location for MICE investment,” says Ms Page Champion.

And in a separate move, in February 2019, Hilton launched its new meetings and events-focused brand, Signia Hilton, which is building momentum in the US, but aims eventually to become a global entity.

Germany's big event

Germany is an important destination in the MICE market. According to the Meeting and Event Barometer 2017/18, produced by the German National Tourist Board, the European Association of Event Centres and the German Convention Bureau, in 2017 the number of delegates attending meetings, conferences and events in the country rose by 2.8% to 405 million. There has also been a growing trend towards internationalisation, with the share of international delegates increasing by 10.9% to 36.5 million.

In Düsseldorf, mayor Thomas Geisel reports that the MICE sector has been one of the key drivers of internationalisation and innovation in the city’s economy. “In 2017 alone, almost 4 million visitors participated in events and conferences held in one of the 172 venues in the city of Düsseldorf – 79% of these events had a distinct business slant and many of them were truly international, which is way beyond the German average,” he says.

Mr Geisel recognises the importance of the MICE sector to FDI into the city. “Events help to put Düsseldorf on the radar of the international business community. When assessing the impact of MICE on attracting FDI into Düsseldorf, it is probably best to focus on the contribution of Messe Düsseldorf and its 23 leading global trade shows to the promotion of the city as a location for international companies. Messe Düsseldorf brings almost 20,000 international exhibitors and up to 690,000 international visitors to the city every year,” he says.

“Exhibitors who gain first-hand experience of the advantages of Düsseldorf as a platform for distribution, sales and co-operation in Europe often become investors at a later stage. For example, JSP, a UK-based manufacturer of industrial personal protection equipment and a regular exhibitor at the A+A trade show, opened a production site in Düsseldorf in 2018 creating some 80 to100 jobs here,” he adds. 

“Another example is Chinese investor SonoScape Medical Germany. After exhibiting at the Medica trade show – the global medical equipment sector’s most important trade show – the firm opened a sales and distribution office in Düsseldorf in 2018, which has about five members of staff. And most recently, in January 2019, Nichiban, Japan’s leading tape producer and another exhibitor at Medica, opened an office in the city. This currently has just two employees, but the company is planning a rapid expansion.”

Emerging popularity

The MICE market is also proving popular in emerging markets. According to KPMG’s tourism and hospitality report Union Budget 2017-18, which focuses on the industry in India, in 2015 the travel and tourism segment alone directly supported about 23.5 million jobs (5.5% of total employment) in the country. It highlights the importance of the steadily growing MICE sector in driving this market, but also identifies three challenges that still need to be overcome: high tax rates, a complex regulatory environment and an inadequate tourism infrastructure. 

To help drive investment in the travel market, the Indian government has allowed 100% FDI under the automatic route in the tourism and hospitality sector, including tourism construction projects, such as the development of hotels, resorts and recreational facilities.

Another location to focus on the MICE market is Haiti, which is home to an international technology event. The founder of the Haiti Tech Summit, Christine Souffrant Ntim, says it has been important for it to have support from the Haitian government, which as a partner can ensure the ease of travel for international participants, and encourage more government pioneers to attend. “The important thing is that the government is both involved and supportive of the event to ensure more internationals attend and more locals leverage the opportunities offered at the summit,” she says.

“We’ve been called the ‘Davos of the Caribbean’ because the Haiti Tech Summit brings together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, celebrities and creatives under one roof to address humanity’s greatest challenges via tech and entrepreneurship,” adds Ms Souffrant Ntim. “It is a part of a 13-year initiative to turn Haiti into an international tech hub by 2030. Events such as these encourage investment in the local economy, as well as displaying the exciting opportunities that the country has to offer as an emerging tech hub.”