Unlocking India's MICE Potential: Naveen Kundu Shares Key Strategies

Naveen Kundu, Managing Director, EbixCash, with a significant presence in travel services and travel technology, talks about the steps needed to be taken to boost India’s MICE performance


G20 came as a test of India’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) capability. How have we fared?

We have had a very good G20 and if not anything, it has started enlightening people that there is infrastructure available in this country for doing a reasonably good MICE event. There is a buzzword around the world that India has the MICE capability, but at the same time, I’ll also not mince my words by saying that whatever has happened has happened at the political level. Though it has made a very big noise in the world, what it needs to do is to transcend to the consumers in various countries of G20 who are actually the consumers of the tourism products that we offer. Whether it is a leisure traveller or whether it’s a corporate, a player in the exhibition space, or large meeting, or a large convention, it has to transcend to the consumer level. I see a lot of gaps there; I don’t see a lot of initiatives there.

Are you satisfied with the infrastructure boost for MICE that has come about as a result of G20?

I am not sure we really have the infrastructure that we require at the global level. But I’m happy to say that there is a good beginning. We have got the Bharat Mandapam, we have got the YashoBhoomi, we have got the Jio Convention Centre and Nita Ambani Cultural Centre but in a country of the scale and magnitude that we have, of 1.4 billion people, having four, five large convention centres is not good enough.

What will be the impact of YashoBhoomi coming up and the extension of the Airport Metro Express Line?

These are minor indicators. These are not the ones that will get any country to make a decision that we should do our convention an exhibition or a large-scale meeting in India. However, it definitely is a boost. I definitely say something is better than nothing. It’s the beginning of big things to come.

During G20, there were a series of conferences throughout the year in various locations across India. What has been the experience of the travellers to these destinations?

Most of these events were confined to a few people in the government and some industry people. We did not have the delegates and the delegations that should have come in loads from overseas. A few did come for Kashmir. But if we pick up the list of people who attended G20 in the various parts of the country, it was primarily our own government machinery, our own secretaries, and some officials who put together the G20 summit and discussed everything amongst themselves. It did not have the presence and the scale that should have been achieved.

Moving forward, what will be the factors that will determine the success of MICE in India?

One, we need more convention centres and we don’t only need convention centres of very large capacities. We need convention centres catering to 3,000 to 5,000 people. It’s like when India started making five-star hotels, the focus was either on very big five-star hotels or very basic hotels. That’s not the right approach. We need to involve smaller and medium enterprises in building marquee convention centres, which can hold conferences comprising 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 or 2,500 people. And that needs to be given financial aid.

Second, MICE and tourism need to be a priority sector. The way Mr Modi talks about tourism – and I’m glad he does that – has brought about a mindset change among people. But only a mindset change will not help. It has to be backed by a solid plan, and that has to be executed well.

Third, which the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India has initiated to an extent, but not largely, and it has not been communicated globally or to the Indian corporates, is to make sure that there is a tax sop available in GST for Indian corporates as well as global corporates to come to India and a part of GST can be reclaimed. 

I’m currently doing a conference in England and 50 per cent of the VAT can be reclaimed by the companies that are doing conferences in England. Today, Indian corporates are spending a sizeable chunk of money on incentivising and doing conferences globally. India sends 25 million people abroad, out of which 5 million are MICE travellers. Which means that you are actually sending your own hard-earned foreign exchange out of the country. So, if there is a partial taxation benefit available to the corporates, things will improve and make a big change.

Fourth, to ensure that we have a basic plan of marketing. India is a country of monumental significance. It has a heritage to really talk about and it is culturally very rich and vast and diverse. But we need to have basic plans of marketing. There has to be a marketing action plan in place. We put up a big ad with a big photo on it and that’s about it. That’s not marketing. We need to build PR activities. And that is what needs to happen between the government and the private sector.

What would you say about Indian events in terms of ticketing revenues? How is our performance on that front?

As regards the ticket size of events like sporting events or large-scale exhibitions or conferences, I think India is very far away. We can just get a Cricket World Cup. But it’s a distant dream to have the Olympics or a FIFA World Cup happening in India. And if you talk about film events, what film events do we do? Either we do them in Mumbai or the IIFA goes out of India. What are we doing in India?

When it comes to large concerts, now there is space available in both YashoBhoomi and Jio as well as in Bharat Mandapam and I am very hopeful that we’ll have large-scale concerts coming to India but for that the clearances needed are a nightmare. There are so many bottlenecks. And the ticket size becomes so big and then eventually people don’t want to buy the tickets; everybody wants a pass or free ticket. So, it’s a little ambitious right now.

Has there been any government push towards that or has any enabling policy come about?

As I said, there are so many clearances. Why can’t there be just one single window clearance? The Ministry of Tourism should have an event cell wherein an event management company presents the details of the event – the number of artists coming, probable venues and revenue that could be generated from the world. That is what happens in America and the UK. The only clearances needed are from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Home and the Ministry of External Affairs and they put it together and give a single window clearance in a week.

There is a mindset change that has been brought about by this government in the last 9-10 years that India has the ability to do such events, but the question is how soon.

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