Baikal MICE drive discussed at ABT-ACTE Russia conference in Irkutsk

What is the special drive of Baikal MICE? Standard quad tours, ballooning or … hot poses? Participants of ABT-ACTE Russia educational conference “Modern travel management and MICE” in Irkutsk tried to answer this intriguing question. The event was held in Noosphere, museum department of Irkutsk Planetarium, on April 21.

Poses (buuz) – are a traditional Buryat dish. They are “cups” of dough filled with meat and herbs and are usually steamed. They are one of many unique trademarks of the Baikal region. You are just obliged to try buuz – it is the opinion of everyone who has visited this area. However, guests from other regions are not as frequent visitors here as they could be. In the opinion of Anastasiya Zotova, head of Metropol accommodation and travel group, the reason lies in a commonplace misconception, that a tour to the Baikal is far, expensive and time consuming. Indeed, it takes you about 5,5-6,5 hours to get to Ulan-Ude by plane, and an average two-way ticket price is about 30 thousand rubles. However, the Baikal can offer you unique experience: expeditions, golf tournaments, team fishing, khivus tours (air-cushion boat)… And all this is on the ice of the deepest lake of the world! “Break of the comfort zone and unforgettable impressions are guaranteed!” Ms Zotova is convinced.

Evgenia Gulyaeva, corporate account manager of Grand Baikal, also presented her vision of a secret of successful Baikal MICE. She spoke about the “business + pleasure” concept, facilities of conference venues and hotels of the region.

Maria Sokolova, special project mastermind in “We” creative agency is convinced that any out-of-office event should immerse its participants into the mythology of the region, make them feel they are travellers, and not guests. Ms Sokolova and the managing partner of the agency Mikhail Klimanov told the audience about their ideas on how to arrange and hold events in a cost-efficient way in any region. “An event, be it a conference or an incentive tour for a department need not be expensive: sometimes it is enough to have good partner relations with providers, high quality printed material and your own brain”, Maria is convinced.

Representatives of the agency suppose that you should never try to cut costs at the expense of the participants. In experts` words, the budget of the customer will not be seriously affected if you revise logistics – for example, hold your meeting at an interesting, but not so widely promoted venue. The most important thing about any event is its location. “Business travellers should feel the local colour of the unfamiliar place, its traditions. Just think, what can be a MICE resource? And use these opportunities to the full extent!” the experts gave their advice.

They especially stressed that the main task of a DMC is to offer guests unusual activities they cannot find in other regions. “For example, you can go on a quad tour or rafting anywhere. You need not go to the Baikal to do this”, experts of “We” noted.

“The colleagues have raised the most burning and challenging topic – how to arrange an event that could bring the participants both good and pleasure, and at the same time its cost for the company should be as low as possible. And they even brought examples – spoke about strategic, adventure and intellectual team games”, Margarita Timenkova, expert of business travel support department of Sibur shared her impression.

A successful event is not only a stretch of imagination, it is real programming, is the opinion of Elizaveta Ionnisyan, manager of exclusive MICE and teambuilding projects in “Russkie Prostori”.

Programming in MICE is an algorithm, the speaker noted. To start with, the agency should receive a clear and a correctly defined request. For example, a request for a MICE event should include the date, the number of participants, the destination and the venue, event format, budget (if it is known in advance), as well as the answer deadline. If all the data is correct, the customer will receive the offer in the shortest time possible. “For example, Catalyst has more than 100 ready-made scenarios with a detailed description of the tasks they help to settle”, Ms Ionnisyan said.

“The main problem of MICE in the regions is the fact that it takes partners a long time to give their answer, and service description is rather poor and incorrect”, the speaker shared her opinion. Nevertheless, the best response time should not exceed 48 hours. “As a rule, we expect a detailed presentation of services, names of restaurants and venues and preliminary menus, prices per service. Comments on the program based on personal experience, as well as knowledge of modern technologies are also very useful”, she noted.

“The programming approach to travel and MICE was also used by Julia Evlakhova, head of business travel department of BNS Group, who examined the scheme used to select regional providers in detail.

“The selection procedure starts with the answer to four simple questions: the aim, what and where, what for and with the help of what”, Ms Evlakhova said. In the first place, the customer should come up with his needs. Then goes a technical description, a list of preferred providers, analysis and assessment, selection procedure, agreement conclusion and then - control of its implementation. If there are no failures in this chain, the corporate buyers gets budget economy and a reliable regular provider as the result.

