Next wave incentives

AFTER the first upsurge in China’s leisure outbound, the country’s MICE business is being touted as “the next wave”, and the trade is homing in to court a market with deeper pockets and more discerning tastes.

Sol Melia Hotel & Resorts recently set up a dedicated sales team for Chinese outbound and now has an office in Lujiazui to “be closer to” corporate clients in the central business district.

“We’re trying to push outbound MICE to our properties around the world. All of my hotels from Bali to Madrid are asking us for more clients,” said area vice president sales, Asia-Pacific, Sharon Lee.

Shanghai CS Innovation Consulting director/GM, Joseph Sze, representative for tour operators such as Tour East and Lac Hong Voyages, observed a sharp increase in incentive groups, with no longer just China-based MNCs driving the growth, but also state-owned enterprises and local private companies. “There’s a change in mindset now. With the economy improving, companies realise the need to reward their staff,” he said.

Sze said instead of the usual incentive holiday combining Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, clients were now exploring destinations such as Vietnam, requesting for special themes, and getting savvier in negotiating for better prices.

Sze’s incentive business grew by 10 to 15 per cent last year and he expects it to climb by another 20 per cent this year. Budgets have also risen by 15 to 25 per cent compared to 2010.

China International Travel Service Shenzhen sales supervisor Angela Cheuk, who noted a 30 per cent rise in incentives from September to March, said: “Local companies are now hiring travel arrangers to plan their incentive trips rather than doing it themselves. They have also started to specially set aside budgets for incentives.”

Companies are also asking for a training component as part of the programme, she added.

Grand China Express International Travel Service vice president Ni Hui said local companies were starting to learn from China-based MNCs, which have started to take a second look at longhaul destinations from end-2010 due to the return of business. Thus far, automobile clients such as Michelin, Hyundai and Kia were sending groups to France, Spain and Hawaii respectively, he said.

Ni said overseas meetings were the fastest-growing business segment. Meeting sizes are also swelling, from 1,000 pax three years ago, to 4,000-5,000 pax now.

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