The extensive development of luxury hotels, resorts and event facilities has put Macau firmly on the international map of venues for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE). Nearly 250,000 event participants arrived in the enclave in the first half of this year, and industry leaders say the business is on an upward trend.
“We absolutely can see a rise in MICE in the second half of this year and it is a positive sign for the future of MICE in Macau. Not only do we see a rise in total events, but also in the average size of each event,” says Gene Capuano, vice-president of convention and exhibition operations at The Venetian Macao.
In a city where gaming has always been the big attraction and the average visitor stays for less than one day, the MICE business represents a prime opportunity to expand the tourism base and bring in people who are likely to stay for two to three days or more.
Capuano points out that MICE serves as a major stimulant for a whole swathe of the economy. “You are not only fuelling business networking as a company or companies, but also all the elements within a city and integrated resort that are affected by MICE groups. When large MICE events come into a city, you see a rise in retail, food and beverage sales, and tourist visits to landmarks and attractions as well,” he says.
For residents of Macau that means more job opportunities, including retraining for hospitality sector staff to learn the specific skills required for hosting large events.
At The Venetian Macao, these preparations cover on-site training and learning all aspects of the hotel’s operation with an emphasis on the importance of first-hand experience of operational challenges.
“We were built for this. Our model is MICE and we have been prepared for, and in anticipation of, a growing business. This is what we have been waiting for,” Capuano explains.
He adds that retraining forms a central part of their strategy. “Ninety per cent of our event teams have been promoted from within starting as coordinators and administrative assistants, so our experience has grown so that we have a diverse and deep bench of experience for busy time periods,” he says.
But the rapid growth and attraction of Macau’s hospitality sector poses challenges for Hong Kong, with many employees heading across the Pearl River estuary to take up more senior positions or better paying jobs.
“Most of the top quality hospitality candidates are now in Macau so there is a definite shortage in Hong Kong,” says Justin Leung, manager of the sales and marketing division at Ambition, a recruitment firm.
And when it comes to competing for MICE business, he thinks Hong Kong should keep on improving, despite its excellent location, communications and international business and transport links. “Macau definitely has an edge with more variety of hotels and plenty of entertainment options,” says Leung. “That is to say, Hong Kong needs more good venues to stay competitive.”
Overall, he sees good prospects for growth in the MICE sector across the Pearl River Delta region (PRD), including Hong Kong and Macau, but advises local hoteliers that they need to start thinking about how to retain and attract talent in the hospitality sector.
“Most reputable hotel chains offer excellent training for their staff, but due to a relatively lower starting salary, turnover has always been high in the sector,” he adds.
A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association believes the city’s geographical advantage – being located next to the world’s largest manufacturing basin in the PRD – provides unparalleled business and career opportunities for the local MICE sector.
On the question of whether Macau’s rapid development of its MICE sector will be healthy competition or a threat, she says: “Macau is competitive in attracting planners for incentives events and corporate meetings, while Hong Kong remains a leader in the exhibition sector in Asia. So, both are quite different in nature.”
Hong Kong stands out from other Asian cities for numerous reasons, and so it will continue to attract organisers, exhibitors and buyers who demand top-return on their exhibition investment, as well as top MICE professionals, she adds.