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“There are now hotels catering only to mice”
Samil Malhotra, Director - Sales and Marketing, The Lalit
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
B&E: How important is the MICE category for the hospitality industry?
Samil Malhotra (SM): It is extremely important. It helps in bringing in new customers to your hotel, to showcase your hotel to people who probably wouldn’t have seen it earlier. It enhances RevPAR (Revenue per available room) and it has many other positive spin-offs.

B&E: As a hotel group, what steps and initiatives do you take to increase your MICE tourist inflow?
SM: MICE bookings and earnings can come from corporates, travel agents, event managers, social functions, wedding planners etc. So the best way to capture them is to do trade marketing to these segments. We target these segments individually in our presentations, in our communications, and by advertising in journals or on websites. Using trade advertising helps the most since, as they say, “fish where the fish are.”

B&E: Which are your the best performing hotels in terms of the number of MICE tourists they receive?
SM: We offer what India has to offer in a very tight portfolio. The attractiveness of a hotel depends on its capacity to accommodate in terms of the size of the meeting. Goa is the largest and the most optimal destination to host an event due to the configuration of our hotel there followed by the metro hotels in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

B&E: What is it that a MICE tourist looks for when choosing a hotel?
SM: Most people seek connectivity. What are the flights to that place and what’s the cost of that flight? And a company evaluates, if I am going to spend INR 20K per person to get him there, then I might as well take him to Singapore or Thailand. From the point of view of cost effectiveness, what will make employees happy or what will make a wedding successful? To have a destination wedding, a lot of people go to Goa now. People are much happier if they are in a more relaxed atmosphere. If it’s an event then it is proximity. If the event is happening at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, then you wouldn’t want to put up in Gurgaon. It is the matching of the needs and desires rather than a force fit.

B&E: What are the challenges that hotels face in attracting MICE tourism?
SM: The problem is that the MICE tourist or the MICE aggregator is choosy. He is spoilt for choice. Anybody who has a conference will call up 20 service providers and get the best price from them. Then he would begin to compete on services. And if you have already competed heavily on price, then you hardly have any margin to compete on services. Some of the services are money related, some of them are effort related, so the challenge is the competitiveness of pricing. You have to position yourself with a certain attractiveness. You have to have some product differentiator.

B&E: What is needed to attract foreign tourist arrivals to India?
SM: For the tourism industry to thrive in India, we need to find that fantastic thing like we have found in our IT industry - everyone now knows us for our software. We had our heritage as an attraction at one point of time, then we became a cost-effective destination, but none of them were able to turn the game to our advantage. We need to have that extra cutting edge that can work in our favour.

B&E: How is the MICE industry evolving in India and do you see it achieving global standards?
SM: There is a whole lot of work in progress. Some countries skip a step, like in India we skipped a step in various industries. In telecom we skipped a step, and the new entrants do not have to go through the whole rigour - they just get to the next step. So in hospitality there are now hotels meant only for MICE. Like there is a hotel in Hyderabad - the Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre. That’s a product created specifically for MICE. The people who are planning such hotels today, can cut through the curve and reach the pinnacle of this segment faster.

B&E: What is the future of MICE and the hospitality industry in India?
SM: We are a country of travellers. Today, with the economy in high growth mode, we expect to see a lot more of domestic travel and international travel emerging from India now. The boom in domestic tourism is just waiting to happen. Tourism in India and the MICE segment have a fair amount of potential to grow. But for people to come and visit india we’ll have to get our act together in many areas - infrastructure, hotels, airports etc. A fair amount of work needs to be done in these areas to gain notice and global attention.

B&E: Which destinations in India has the maximum MICE potential?
SM: A lot of people prefer Jaipur because it is halfway between Delhi and Mumbai. Such nitty gritties matter when deciding your venue. Goa due to its ease of connectivity from all geographies of India has become a preferred destination for hosting conventions.

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