Despite the challenges that Covid threw up, SOTC Travel Limited kicked off 2021 with a significant win as it successfully delivered an international MICE Group of 750 delegates to Dubai in January 2021. Having spent the Covid downtime to reimagine its MICE business, SOTC has been engaging with its customers through sustained corporate engagement and its MICE Survey had also revealed that 25 per cent of its corporates were open to international travel. In an interaction with ETTravelWorld, SD Nandakumar, President & Country Head, B2B & Foreign Exchange, SOTC Travel, shares more about the movement and the MICE market in general. Excerpts from an interview:
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): Congratulations on carrying out a successful MICE movement, besides the obvious operational challenges, how difficult is it to manage an event of this sort, which involved a crowd as large as 750, in the current times?
SD Nandakumar (SDN): It was an exceptional achievement by SOTC MICE to organise a flawless MICE tour for 750 delegates during the Covid era. In the current situation, the biggest challenge is to rebuild confidence. Managing delegates from a single hub and ensuring seamless arrangements of logistics (India to Dubai and back) could be a challenge during these uncertain times. The team successfully delivered on these and ensured that great care was taken in both planning and on-ground management of the group, with an absolute focus on hygiene and safety. As delegates look towards greater reassurance on the standard of hygiene in travel, our MICE propositions come with our Assured Safe Travel Program in association with Apollo Clinics. This ensured meticulous health and safety measures, at every stage of their journey across every travel touch-point from airports, airlines, local transportation, hotels, restaurants and attractions in Dubai. All safety protocols of the destination and attractions were followed during the movement. To maintain social distancing creative itineraries and sub itineraries were designed for each day to ensure that the group is staggered.
ETTW: What are some of your learnings from this MICE movement?
SDN: Some of the key learnings that we have from this group are that delegates cooperate in response to the communication and announcements on safety and security protocols and procedures to be followed and they clearly understand their importance. At every step of the journey, our supply chain facilitated the offering of a wide range of high-quality products and services with seamless operations. Following the local safety, health and hygiene protocols of the destination can certainly ensure a MICE experience similar to the pre-Covid era.
ETTW: What kind of overhauling of the system has SOTC undergone to rethink and reimagine its offering to customers?
SDN: The Covid-19 era has initiated various fast-changing developments. New technologies will benefit and improve overall resilience. With an opportunity to rethink and reimagine offerings to corporates, SOTC MICE provides contactless and seamless assistance to clients with real-time information of all travel-related processes such as visa application and insurance, a user-friendly mobile app for delegates to get updates and contests, technology tools to minimise human interface, feedback and networking platform.
ETTW: How have you married technology with your products to make experiences more seamless?
SDN: The experience of travel cannot be recreated by technology alone. The need for physical meetings and events to engage in person is irreplaceable. Technology plays a key role in providing a seamless and contactless pre-tour experience and we have invested to ensure that the part which dominates travel agents mind space is digitized.
ETTW: In your opinion, how will the MICE market fare in the current situation, with a specific focus on the potential of the Indian market?
SDN: The fundamental opportunity that exists and the demand that we fulfil is the interaction between the corporate and their partners (employees/ dealers/ suppliers/ customers). There is a need for personalized face-face business interactions, product launch events, supplier/ customer meets to generate feedback. To cater to this growing demand MICE events will be organised. The first phase was virtual events during the lockdown and we conducted virtual MICE and phygital events that were a preferred event format and received strong appreciation from our corporates. As destinations ease restrictions and with positive news of the vaccine, there has been renewed confidence among corporates to resume MICE events. We look forward to the restart of commercial flights and the reopening of increased international borders to give a fillip to MICE demand. The MICE movement has begun successfully with smaller groups and fewer delegates travelling within India and to international destination-Dubai. As the new normal slowly sets in, the MICE segment will emerge stronger than before.
ETTW: What are some of the other MICE movements that you are looking forward to?
SDN: We have received an encouraging response from most of our corporates. In addition to corporates in India, there has been a demand for virtual events from corporates based in the ASEAN countries. We have successfully conducted a large number of virtual events for corporates based in the ASEAN countries. We are also witnessing a huge demand for domestic MICE and we have organised MICE groups to Goa, Jaipur, Kashmir and key metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru.