With a sharp focus on the restart of MICE travel, Thomas Cook (India), conducted a unique physical corporate outreach in Delhi and Mumbai, tapping into the strong market potential. The events, that were aimed at bringing back confidence in MICE travel, saw active participation from India’s leading corporates, across sectors that included BFSI, automobiles, electronics, manufacturing and export. ETTravelWorld gets talking to Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India), to know more about the event and the challenges and impact of Covid-19 on MICE business. Excerpts from an interview:
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): How challenging has it been to host a physical MICE event?
Rajiv Kale (RK): With the Covid-19 rules and regulations in place, there are new protocols and measures that need to be adhered to. Health and safety are understandingly an overriding concern especially for the MICE segment, and hence we ensured meticulous health and safety protocols through our Assured Safe Travel Program in partnership with Apollo Clinics. With our hotel partner, Marriott International, we have ensured that all necessary precautions and approvals were in place. Apt seating that ensured social distancing, food arrangements, activities at the event, were adhered to.
ETTW: What were some of the learnings from the event?
RK: The in-person format of our MICE Travel Mart has been beneficial as it created a vibrant platform for discussion and innovation and has been valuable in addressing queries for MICE travel in the new normal. Health and safety continue to be the top priority of our customers and they are willing to experiment with new ideas of engagement. While the demand for physical events is steadily on the upswing, we have also received multiple requests for hybrid events. Customers are seeking to enter the new normal of MICE at different paces. Given the current travel norms, we recommend to our customers to travel and plan events for smaller batches in a series rather than one big convention.
ETTW: What kind of participation did you witness at the event?
RK: We witnessed a participation of over 48 corporates at our Delhi event. These included corporate decision makers across India’s corporate houses and MNCs; sectors that included BSFI, automobiles and manufacturing.
ETTW: Based on your interaction with stakeholders and corporates, how do you think MICE travel fare in 2021?
RK: With the news of the vaccine roll-out and the encouraging response received from corporates – both in terms of enquiries as well as confirmed bookings, 2021 is already seeing positive signs for the growth of MICE Travel. At Thomas Cook India, we have already conducted a total of 86 physical and digital and virtual events since April 2020. Given the limited border reopening, and as quarantine and other protocols pose a challenge, the year will however, will see a strong focus on domestic MICE movements. To cater to the significant yet underleveraged opportunity that destination India presents for the MICE sector and to inspire MICE decision makers, our MICE event was themed, ‘Discover the World in Incredible India’. Our teams showcased a variety of tailor-made experiences across popular destinations such as Goa, Rajasthan, Kerala, Himachal and Kashmir. Apart from the popular domestic destinations such as Goa, Jaipur, we have confirmed groups to Puri, Kumbh Mela, Bhishangarh (Rajasthan), Ranthambore, Kaziranga, Rishikesh, Madurai, Statue of Unity, Dharamshala and the backwaters in Kerala.
ETTW: How buoyant is the MICE sector in India?
RK: Our MICE Travel Mart have helped us understand better the changing requirements our customers and we are truly encouraged that they continue to showcase an interest in restarting MICE trips and other incentive programmes. As compared to last year, we are not only seeing an increase in events, but also a growth in the number of physical events. In addition, participation at such events is also steadily on this rise, albeit within the restricted numbers, given the growing confidence among consumers.
Weddings too have been instrumental in driving demand and the teams have catered to these while adhering to all health and safety protocols as per the Companies’ Assured guidelines. The team continues to focus on planning and execution of more such wedding events under ‘Art of Forever’, a wedding division of Thomas Cook India. Given these positive signs we expect to see a positive growth for the MICE segment in the time to come.
ETTW: How can states within the country work to tap the domestic MICE crowd?
RK: While safety, accessibility and infrastructure continue to play a key role, experiences are very important when it comes to MICE travel. So, whether it is adventure, cuisine, culture, sightseeing – corporates are on the lookout for unique, offbeat and a variety of experiences on offer. We have handpicked experiences to offer our customers across India, including a Coracle ride at Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka, hi-tea at the tea estate in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthani Rasoda masterclass in Jaipur and many more.
ETTW: What, in your opinion, is the future of MICE travel?
RK: In the new normal, we are seeing fear being replaced with cautious optimism. The same applies to MICE as well and we are witnessing an evolution in the client expectation and our deliverables. Our teams have used the period of the lockdown to reimagine business and to conceptualise vibrant virtual and digital models and platforms, advanced health and safety measures and new-age technologies. We have successfully delivered exciting hybrid models and digital R&R events – our digital platform allows seamless engagement across a variety of business functions and can be scaled up to include over 100000 attendees, with every aspect of it being customisable. We also launched a series of innovative product lines under our #NextinMICE offering: an exclusive selection of travel vouchers, digital events and engagements, experiential venues, meetings round the corner, staycations, gourmet genie (from exclusive dining experiences to delivering choicest sweetmeats and savouries at one’s doorstep), experiential concierge (dedicated concierge services with specially curated experiential holidays) and strategic communication and collateral design.