The MICE industry is hit with a double whammy of financial crisis and H1N1 flu epidemic. MICEreview recently spoke to hoteliers and travel agents from Bali, Bangkok to Hong Kong, and all lamented the sharp drop in bookings and room rates.
Many companies all over the world are cutting back expenses on business travel, incentive tours and global financial crisis. Perhaps some companies need to tighten their belt due to the credit crunch, while others deem it politically correct to appear frugal against a macro-backdrop of overall gloom and unemployment. For companies that can afford it, and can manage its public relations well, please do continue to spend on incentive travels and conferences. Internally, it makes perfect sense to reward staff who achieve their performance goals despite the current financial crisis. Externally, every corporate event held creates jobs and spending for the event destination. Hence it goes a long way in maintaining employment, business activities and supporting economy as a whole.
The H1N1 flu is a different story. Spreading from Mexico to many parts of the world, with cases of death resulting from the flu, this situation could cripple the travel and MICE industry. Traveling and large group gatherings are not encouraged across the globe. Asian countries, still fresh from memories of the Sars outbreak in 2003, understandably took strong measures to mitigate the virus. Although there is no outright ban on travel, the hassle of health checks and possible quarantine would make companies think twice about traveling and holding events overseas.
Fortunately, the H1N1 virus now appears to be less deadly than originally expected, while there has been more optimistic news on the health of the world economy. Although the road ahead continues to be tough, perhaps companies should look on the bright side - what better time to negotiate and lock-in contracts with hotels and suppliers than now?
The financial crisis is causing a slow-down in business travel. Some hotels may be taking advantage of this lull period to renovate the properties. For event organisers, this may present an opportunity to negotiate for better rates from hotels that undergoing renovations and also have empty rooms to fill.
However, it is not advisable to hold a conference in a hotel that is undergoing renovation for the following reasons:
This can happen to any 5-star hotel in any city. Hence, unless organizers are prepared to put-up with the noise and inconvenience during conferences, as well as complaints from delegates after that, do avoid hotels undergoing renovations.
For a city or resort to transform into a MICE destination, basic infrastructural developments such as air, sea and land transportation, info-communication systems must keep pace with the development of hotels and event venues. For busy business travelers attending a two to three-day conference, the last thing they want is to get stuck at the immigration or traffic for more than half the day. That is one of the reasons why cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore remain the top destinations for business conferences. But even for more laid-back meetings in resort destinations, having to spend a lot time clearing customs or getting from one point to another is not a great way to start a corporate retreat.
During the months of June and July 2007, security was in high alert in Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. There have been travel warnings from US and Australia on possible terrorist attacks. In Thailand, there were political uncertainty and bombings in Bangkok and the southern areas since the overthrow of the Thaksin government.
Given this background, hotels and public infrastructures in Bangkok are doing their best to ensure the safety of its citizens and foreign visitors. Vehicle scanning, gun slinging guards are common sights around the city. Non-security service staff also seemed to be trained to be extra observant in spotting anything out of the ordinary.
All these security measures can either make one feel safe, or feel the tension and sense of unease in the city. Fortunately for Bangkok, security staff and service personnel carry out their duties diligently but courteously, and often with a friendly smile but remain in full alert.
One foreign traveler recalled a most memorable experience while taking the Bangkok subway recently. She had some alcohol just before taking the subway, and started to feel dizzy with nausea while in the moving train. Upon arrival at her destination, she was on the verge of vomiting. She held a small plastic bag close to her mouth as she stepped out of the train with the rest of the passengers, but with no obvious sign of fainting or staggering. Yet, within seconds from walking out of the train onto the platform, a train station staff came rushing over and asked if she needed any help. The staff then escorted her upstairs as he radioed his colleagues on the upper level to open-up the emergency toilet. After cleaning up and a short rest in the toilet, the foreign traveler emerged physically well, and mentally assured of her safety in Bangkok.
This is security alertness and service excellence at its best. Even under high security surveillance, foreign travelers can feel that they are being looked after without being watched over.
For tourism and MICE industry, high standard of customer service is a must. To event managers, efficient service from hotel staff, contractors and suppliers is of utmost importance, because many last minute requests from organisers and exhibitors may occur on-site within a two to three-day event.
However, efficiency is not everything. An event manager recalled handling an international conference and expo a few years ago in a city well known for efficiency. There were many sponsors with tough requirements. One particular sponsor stood out with the most last minute changes and the most demands for immediate responses. And they were not the most friendly or courteous sponsor to deal with.
Fast-forward to two years later, the event manager faced the same sponsor again, but in a Bangkok, Thailand – a city better known for smiles than for efficiency. The event manager was well prepared to handle the stringent demands, but worried that the service support from the hotel and suppliers could not keep up with the pace of constant changes. But surprise! This time, the sponsor was all smiles, despite things getting done slower than they would like. They even gave the event manager a friendly wave while having a drink at the hotel lounge.
Lesson? Efficiency is important, but providing friendly service with a smile is just as important, if not more. And…don’t oversell efficiency as a USP, just in case customers come to expect forever-faster service!
MICEreview provides features, reviews and news on destinations and venues for meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibition and business travels.