Ms Evlakhova also shared statistics on MICE destinations of her company with the audience. Before 2015, foreign destinations accounted for 80% of travel, Russian destinations – for 20%. However, in 2016 due to the budget cut travel geography was revised. After this, the ratio changed to 50% and 50% correspondingly.

“The Baikal has astonished me with its power and beauty. It is quite attractive as a MICE destination, but very few know about it. At the same time the Baikal offers vast opportunities for accommodation of different groups, entertainment programs differ to cater for all tastes”, the speaker thinks.

Ekaterina Aleksandrova, executive director of ABT-ACTE Russia, devoted her speech to the prospects and trends of the MICE industry. Citing the data of the annual global survey Yearbook-2016, she said that more than a half of modern companies (more than 62%) combined business travel and event management. Moreover, the vast majority of companies (almost 93%) resorted to the services of a specialized MICE agency to arrange incentive tours, seminars and conferences. About 39% of respondents, who took part in the survey for the Yearbook, noted that they concluded agreements with three or more agencies, almost 27% - with 2 agencies, and 33% - with one only. In most cases (39%), corporations spent 1 to 5 million rubles per year on MICE. The number of events in 2015 remained the same as in 2014, was the opinion of the majority of survey participants (about 67%). More than 29% noted that it had decreased, and only 4% - that it had grown.

“MICE outlook for 2016 and further is generally positive”, is the opinion of Ms Aleksandrova. “Many companies have started including event costs into their budgets for the first time since the crisis, while it is not a basic need, but marketing costs”.

The panel discussion was devoted to the criteria of provider selection procedure for an out-of-office corporate event. The participants were Julia Evlakhova, Mikhail Klimanov, Ekaterina Borisova (project manager of CWT Meetings & Events, Moscow) and Anastasiya Zotova. Evgeniya Gulyaeva fulfilled the function of moderator.

After lunch, commercial director of Courtyard by Marriott Irkutsk City Center Marina Eremova offered the participants her presentation “Meetings Imagined, a new approach to event arrangement”. She reminded the participants about the fact that in five years half of the employees would belong to the millennium generation. “They are global, mobile and socially active, open to dialogue”, the speaker noted.

At the same time, travellers` preferences have changed, this is why events should be completely different from what they used to be and are nowadays. “Customers perceive the world in a more visual way than before, organizers seek new ideas and customers wish to achieve certain aims when they hold events”, Ms Eremova stressed.

Some of the most popular aims are education, generation of new ideas, decision-making, teamwork, celebration of important dates, and launch of a new product. This is exactly what the concept Meetings Imagined is aimed at; it “alters the traditional approach to events, inspires fantasy and helps solve business tasks in a creative way”.

Anna Antonova, MICE-Russia department manager of 5 Stars agency acquainted conference participants with the facilities of conference hotels and the new format of MICE venues.

Although MICE in Russia has already occupied all the sectors related to it (meetings, exhibitions, events, incentives, teambuilding), there still is growth capacity, and even a large one, Ms Antonova is convinced. “The key to a successful conference is team work of the whole hotel where the meeting is planned, good communication, loyal attitude of the staff both to the guests and to the organizers. These are the factors that let you solve the most difficult tasks and hold the event at the highest level possible” the expert is convinced.

The speaker stressed that hotel conference facilities are almost the same all over the world, and customers choose not the hotel itself, but the extra option package – excursions, menus, leisure facilities, availability of some extra bonuses.

“If you bring fruit to the leader`s room, provide a free room upgrade for some participants, offer them a welcome cocktail, it will leave a very nice impression of the hotel. And it will be you who the customer will return to the next time”, Ms Antonova concluded.

“There was a dialogue between MICE agencies representatives, DMCs and corporate buyers at the conference. It has allowed us to discuss all the burning issues, exchange opinions and give advice to each other”, Julia Evlakhova summed up.

Partners of the event were Irkutsk city administration, Metropol-Express tourist agencies, Tour East Group and Grand Baikal travel companies, Courtyard Marriott Irkutsk City Center, Aeroflot, Misha restaurant, Catalyst Russia, Sobolinaya Gora ski resort and Russkie Prostori DMC. The conference ended with a lottery.

Ekaterina Larina