MICE, key to tourism promotion

MICE tourism is a planned course of action centred around holidaying,professional empowerment or educational and business knowledge enhancement. MICE refers to meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. However events are also covered by this and ideally the word MICE need be retermed as MICEE to cover ‘events’ as well.

First time visitors to Sri Lanka may arrive in the country to participate in a MICE product launched by Sri Lanka.The participants will then go back to their countries and relate their experiences in Sri Lanka.As a result,the first time visitors will initiate a chain effect on tourist arrivals.Recent mega high profile events held in Sri Lanka,especially after the end of hostilities in the North and East,were the IIFFA event held in 2010,Commonwealth heads of state conference in 2013,visit of George Soros the internationally famed investor along with his team in January 2016 for a mega investment promotion forum.

Further, Sri Lanka co-hosted the ICC cricket world cup,in 2011 followed by the T-20 Cricket WORLD CUP IN COLOMBO IN 2012. All above events attracted huge publicity and promotion as a country for Sri Lanka.

Many first time visitors would have made it to Sri Lanka.However,the biggest and most productive event for Sri Lanka was the Non Aligned Nations heads of state conference held in 1976. After this conference Sri Lanka’s exports received a tremendous boost.

We can easily bridge the gap of around 700,000 tourists to reach the target of 2.5 million tourists by 2020 from the present 1.8 million tourists. We should make every month of the year an event month as we boasts of many cultural,religious and social backgrounds to create suitable MICE events.

The benefits of MICE events will last for a number of years at least. We have now overcome the adverse propaganda against our country and have created a visitor friendly atmosphere.Governmental and International non governmental organizations could also contribute to the cause by arranging many Mice events on their own.

The objects 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 out to all sectors such as professionals,environmentalists,trade cartels,international chambers of commerce and trade associations,sports clubs and 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 organizations for a considerable period of time.

The Commonwealth has a membership of 53 countries and we held the leadership for two years from 2013 November and the member countries are fully aware of the potential of Sri Lanka for major conferences,exhibitions and events.

With improved ties with European union and pacific ring countries for Sri Lanka ,we are in a position to accelerate the MICE drive.The authorities should map up innovative strategies to penetrate the MICE market.

Every five star hotel 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.Towards this exercise,assistance could be sought from the state authorities,relevant ministries,chambers of commerce,travel agents,professional and sports associations and recreational 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, capacities 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.

Evaluative 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 the private sector,excellent direct air links to the country,reports of travel research agencies, professional congress organizers (PCOS) and the 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 also 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 four stages in structured Mice tourism promotion, namely, the planning stage, introductory stage, consolidation stage and stabilization stage.Special events will attract high international media coverage and media rights for live coverage netting huge income for the organizers. The state institutions need to provide total assistance in the promotion of MICE tourism in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has been reaping very high publicity for a number of high profile annual events and large numbers of foreign visitors flock to the country annually to witness these events.Some of the events are the annual Kandy Esala Perahera, Gangarama Navam Perahera, Kataragama Esala festival and not forgetting the annual Nallur temple perahera in the north where a large number of tamil community from the north who migrated overseas long ago and Hindus from all over the world visit Nallur for this annual festival.

Sri Pada season starting in late December and ending in may the following year also attracts large numbers of foreigners not only from the Buddhist population but also from European countries.They prefer to explore the journey of climbing Sri Pada in very cold climatic conditions.

Very recently we had a number of motor car/motor bicycle races with the participation of foreign competitors even.But these races are no where near the standards of world formula racing championships.Some countries have built large racing tracks specially for these racing events.

Holding of International film festivals and shooting of international films in Sri Lanka are another avenues of promoting MICE tourism.

A few years ago the Ranmihitenne international film shooting studio was unearthed.Several Indian films starring Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Anoushka Sharma and a host of Bollywood stars visited Sri Lanka and stayed for a few weeks until their film shootings were concluded. We also cannot forget the contributions of our own veteran film maker Chandran Ratnam who was instrumental for Hollywood films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom covering many parts of Sri Lanka and even including local artistes such as Iranganie Serasinghe, D.R. Nanayakkara and Denawaka Haamine. Then he went on to assist in the completion of many international films in srilanka such as Mother Theresa.We also had the great golden hit film Bridge Over River Kwai shot in Talduwa, Avissawella and the film Sooryawansham starring the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan. Later Amitabh Bachchan and our own Bollywood star actress Jacqueline Fernandez were instrumental in bringing the IIFA festival to Sri Lanka in 2010.

