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After the health crisis, the MICE sector faces new challenges - Part 2

While tourists are returning to their holidays after two complicated years, business tourism also seems to be getting back on track. Admittedly, the recovery is taking place in a more discreet manner, but it is clear that the MICE activity is well and truly back. However, the health crisis having passed, the sector has had to adapt. A metamorphosis that goes hand in hand with societal evolutions such as the digital transformation and the sustainable transition. No sector of activity is immune to these changes, as the MICE industry demonstrates.

To find the first part of this analysis on the MICE sector, click here.

Movement on the part of the MICE actors

While the recovery of the sector is well underway, it is not standing still. On the contrary, a number of fundamental movements have reshuffled the cards since the arrival of the health crisis.

Bird Office and Kactus recently announced their merger with the ambition of positioning themselves as the new European leader in MICE within 5 years. They intend to offer a "complete tech solution" to companies in the sector. Bird Office and Kactus were founded in 2013 and 2015 respectively, and offer solutions for the BtoB events market. Although the new entity has not yet adopted a new name, it has nevertheless announced that it is finalising a new round of funding of around €10 million to achieve its objectives. The two startups have a combined turnover of more than €80 million and more than 10,000 regular corporate clients, including 8 CAC 40 companies. Two complementary companies that want to create a new digital actor of reference in the MICE sector.

This merger is an offensive move for two actors who have reached a critical size. It will allow us to change scale. Our client types are potentially the same. But we are addressing the market differently. 

Arnaud Katz, CEO of Bird Office and main manager of the new group

For Chateauform', a specialist in residential business seminars, there is no question of a merger but of development with the opening of 3 new houses in France and the Netherlands in 2021. The group now has 70 addresses in France, including 36 in Paris and the Ile-de-France region, and 23 in Europe. A new address in the Yvelines, another in Marseille and a first house in the Netherlands have added to its offer. Its concept is based on a collection of houses "steeped in history" offering a personalised welcome, various work and relaxation areas as well as a gastronomic F&B offer based on local products.

The Austrian MICE sector is also witnessing a mega-merger between several major industry actors. BTU (Business Travel Unlimited Reisebüro) and Verkehrsbuero Business Travel GmbH (business travel segment of the Verkehrsbüro group) were previously the number 1 and 2 pandemic in the Austrian MICE sector. Recently BTU acquired its competitor as well as AX Travel Management GmbH, thus holding a virtual monopoly of the industry in the country. In 2019, Verkehrsbüro Business Travel had a turnover of around 104.8 million euros and AX Travel Management just over 76 million euros. BUT, on the other hand, had a turnover of EUR 143 million. The transaction also enables BUT to become a franchise partner of American Express, thus giving access to the international American Express Global Business Travel network. The two companies taken over by BTU are now integrated under the brand names "VB Business Travel Unlimited" and "AX Travel Management" and will be complemented by the group's tourism offerings under the brand name "Die Reiserei".

The hospitality sector's growing interest in the MICE business

It is now commonplace for hotels to have MICE areas within their premises in order to better cater for corporate clients. We are now witnessing a race for the largest business spaces, as shown by the recent opening of the Scandic Spectrum in Copenhagen. A property with 632 rooms and 4 event venues for over 300 people as well as 9 meeting rooms on the top floor, many with access to the roof terrace.

The Scandic Group is not stopping there, and shortly afterwards unveils the Scandic Göteborg Central. Located in Sweden's second largest city, the hotel has 451 rooms, 19 meeting rooms including The Grand Container, which can host events and conferences for up to 1,000 people, and a coworking space with around 100 workstations. Two large MICE carriers that clearly indicate the Scandinavian group's ambitions to position itself as a leader in the sector in Northern Europe. The sustainable aspect, which is part of the group's DNA, is also applied to these locations, which are both Nordic Swan certified.

