Wanted: A marketing body for MICE in Maharashtra

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Hoteliers in Mumbai and Pune want the Maharashtra government to set up a marketing body to promote the state as a MICE destination

At the recently concluded FHW Mumbai, twelve general managers of leading hotel brands in Mumbai and Pune participated in a panel discussion on MICE in Maharashtra which highlighted the need for government support.

The GMs included Sameer Sud, The Leela Mumbai; Nicholas Dumbell, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel; Cajetan Araujo, St Regis, Mumbai; Suraj Kumar Jha, Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport; Varun Sahani, The Orchid, Mumbai; Kapil Kapoor, Waterstones Hotel, Mumbai; Amit Midha, Conrad Pune; Srinivas Srirangam, Novotel Imagica, Khopoli; Vineet Mishra, JW Marriott Pune; Subhabrata Roy, Four Points by Sheraton Navi Mumbai; Santanu Guha Roy, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Alibaug and Satyajit Kotwal, The Resort, Mumbai.

Opening the discussion, Cajetan Araujo said, “MICE accounts for 14.8 per cent of St Regis Mumbai’s revenues. Customers today want diverse F&B experiences with dynamic breakout sessions. And we want them to keep coming back to us. So our strategy is to understand what the customer wants.”

Speaking about the importance of price points vis a vis business, Sameer Sud stated, “Price point is very very important but more important is what you can offer at that price. The needs of the customer must be given priority.” Nicholas Dumbell observed that MICE needs accessibility. “Due to easy connectivity, Powai is much closer to the airport than even south Mumbai. And this worked for Renaissance Mumbai. Our F&B business has doubled and will continue to grow. But we need to find out what rates can be attractive in the lean periods. We want to maximise the whole big picture rather than just rooms or F&B or MICE,” he said.

Commenting on demonetisation, Satyajit Kotwal informed that only impromptu family gatherings were impacted. “But there was no impact on the weddings segment as in India weddings are more status symbols,” he added. Adding to this, Suraj Kumar Jha said, that as most corporate MICE is on credit terms, the impact was minimal. “But it affected social events like weddings which are mostly a showcase of wealth for Indian families. People have accepted demonetisation and things have become normal,” he commented.

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Discussing the scope of medical tourism, Subhabrata Roy said, “It is one of the emerging MICE segments. Being close to hospitals like Fortis, Apollo, etc, Four Points by Sheraton Navi Mumbai has tremendous potential for sure. We are also close to the CIDCO Exhibition Centre where a lot of medical conferences are held. Being a branded hotel also means lots of opportunities.”

The panel then turned attention to Pune. Vineet Mishra observed, “Six years ago when JW Marriott opened here, everyone said it was too large for the satellite city. Those days Pune was more of a retirement city.

Today, we are seeing one million F&B covers per year. Pune has become a destination in itself. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway definitely helped us. And price points in Pune are still affordable and with more hotel inventory in the pipeline, it means more bigger conferences and conventions. In MICE, benefits of increased inventory works wonders as hotels can work together as partners and can offer customers alternate accommodation options available in close proximity.”

Amit Midha said that despite the camaraderie, there is a dearth of hotels in the luxury segment in Pune. “Conrad Pune is the second largest in the MICE space. Pune is a very dynamic market, more affordable though lack of shopping is till a dampener,” he pointed out.

Challenges

Srinivas Srirangam lamented that though the 2016 MICE policy is a good one, how much of it will be activated is the question. “Being an amusement park hotel, MICE accounts for 58 per cent of business in Novotel Imagica Khopoli. Being located between Mumbai and Pune also helps as these are our feeder markets,” he said.

Santanu Guha Roy observed that Khopoli, Karjat and Lonavla are emerging as MICE destinations. “Radisson Blu Alibaug does 65 per cent MICE. We would have done better if the road conditions were better. If infra improves we can get more business. Being a resort hotel, we also have lots of space for team building activities,” he pointed out.

Kapil Kapoor believed that MICE is no longer a four walled cliched segment. He said, “People want more entertainment and more interaction, live cooking stations, interactive kitchens, etc. For us at Mars Hospitality, F&B has been a gamechanger –  whether it is in cuisine, presentation, food experience, themes or displays.”

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They all agreed that there was a lack of a huge convention centre. Jha said, “Globally look at Singapore. We need better infra support. Even entertainment facilities have to be built in for larger international exhibitions to come to India.”

Dumbell agreed, “We have huge potential but what we need is a central body which will be the face for potential international convention opportunities. The Return on Investment is also important for such projects so maybe a convention centre near the new airport, but for this we need the support of the local  government.”

Varun Sahani questioned, “Look at Jaipur – what did it do to make it to the second position as India’s convention hub?”

They all were in agreement that clarity in policies and taxation as well as licences is the need of the hour.

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