Let’s talk about MICE: Ethiopia’s potential in conference tourism

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Most of us have not heard of the MICE Industry, or that it is worth over USD 1.1 billion per annum. MICE stands for Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conferences, and Exhibitions, and is commonly called the Meeting Industry. Africa’s global market share in the Meeting industry is only 3.3%, and within this much smaller market, Ethiopia is largely absent. Managing Director of OZZIE Business & Hospitality Group, Kumneger Teketel is a strong believer in Ethiopia’s potential in the industry, and his company has organized the first ever MICE East Africa Forum and Expo, to be held in Addis Ababa on March 17-19, 2016. Africa’s participation in the industry and income from business tourism are on the rise, and Ethiopia has the opportunity to grow and develop its capacity within the lucrative sector. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet spoke to Kumneger to find out more. Excerpts:

Capital:   What is MICE and what is its role in business?
Kumneger Teketel:
The terminology of MICE directly related with business tourism. The name stands for Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conferences and Exhibitions and all four things can be held in one place. In MICE big business company owners, hotels, hosted buyers, Airline companies, travel agents and stakeholders in business meet together and exchange information.  MICE’s major contribution is creating a platform. For example, if hosted buyers who are searching for locations to hold meetings, seminars and conferences are in attendance,  hotels will get a great opportunity to show their meeting halls, accommodation and other things. The other important thing is that you will meet buyers for the product what you have or find what you looking to purchase without travelling to many locations or countries.  Business owners don’t have the time to visit many companies. The MICE concept gets attention in developed countries but in developing countries it is lagging behind, despite potential to do it being very much present.  If we have a look at China, Singapore and South Africa for example, MICE expos are big business, bringing in billions dollars.
The prospects for the MICE industry in Ethiopia are very bright. Indeed, trends are changing and indicate that this sector is making a steady comeback as the world economy has started picking up. With the economy improving, there is once again a renewed demand for exhibitions, meetings and events to showcase the latest products, there is room for brainstorming new and innovative ideas to attract clients. Countries are promoting themselves as MICE venues to attract event organizers. Travel companies are offering specialized MICE services and activities.

Capital: Who are the participants of the first MICE East Africa Forum and Expo?
Kumneger:
There will be international hosted buyers, destination management companies, conference facility vendors, hotels and resorts, financial institutions, MICE business executives, corporate travel and event organizers, international tourism destination marketers, government support authorities, Africa Union, Economic Commission of Africa, East Africa Logistic, and catering and other service companies working on MICE travel. And more than 75 exhibitors, 50-100 international hosted buyers, 250-300 local hosted buyers and 1200 different attendants will come to participate in the MICE Forum and Expo.
Capital: You said that the MICE Forum and Expo is expected to bring around USD 30 million to Ethiopia, how did you reach this figure?
Kumneger:
The big importance of the MICE event for Ethiopia is the presence of international hosted buyers; each of the 50 to 100 hosted buyers will have more than 40 international clients in their hands, which means that they will connect with hotels in Ethiopia who could potentially hold their clients’ meetings. If at least eight of the hosted buyers select Ethiopia to hold their meetings, they will call at least eight meetings with at least 2000 participants per meeting. And if we assume the meetings take three days with each participant spending at least 450 USD per day, including accommodation, it works out to be USD 900,000 per meeting. In other words, the hosting country will get USD 3O million. The amount will be higher if the hosted buyer calls more meeting in Ethiopia.  Similarly, participants from all over East Africa will also benefit from the MICE Forum and Expo.
Capital: Is business meeting well understood in Ethiopia?
Kumneger:
We have made promising progress, for example; the recent international Financing for Development meeting was a successful display of how far we have come. But we must do more to improve our approach and increase our participation, to earn more in the meeting industry. Tough we are the center of many international organizations; we are not in the top-ten list of African nations within the business. South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and other south and east African countries are models. Other countries in the continent are beginning to see the benefits of investing in the MICE industry and show the potential impact the sector could have on tourism and the local economy.  MICE is subsumed by the tourism sector, and has not yet been developed as a sector in Ethiopia. For many years there have been expos and exhibitions that attract foreign companies but these have been restricted to selling commodities, not services. There is no platform in our region that gives local companies and international companies the opportunity to meet and network. The recent hotel star rating is a good example of our lack of contact with the industry on an international level. Only 38 hotels are fit for rating which shows us several hotel owners design their buildings without knowing the standard, they buy hotel equipment not fit for grading. But if these people got a chance to see and experience other hotels, they would have learned something and not have wasted their money.  If there is platform that calls business tourism stakeholders in one place, companies will exchange information that enables them to improve as well as buy and sell their products and services.
The other problem is we have made little effort to attract organizations to hold their international meetings here. We are waiting for hosted buyers to knock on our door. The government does not have a single office that is established to actively seek international meetings. We must actively encourage global meetings to be held here; the more international meetings we host, the higher our income from the services provided. 
Most of us assume that foreign tourism is what generates big money but global reports show that for a person who’s arrived to attend a meeting spends four to five times what a visiting tourist spends. When meetings are held in one place, there is money budgeted for hotel accommodation, meeting halls, and transportation and the meeting participant usually spends money on other personal expenses.. So it is our responsibility to earn from the participant by bringing different services and products.
Capital: What should be done to attract more business tourism  to Ethiopia?
Kumneger:
I have three recommendations regarding the promotion of the business tourism. The first is the government should establish a national and regional bureau committed to attracting international meetings in Ethiopia. Second, we have to create MICE platforms that can host permanent Expos and forums because such  things attract hosted buyers who the power to select the location of meetings and events. The third thing is that we should train people on event management at higher levels of education. When something is based on education, we can get expertise, highly skilled workforce, experts who will   help the business tourism industry to grow,  creating more jobs and significant income for Ethiopia.