The MICE sector has recently undergone a real shift towards sustainability and Meliá Hotels International intends to be part of this process. The group aims to become a strategic partner and facilitator for more sustainable events by promoting carbon neutral events. To this end, Meliá has unveiled a tool developed in partnership with Creast that will enable it to measure, reduce and offset the carbon footprint of events held in its hotels. In addition, it will provide a fundamental knowledge base to advance the definition of more sustainable events and meetings in the group's hotels. The initiative has been tested at the Palacio de Congresos de Palma and its hotel, the Meliá Palma Bay, and a European pilot will begin at the Meliá Barcelona Sarriá and the Meliá Berlin.

A measurement system that already exists within the Accor group, the "net zero carbon calculator" is a system that calculates the carbon expenditure of a meeting in a hotel. Many factors are taken into account, such as the size of the meeting room and the number of participants or their mode of transport to get to the hotel. Based on the calculation, participants are invited to immediately offset the footprint of the event with the NGO myclimate, with whom Accor works.

The Accor group is also heavily involved in the MICE segment and last year adopted the GroupSync Engage solution, which allows for the online reservation of meeting rooms and rooms in real time. The offer was later extended to include room reservations for groups. This solution allows event organisers to book not only meeting spaces but also blocks of rooms, catering services and technology in a single transaction. The majority of the group's 5,200 properties' MICE offerings will be accessible through this solution. This includes one of the group's largest business hotels, the Pullman Paris Montparnasse. A property with 957 rooms spread over 32 floors with an exceptional event offering. A hotel that has been able to adapt to the changes brought about by the health crisis, such as hybridisation with the installation of equipment that allows meetings to be held half-virtually and half-presently. The hotel's teams are already thinking about new solutions with the forthcoming arrival of the metaverse, a property ahead of its time.

Although technology is now omnipresent in the MICE sector, nothing can replace human contact. A contact that we have been deprived of for almost two years with the numerous health restrictions. Recognising this growing need, Hyatt recently unveiled its "Work from Hyatt: Offsite" concept. The aim is to encourage reconnection between employees of the same company within the hotel operator's properties. Groups of all sizes are encouraged to use Hyatt's meeting spaces, F&B offerings and teambuilding experiences. In particular, Hyatt works with local businesses to offer a wide range of teambuilding activities. 

Whether companies are looking for activities to bond their team or retreats to align with long-term goals, we expect these reimagined corporate retreat experiences to grow in popularity. [...] Work from Hyatt: Offsite offers added value for our corporate accounts, coupled with impressive hotel operator amenities such as spas, pools and restaurants, to make in-person gatherings more meaningful and memorable. 

Julia Newhard, Hyatt's global director for meetings, events and trade shows

Other hospitality actors are trying to break into the MICE segment, such as Azureva, which is repositioning its offering. The aim is to attract MICE customers and to have them contribute 20% of the group's turnover within three years. Although the seminar offer was already marketed in some of the group's holiday villages, it generated only 6% of the 43 million euros in turnover recorded in 2019. The stated objective is to reach 15% of this segment by 2023 and 20% by 2025. The strategy is therefore based on the development of the internet offer and the mobile application.

Others are playing the originality card to attract the favour of this demanding clientele. The Bordeaux hotel JOST has just unveiled its MICE space called "Lieu Chéri". Located on the ground floor of the hotel, it has 300 m² of lifestyle space. In addition to the coworking space, Lieu Chéri includes a fully modular corporate event space that can accommodate from 30 to 100 people. Each seminar organised in the property gives access to a festive after party in the stage area. The programme includes a dancefloor with DJ, blind test, quiz, open-mic or karaoke, jukebox party, drag show and much more. Something to break the codes of traditional corporate events.

Ever more welcoming and sustainable destinations 

The choice of the destination where to organise your event is one of the most decisive factors for its success. This strategic choice is made primarily on the basis of the size of the destination's infrastructure, but also on its attractiveness. Numerous rankings are drawn up each year to determine which country or city is the most popular with event organisers. At the end of 2021, American Express Meetings & Events (AMEX GBT) conducted a global survey of event organisers to find out more about their intentions. It was also a way of taking the temperature in a sector that is just getting back on its feet.

