12:27 | 02/09/2015 Society
(VEN) - Ready to take off? How can Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) become a hotspot for global meetings and business tourism before it is too late?
The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) later this year will mark a historical milestone in the regional integration process. As the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia in terms of industry and tourism, Vietnam will be facing major challenges but there will also be tremendous opportunities, especially in the fast growing Meetings Incentives Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism segment. Since Vietnam opened its door to welcome foreign travelers, the country has become a fascinating new tourist destination providing authentic settings for the booming MICE tourism industry. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Vietnam’s travel and tourism sector will enjoy the world’s sixth highest growth rate over the next decade.
By increasing worldwide tourism offices and upgrading regional infrastructures, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has recognized the benefits of the ever-lucrative MICE industry. Yet without the full cooperation and backing of the many government bodies, these development proposals carry the same pitfalls that face outside investors, and adaptation to fast-paced change is a vital concern. Is there a more promising picture on the city level and can HCMC position itself as Vietnam’s and regional MICE hotspot?
By capitalizing on its strengths in comparison with its neighbors (political stability and a vibrant local culture for instance), HCMC can position itself as an attractive alternative to Bangkok’s thriving MICE industry. Hosting the World Economic Forum Asia, the Asia Pacific Conference of German Business (APK) - the largest German business event in Asia, and other international events were major steps to bring HCMC to the global dinner table. With rising international interest, the city will be compelled to accelerate its tourism industry development.
As a cosmopolitan and lively city that appeals to international travelers, HCMC has a real chance to become a leading MICE destination in Southeast Asia. It provides an excellent tourism infrastructure. The Saigon Exhibition and Convention Center (SECC), the GEM Center and a range of international hotel brands all add up to an attractive MICE ecosystem that would convince the most demanding MICE organizers.
"Without a doubt, HCMC is emerging as an attractive destination for MICE organizers, especially those who are from Asia Pacific. We have seen a consistent growth of demand in the last few years and expect this will remain stable in the near future. The fact that more hotels are joining the hospitality landscape will also contribute to promoting HCMC as a "hot" destination regionally," said Park Hyatt Saigon Sales & Marketing Director Federica Brugnara.
HCMC expects to welcome 4.7-5 million foreign tourists this year. However, there are no reliable statistics about MICE tourists who come for business purposes such as attending a corporate or association meeting, an incentive event, a convention, or an exhibition.
Despite massive increases in the numbers of meetings and business travelers to HCMC, the gross figure largely pales in comparison with such well-established hotspots as Hong Kong (China). In the last 10 years the influx of foreign tourists to Hong Kong (China) might have only doubled but the total figure now has reached around 22 million.
Even within ASEAN, HCMC’s performance is far behind its potential. According to a recent International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) report, HCMC ranks 32nd among Asia Pacific and Middle East cities while three other ASEAN destinations are among the top 10 MICE cities with Singapore being No. 1, Kuala Lumpur No. 8, and Bangkok No. 9.
The predicted sustainability of the MICE boom gives HCMC an unique advantage as an emerging MICE destination but so far the opportunities of this high yield industry have been poorly understood by city and tourism planners and other stakeholders such as airlines, tourism schools, hotels, venue vendors, transportation companies, hospitality developers, and event management companies.
Creating a MICE future for HCMC
Given the potential of the MICE industry as an economic driver and its sustainable growth in Asia Pacific, it needs to become an integral part of HCMC’s economic development strategy. Sustainable competitive advantages and a well thought out tourism strategy cannot be created overnight. It is a combination of policy making, concerted action of engaging the private sector and city authorities and a vision to create something truly special and lasting that results in prosperity and wealth for its citizens.
The thriving MICE industry is a driving force of economic growth in the 21st century. By becoming one of the leading MICE hotspots in Asia Pacific where the best brains can meet, HCMC has a far more realistic chance to become a future financial and high technology center as it aspires to be. The AmCham Hospitality and Tourism Committee hosted a breakfast meeting for MICE leaders and the interested audience on September 9, 2005 at Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel to highlight the challenges and opportunities for HCMC’s MICE industry. For information and registration please visit: www.amcham.com.
VU MINH ANH, TERRAVERDE TRAVEL DIRECTOR