[Seri column] Winning the pan-Asian fight over MICE

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[Seri column] Winning the pan-Asian fight over MICE

The acronym MICE, for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions, was first used in the mid-1990s. It covers meetings held by international organizations and corporate events.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, foreign participants at international conferences held in Korea spent an average of $2,336 in 2005 excluding airfare, about 2.4 times more than the per-capita average of $984 spent by foreign visitors to Korea in general.

The economic effects of MICE can be significant. Canada pulled in 71.09 billion Canadian dollars in 2006 (about 57 trillion won or $61 billion based on the rate on Dec. 31, 2006). Considering the economic potential, many countries are aggressively promoting MICE. Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and China in particular have been spearheading the drive through budget support, tax breaks and facilities investment. In fact, Asia set the pace in MICE activity from 1999 to 2008, growing 85.4 percent.

Overall, the United States was the leading site in 2008 in number of international conferences with 1,079. It was followed by France (797), Singapore (637) and Japan (575). Korea ranked 12th with 293 conferences.

Korea, Singapore and Japan have been enjoying steady growth in MICE. Among the top 30 in 2008, Singapore showed the biggest increase of 426 percent from 1998 to 2008, followed by Korea at 241 percent and Japan at 174 percent.

As the size of MICE facilities grows rapidly, competition to attract meetings will likely become even more intense. According to the UFI, a global association for the exhibition industry, indoor exhibition space in Asia is expected to have grown 700,000 square meters (7.5 million square feet) from 2007 to 2010.

The Korean government chose MICE as one of its 17 new growth engines in January 2009, and announced a development promotion plan five months later. The goal is to increase the MICE industry’s portion of GDP to 1.5 percent by 2018 from 0.45 percent in 2007. In Korea the number of international conference and exhibition facilities increased threefold from four venues in 2000 to 12 in 2008.

The number of international conferences and exhibitions is also increasing fast. According to Union of International Associations data, the number of international conferences held in Korea jumped 182 percent from 104 in 2000 to 293 in 2008.

Amid such quantitative growth, the industry is also poised to jump in quality, with the G-20 Summit and the IMF international conference on Asia to be held here. The G-20 Summit will be the largest gathering, bringing in not only the heads of member countries, but also the heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Successful hosting of the summit will bring massive economic effects and raise the nation’s image. However, considering the aggressive level of MICE promotion elsewhere in Asia, Korea’s competitiveness is not safe.

First, growth in MICE-related industries is necessary. As in tourism, the value generated by related industries is much higher than that created by MICE itself. For example, it would be desirable to include hotel construction in a MICE growth plan to ensure sufficient lodging for conference participants. Among the regions with specialized MICE facilities, only Seoul, Busan and Jeju had at least 5,000 hotel rooms as of December 2008. Soft infrastructure such as a specialized workforce is also crucial. It is necessary to attract exhibition convention planning companies from industrialized countries to gain know-how and then foster professional convention organizers.

Second, since there is a limit to how far Korea can go to compete with other Asian countries now expanding the scale of their venues, Korea must discover niche markets. Also crucial is targeting meetings of global companies in Asia. The U.S. corporate meeting market is valued at $31.74 billion, accounting for around 30 percent of the global meeting market.

Third, Korea should lead the current trend of “green” meetings. Efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases are also being made in MICE. There are discussions and plans for such promotions in certain industrialized countries, and Korea also needs to introduce green meeting plans. Good examples are Songdo Convensia in Incheon, the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified convention center in Korea, and the establishment of Daegu EXCO.

*The writer is research fellow at Samsung Economic Research Institute. For more SERI reports, please visit www.seriworld.org.


By Joo Young-Min
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