Lessons for the Philippines: Hong Kong delivers for MICE

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 17, 2011

The efforts of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez to unite stakeholders in the tourism industry paid off last week with the election of a new set of trustees and officers of the Tourism Congress. The Congress is a private-sector led advisory body to the Department of Tourism (DOT) established by the Tourism Act of 2009. Stakeholders have been at odds over rights to representation in the body.

Disagreement over whether the Congress should be composed of association representatives or individual enterprises was the principal issue. While the Tourism Act calls for representatives of individual, DOT-accredited enterprises to be elected to the Congress, the original implementing rules and regulations ignored that clause and decreed that only association representatives could be elected.

With that issue resolved and a new set of trustees representing individual enterprises in place, the united Congress, according to Mr. Jimenez, “is a new dawning for you have begun the serious and strenuous task of unification and consolidation under one umbrella organization.” He added, “Your coming together today will guarantee that we will not only compete more effectively than before, we will finally win our fair share of the world’s booming travel market.”

It’s about time. The Philippines’ receives a fraction of the tourists its principal competitors in Southeast Asia welcome to their shores every year. As of September, Hong Kong had received more than 10 million visitors from around the world, not counting mainland China. Mainland Chinese tourists accounted for another 20 million, increasing visitor arrivals to more than 30 million. The Philippines will receive about one tenth of that number in all of 2011.

Hong Kong is also the region’s leader in the lucrative MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) sector.  The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) earlier this week announced that overnight MICE visitor arrivals to Hong Kong in the first nine months of 2011 surpassed one million for the first time. The arrival 1,028,989 MICE visitors represented a 15.0% increase over the same period last year. There are lessons for the Philippines in these results.

For example, among all visitor source markets, the greatest growth was recorded in short-haul regions, where steady economic development and appreciation of major currencies against the Hong Kong dollar encouraged MICE organisers, especially those of meetings and incentive travel, to select Hong Kong as their activity destination. In July, a large battery manufacturer in India organised an incentive trip to Hong Kong for over 1,400 dealers.

Mega conventions and exhibitions in the third quarter also helped. These events included the International Society for Quality in Health Care 28th International Conference, the International Liver Cancer Association Fifth Annual Conference, the 17th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, the Asian Seafood Exposition, the Natural Products Expo Asia, and Vitafoods Asia, which was held in Hong Kong for the first time.

Through September, Mainland China (+19.9%) and South & Southeast Asia (+18.2%) recorded the biggest growth. The Mainland was also the largest MICE visitor source market, contributing over 440,000 or 42.9% of all overnight MICE arrivals to Hong Kong.

As for long-haul markets, many international conferences and exhibitions held in Hong Kong are confirmed years in advance, and these activities are normally more resilient to economic volatility such as that roiling the EU and North America. And among all long-haul market regions, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific was the best performer (+13.0%), followed by Europe, Africa and the Middle East (+12.1%).

Looking ahead into the outlook for MICE tourism in Hong Kong, HKTB Chairman James Tien said in a statement: “Numerous large-scale conventions and exhibitions have already been lined up for next year, including the FDI World Dental Congress 2012, the AsiaPacific Conference of the Junior Chamber International in 2012 and the Asian Attractions Expo 2012,” projecting confidence for continued growth.

“We will sustain our collaboration with the MICE and travel trade sectors to enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness and appeal as a MICE destination. Just recently, we have joined a number of Lantau-based MICE and related trade partners to roll out a new campaign designed for promoting Lantau as a MICE hub. Through this campaign, we aim to attract a greater number of MICE events to the island, and generate more business for the tourism sector,” Mr. Tien said.

The Philippines is a target for that campaign. A display ad for Lantau accompanied an online report on last week’s Congress, and Mr. Jimenez’s remarks. The ad positions Lantau as “An Inspirational MICE Destination.” Of course, visibility is just one side of the MICE coin. Lantau, Hong Kong, and other leading MICE destinations—Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur—have also invested heavily in MICE infrastructure.

If the Philippines wants to be a genuine MICE player, it has to match those bets. The very capable and widely respected Mr. Jimenez can now leverage private-sector support to create the momentum to do so.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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