If North America is in pole position, it is closely followed by Europe. According to respondents, 48% of European events in 2022 are expected to be face-to-face. Furthermore, 86% are convinced that the number of face-to-face attendees will return to pre-Covid levels in five years' time within the EMEA region. Globally, 67% of respondents believe that face-to-face event levels will return to pre-pandemic levels in one to two years. Despite what you might think, Paris is only second in the top five European cities for hosting events. It is outstripped by Athens. On the third step of the podium, we find Madrid, followed by Barcelona and London.

However, the World Travel Awards disagree and place Madrid as the world's top destination for meetings and conferences. This is the third year in a row that the Spanish capital has received this recognition. The award highlights Madrid's quality and competitiveness as a corporate destination and its commitment to keeping a sector that accounts for almost 14% of the city's tourism in operation. It is ahead of strong competitors such as Mexico City, Singapore, Las Vegas and Dubai. In 2021, the city was also named best MICE destination at the second edition of the World MICE Awards and first European destination for meetings and conferences at the European edition of the World Travel Awards. Recognition on three different levels that reaffirms Madrid's status as a leading destination for the organisation of international business events.

Other destinations are looking to strengthen their position in the MICE sector. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is unveiling plans for its first-ever metro to facilitate urban mobility within the city. A metro that will also offer direct access to the city's Convention Centre. A real asset to capitalise on when hosting national and international events. On the French side, La Rochelle Tourism and Events has set up a Convention Bureau. The destination thus becomes one of the rare French cities of this size to have such a service dedicated to business tourism. This is a strong signal that is also accompanied by the introduction of various communication and promotional tools, including the very first meeting guide. In addition, Rochelle Tourisme & Événements will also be enhancing its website with a presentation of the destination's entire MICE offer. The ONLYLYON Convention Bureau is also expanding its website with the launch of an immersive interactive map showing all the venues for professional events. This innovative tool has been designed to optimize the efficiency of scouting visits by making the destination's MICE offer tangible.

What do Lyon and La Rochelle have in common? They both focus on a sustainable MICE industry. While the former has already obtained ISO 20121 certification, the latter is in the process of obtaining it soon. An eco-responsible label that will enable them to apply for the "Sustainable Innovative Destination" label. A label made in France that is aimed at cities and towns wishing to structure their actions on a territorial scale by joining forces with local professionals committed to sustainable tourism. Bordeaux, Deauville, Marseille and Metz were the first to receive it, but they were soon joined by Rennes, La Baule and Nancy. Only Cannes, Nantes and Biarritz remain among the destinations that initiated the project, all committed to obtaining it as soon as possible. And the list is set to grow even longer in the future, since some twenty cities have committed themselves to the same path, including Lyon, Lille, Nice, Strasbourg and Caen. 

Launched in the context of the hosting of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and supported by France Congrès Événement, the Sustainable Innovative Destination label will show that Paris and the French territories are capable of welcoming tourists in good conditions while limiting the negative impacts linked to event activities. For Rennes and its entire industry, this label is both a great opportunity and a catalyst for change. It is also a decisive argument in the choice of Rennes as a destination by our customers.

Angéline Duret, Secretary General of SPL Destination Rennes

Scandinavian cities renowned for their sustainable commitment are not to be outdone, as demonstrated by the example of Gothenburg, one of Sweden's main cities. With five consecutive awards for being the most sustainable city in the world, the Gothenburg Convention Bureau wants to capitalise on this title to attract MICE organisers who want to give a more ecological and social dimension to their event. A desire to offer a sustainable MICE sector since 1991. This classification as the most sustainable city is the result of cooperation between all the economic, tourism and social actors. Green public transport, an international airport with the highest level of environmental accreditation in Europe's carbon neutrality programme for air transport, and the promotion of rail travel where possible are among the various measures implemented by the destination to become a green MICE destination. The goal now is to make Gothenburg a carbon neutral destination by 2030. 

We believe that MICE events can indeed have a positive impact on the development of our society. Like a long-term transmission. For example, this year we will host a congress on health protection. It should contribute to the well-being and education of our society. When we hosted the European Congress of Gerontology, we organised for example a free conference open to all on ageing well. We even had an exhibition at the Gothenburg City History Museum. 

Ulrika Scoliège, Project Manager Conventions and Meetings at Göteborg & Co

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