MICE players raise concerns over social distancing norms

As a sector that strives on face to face interactions and “touch and feel” aspect of business, social distancing norms have become a big concern.


In the recent years, India has emerged as one of the most sought-after MICE destinations as it provides an impressive combination of accommodation and other conference support facilities. 

Over the last six months,  the segment has not been immune to the perils of the pandemic. The physical and social distancing norms being practiced by the venues and prohibition to gather in large numbers has put a temporary pause on MICE events across the country.

Experts believe that full scale revival for MICE business will be possible only when a vaccine is available, but a partial opening up of the sector might be witnessed by as early as November 2020. 

The past few months have seen a rise in virtual events and MICE players are looking at using technology to their benefit while they prepare the industry to pick up.  

As an industry that depends on touch-and-feel and face-to-face interactions, the new social distancing norms have become a cause of concern for the industry.

We spoke to some leading MICE experts about the issue and here is what they had to say:

Rahul Gomes, Director, OMCPL

Social distancing norms will impact MICE simply because venues will not be determined on the basis of their capacity to accommodate guests vis a vis these norms. This will mean that they will have an upper hand on costs leading to leaner profitability. 

On the other hand Corporates will reduce the number of guests keeping in mind norms to fit into venues of their choice. All in all it will have a huge impact.

I believe that return of MICE events to the physical format will be as early as the first quarter of 2021. We have already been called in for pitches and clients are already planning larger format physical MICE as early as November 2020.

Innovation along with safe SOPs as well as venue guidelines will be absolutely essential to make the client and the participants at an event feel safe.

Jaideep Dang, Managing Director, Hotels & Hospitality Group (India), JLL

With a social distancing cap of 50 people for a function, most large Banquets are not viable – given their huge spaces and high fixed costs such as air-conditioning, heat, power and staff costs. Moreover, banquets used to cross sell rooms, which used to be an extremely profitable business for any hotel. With MICE business erosion, such room sales have also been severely impacted.

This business will continue to be impacted until vaccines successfully remove the apprehension of travel and social gatherings. However, I have no doubt that the experience of corporate off-sites, conferences, weddings, social events such as fashion shows, music and food festivals and other extravaganzas cannot be substituted by online meetings and events. 

Life and business will get back to banquets sooner than later. We expect that next two years will be tough for this business. The real experience of MICE with inter-personal touch can never be substituted by technology or through online events.

Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

Given the challenges of holding large scale physical events due to the current pandemic restrictions, our MICE teams have used the period of the lockdown to reimagine our MICE business. 

They have conceptualised vibrant virtual/ digital models and platforms, advanced health & safety measures & new age technologies. These are working very well with our MICE Corporates – to engage with their top performers and key stakeholders.

While businesses are adapting to technology driven solutions, we wait for the government’s directives on the resumption of large scale physical format of events in India; opening up of international borders and resumption of commercial flights is vital for overseas MICE activity.

Technology is proving to be a game changer for MICE Corporates across the board – and we are very encouraged to see our customers quick to leverage the opportunity and accept our vibrant new digital/virtual offerings during this COVID-19 era.

SD Nandakumar, President & Country Head, B2B & Foreign Exchange, SOTC Travel
The new normal in travel during the COVID-19 era requires us to adapt. The MICE sector will face a gradual return over the coming months as the new norms in travel will take some time to set in. 

Our MICE teams are overhauling our operating systems to deliver a touchless and enhanced customer experience for our valuable corporates. SOTC MICE has successfully conducted various virtual events for corporates. SOTC Travel’s new-age MICE Plus presents the extra edge and niche skill to handle the needs of domestic and global clients of the MICE segment. 

In a meaningful initiative to provide clarity and guide customers in safe travel planning, we have introduced the Safe Holiday Helpline – a free service offering comprehensive, country-specific information across visa-immigration regulations including COVID-negative certification, health & safety protocols, on-ground destination updates, etc. 

We have received widespread appreciation for our MICE PLUS, Hybrid Virtual MICE and Assured programs with a large number of customers seeking the expertise of our MICE Teams in their business plans for the future.

Raj Manek, Executive Director, Messe Frankfurt Asia Holding Ltd

Social distancing norms have brought focus on new SOPs for MICE business globally. As a sector that strives on face to face interactions and “touch and feel” aspect of business, it is imperative to adapt to the new normal, promoting utmost safety to fairgoers, employees and all stakeholders.

At Messe Frankfurt India, we are working on a framework that outlines a new set of hygiene measures and also aim to cover precautionary and preventive measures pertaining to exhibitors, attendees, staff, stand construction workers. 

While the government’s track and trace app will be made mandatory for all people visiting, working or present at the venue, meticulous temperature checks will be conducted to screen all participants entering the hall on set up as well as show days. 

From what we see in other parts of the world, such as China, Korea, and now Europe as well, large scale trade shows have resumed, opening the door to business-to-business (B2B) events. As soon as the government authorities have permitted exhibitions to recommence, exhibition organisers have been quick to adopt new SOPs based on global standards and necessary health and safety measures. 

Businesses representing both exhibitor and visitor sides have also immediately scheduled their participation and visits, with a more organised approach - strongly demonstrating the pent up demand that exists for face-to-face B2B networking and physical exhibitions.

Moreover, as a group that has been into the business of trade fairs since centuries, we strongly believe that business relations and personal encounters at exhibitions will be irreplaceable. 

What the COVID-19 pandemic will bring, however, is a change in the exhibition landscape and also for the MICE sector globally. Topics such as digitalisation, safety and security will play an important role going forward, so as organisers we can take this as an opportunity to build digital tools so that once exhibitions recommence in India, we are prepared to offer new digital avenues or a hybrid platforms that can intelligently complement our existing trade show business.

Technology will play a significant role in enhancing the experience of a physical exhibition in the future. Exhibitions 2.0 – as we see it, will provide exhibitors and visitors an opportunity to connect and build their virtual connections which we can then turn into face-to-face encounters during our physical trade fairs. 

There will be more hybrid events taking place going forward which will also play an important role for the MICE industry while travel restrictions will be in place and confidence is reinstalled into the business community to travel freely again.

As organisers, we look at our role as creating an ambience that can provide the 'personal touch' of professional interaction without the need for 'physical contact.’

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