After this the Bollywood film stars developed a great rapport with the local film idols and directors.Srilanka is also a preferred destination for Indian cricketers for holidays. Star cricketer Rahul Dravid chose to spend his honeymoon vacation in Sri Lanka overlooking many locations.Many Sri Lankan producers, directors, actors and actresses won international awards at international film awards.Swarnavahini, Hiru, Mtv, Sirasa got down many Bollywood stars and international singers and groups for live performances in Sri Lanka. To watch these shows live, many Indians and nationals of other countries flock to Sri Lanka on special show and holiday packages arranged by both local travel agents in association with foreign travel agents.

Sports tourism is another aspect of Mice tourism where many sports teams visit srilanka for playing a number of matches with Sri Lankan teams. They visit most parts of Sri Lanka to play matches and also to explore different cities.We also have international rugby sevens tournaments held from time to time in Sri Lanka.

Other sports like wind surfing.adventure rowing, para sailing, hill climbing, etc also bring different categories of tourists when local and international competitions are held.Felicitation of international travel agents from time to time should be high on the agenda of the tourism authorities to motivate them to bring in Mice tourists also in addition to the conventional foreign holiday makers. Professionals and service organizations such as lions and Rotarians should regularly work for bringing conferences, seminars and workshops to be staged in srilanka.

We now can boast of many international standard event venues such as Sugathadasa indoor andoutdoor stadiums, BMICH, Nelum Pokuna, Waters’ Edge to hold many types of events.

We also possess many international cricket stadiums namely, SSC, R.Premadasa, Galle, Pallekele, Hambantota, Dambulla, P. Sara stadium to stage matches in the most popular sport in the SAARC region.

Talking about the most popular game among the high spending tourists,the game of golf, we have three splendid golf courses at Nuwara Eliya, Victoria and RCGC Colombo.We should organise many international golf tournaments inviting ledgendary past players like Tiger Woods to grace the occasion as chief guest. Holding of a Colombo marathon will also pay rich dividends as most overseas countries hold annual marathons.

In the past we had a very popular cycle race by the name of “Tour de Lanka”.The race itself was conducted in three laps over three days.We should revive this tournament with the participation of foreign cyclists. Sri Lanka is a truly sporting country and also not short of quality entertainment.

Rugby is another popular game in Sri Lanka and here again we have many rugby venues in Sri Lanka, namely, Race Course, Havelock Park, Longden Place, Nittawela, Bogambara, Police Park and a number of other venues to stage any international tournament. Some of our rugby clubs are over hundred years old.

We could also stage international operas in Colombo as there are many venues.Many years ago I had the fortune and the privilege to watch the great “Barber Of Seville” at Trans Asia Hotel(presently Cinnamon Lake)with a very distinguished audience comprising of over 90% of foreign tourists and expatriates living in Sri Lanka.

In 1990 Kushil Gunasekere of Foundation of Goodness had an exclusive entertainment club known as “Showbiz” and got down great international musical groups such as OSIBISA, BROTHERHOOD OF MAN, BONEY M, IMAGINATION and many other groups exclusively for the members and we greatly enjoyed the fanfare dished out by the artistes.

Even now top foreign artistes and groups are brought down at regular intervals to Sri Lanka and this augurs well for our MICE tourism promotion.

In 1989,Sri Lanka Tourism Board arranged for two great groups George Baker Selection and LUV for the promotion of tourism in Sri Lanka and they had their performances at the Galadari Meridien Hotel. Despite heavy JVP action and curfews many flocked to watch these groups and many stayed back overnight at the hotel and left in the morning after breakfast.

(The writer could be reached via csassociatescolombo@gmail.com)

Source : http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/07/13/business/87301

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