For over three decades Sri Lanka was not able to carry out a consistent plan of action for promotion of meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) tourism due to the unsatisfactory security situation in the country. Adverse propaganda against the country was a thing of the past and the tourism authorities would not have any fears in spending funds on promotions overseas as they are guaranteed of achieving value for money spent on promotional investment.
MICE promotion is a planned course of action centred around holidaying, professional empowerment or educational and business knowledge enhancement.
The objectives of MICE promotion could be achieved successfully in all segments as we now possess a set of experienced and professional marketers. As a country Sri Lanka should endeavour to reach all sectors such as professionals, environmentalists, non-governmental organisations, trade cartels, international chambers of commerce and trade associations, sports associations, film industry, equity fund managers, etc., in a much more positive and result-oriented manner to capture a sizable market share of the global MICE market.
Sri Lanka is a member of the Commonwealth Association, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and other international organisations for a considerable period of time. The Commonwealth has a membership of 53 countries and we held the leadership for the last two years and the member countries are well aware of Sri Lankan potential for major conferences, exhibitions and events.
Sri Lanka is also well known for its cricket, garments, tea, gems and jewellery, spices, etc., for many decades. With improved ties with the European and pacific ring countries Sri Lanka is now in a position to accelerate the MICE drive. The authorities should map up innovative strategies to penetrate the MICE market.
Every five-star and colonial hotel in the country as a matter of corporate policy is required to plan and formulate a MICE calendar for every year. The directors and the top management should engage in planning strategies for MICE promotion and conclude same before the annual financial budgets are tabled and approved. In this context, assistance could be sought from the state authorities, relevant ministries, chambers of commerce, travel agents, professional and sports associations and clubs as a preliminary step. Concepts need be designed, adjusted, innovated, approved and marketed through proper channels.
The criteria for the selection of promotional strategies and modes will depend on costs, timing, design, channels of promotion, competition from regional countries, intended markets, capacity available, availability of specialists and other ancillary factors. In addition, the campaign should be designed to reap the benefits to a period of at least five years with a long-term perspective and to ensure a steady stream of tourists annually.
Evaluation criteria for different markets is of paramount importance. Creation of responsibility centres for all types of promotional activities at the planning stage is a prerequisite. Data bases should be compiled and regularly updated with the assistance of trade associations, chambers of commerce, professional associations, board of investment, international travel agents and associations and the diplomatic missions.
I personally feel that a huge untapped MICE market awaits the drive of Sri Lanka due to the improved country image, varied tourism products and the hospitality of our people.
Inputs for a productive MICE campaign are the active convention bureaus, strong cooperation between the government and private sector, excellent direct air links to the country, reports of travel research agencies, professional congress organisers (PCOS) and the country ratings by international travel associations.
Rotation of events between different regions of our country will promote tourism in diverse geographical areas with varied climate, customs and scenic beauty. Rotation of events amongst the regional countries is another option to preserve events in the region. Joint hosting of events will be beneficial to all hosting countries. A good example was the ICC cricket world cup held in 2011 where India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh played the role of joint hosts and conducted the tournament very successfully.
The pricing strategy is of equal importance in MICE promotion. Overpricing and under pricing strategies need be avoided to ensure the optimum value for money spent for the visitors. Reservations should commence well ahead. A readily marketable price coupled with unique opportunities offered will ensure the success of the promotion.
For any country there are three stages in structured MICE promotion, namely, introductory stage, consolidation stage and stabilization stage.
In conclusion, it would be more appropriate to rename the term MICE to MICEE to include meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions and also events. The state institutions need to provide total assistance in the promotion of MICEE tourism in Sri Lanka. Special events will attract high international media rights for live coverage netting huge income for the organisers.
(C. Samaranayake has conducted many tourism promotional projects in Sri Lanka and abroad during the last three decades. He is a mega event developer in the sports, tourism, investment promotion, music and entertainment fields and a qualified financial professional with Sri Lankan and overseas qualifications. He can be reached via email@example.com for new MICE project development)