The Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs Ministry is aiming for an even more ambitious conference centre project to develop MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) tourism than was envisioned in the last two government budgets, according to the recently released Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020.
“Colombo lacks capacity for events beyond an audience of 1,600. A new centre should be a hi-tech flexible space with seating capacity for 8,000 that can be reformatted for trade shows, indoor sporting events, concerts, performances and consumer shows and have adequate parking,”
the plan outlined.
The investment required for the project was not mentioned and it is not clear whether this will be a private sector project, a government-funded project or a public-private partnership (PPP).
The ‘Lead Agencies and Partners’ section for the project includes the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and Megapolis Authority but does not include the private sector, as outlined in other projects under the plan.
Colombo hoteliers are currently criticizing MICE tourism and low yields for hotels from the segment.
MICE travel to Sri Lanka made up just 0.8 percent of the country’s 2.05 million arrivals in 2016, down from a 10-year high of 3 percent in 2006.
Business travel, which could also be considered as MICE travel, fell to 1.8 percent of total arrivals last year, down from a 10-year high of 17.8 percent, also in 2006.
Destinations such as Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai are profiting highly from MICE travel segments. MICE travellers spend several times more than a leisure tourist per day.
The government has identified a convention centre as a high priority, given its relative lack of dependence on infrastructure, but high contribution to the development of local goods and service providers. The government is hoping to target Indian and Middle Eastern MICE markets.
The Tourism and Christian Affairs Ministry is hoping to develop the convention centre within four years. Construction will begin in 2018, following planning conducted this year. A public and private sector working group will conceptualize the convention centre and carry out a prefeasibility study.
Under the 2016 budget, a 7,000 capacity conference hall was proposed to be built adjacent to the New Town Hall in collaboration with the private sector. The Treasury had proposed to allocate Rs.3 billion to finance the project and give MICE tourism operators a 50 percent tax holiday.
The 2016 budget had also proposed to set up an exhibition centre near parliament under a public-private partnership. In this year’s budget, a conference centre construction was proposed but was scaled down to a 5,000 capacity facility, with financing of Rs.1 billion, to be completed by 2019. (CW)