IMG Show - 2017 exhibitors: "Russian MICE market players need complete self-control at the moment"

The meetings industry has survived a lot for the past few years - it was either washed ashore to the island of “cost-cutting” by the waves of the crisis, or was pulled out to the sea under the sails of “domestic destinations”, or was crashed against the rocks of “online webinars”. But the Russian MICE ship has survived and continues her way towards new opportunities and adventures! The exhibitors of the so much anticipated IMG Show-2017 organized by ABT-ACTE Russia have told us where the compass needle is pointing and the wind of change is blowing. The workshop and the exhibition will be held in Moscow on October 25 and 26.

"A rather unstable 2017 has surprised us with the growing demand in the low season or suddenly disappointed us in the high season despite the forecast", is the opinion of Lada Samodumskaya, regional sales and marketing director of Kempinski Hotels in Russia and the CIS. "But we do not have even a single reason to complain: we can see excellent results in the segment of conferences, banquets and group accommodation".

As the expert notes, the market imposes tougher and tougher working conditions: customers assess ROI closely and are ready to change their decisions on the choice of event venues depending on literally every line of their budget. Customers put considerable pressure on agencies, for example, by asking for a credit line of three months, but most international hotels cannot accept such conditions. "On our part, we have abandoned fixed packages that used to be standard practice of the past, and adjust the format of the offer to a certain project and its tasks. It is flexibility that guarantees success nowadays. Generosity and faultless quality are the key to making our customers return to us year after year", Lada says.

Sales in the corporate and MICE sectors of Deusche Hospitality, hotel operator, have been on the rise since January 2017 despite the instability in these market areas - 25% per month compared to last year`s figures, according to the overall statistics of the hotels belonging to all the three chains of the company - Steigenberger, IntercityHotel and Jaz. Hilton Worldwide has also reported an increase in the number of events and revenue growth. All this is indicative of an upward trend becoming obviously evident in the meetings industry.

Do the new!

Nevertheless, the MICE market has not fully recovered after the crisis yet, is the opinion of Kristina Aleshina, sales director of Deutsche Hospitality in Russia. As the result, event venues and accommodation are selected very carefully - the offers of one hotel chain are compared to those of its competitors and preferences are usually given to the provider who has offered a lower price. "As a rule, 3-4 star hotels are requested in most cases, in order to observe the budget, at least as much as possible. Russian top managers continue to stay at hotels of the highest category, but not without “a war” for a lower rate", the expert says. However, the more severe the competition, the better the quality, is the opinion of Elena Kryavkina, PR manager of Moscow design hotel StandArt.

Of course, the main trends of the past few years – the budget cut, caused by sudden fluctuations of exchange rates against the ruble and, consequently, the change in travel geography – have facilitated the expansion of MICE markets in the regions of Russia. Thus, events for 50 - 1000 participants were held in the congress halls of angelo by Vienna House Ekaterinburg in 2016 every day. Moreover, in the words of the hotel's general manager Olga Akimova, in 2017 this trend will persist.

"Federal customers, who used to hold events abroad or in Moscow, have made a pivot to domestic venues. And these customers are very demanding, because they have seen and tried a lot. This is why we are always looking for nonconventional formats and adopt our colleagues` practices from all over the world. "Do the new!" is our motto, Olga says. "We also frequently visit tourist attractions of the city and get acquainted with Ekaterinburg’s trademarks. What would you prefer? To play winter golf or to brew the best craft beer, to make Ural meat dumplings with the similarly-named humour team or to throw the ball into the basket of the European basketball champion, to play tank biathlon in a military training area or to mine Ural gold at the site of the first mine of the Russian Empire, to learn the mysteries of the Urals "Pisa Tower" and the Demidovs family or to follow the hidden underground passages of the Kharitonovs-Rastorguevs estate? We will definitely find what to surprise our guests with".

"It is important to offer the customer a unique experience, be it high cuisine by a Michelin chef or, for example, a modern arts exhibition organized as a business breakfast", Elena Kryakvina (StandArt) adds.

There, beyond the horizon

However, the trend of customers` switching to domestic destinations has slowed down - corporate buyers are looking beyond the horizon again. "We have few hotels here in Russia and the CIS, this is why we felt a serious downturn during the crisis. This year has been more positive from the point of view of outcoming travel! We see a positive trend, and what is more important, in various destinations, mainly European ones, but the demand for our venues in Asia and America has been on the rise as well", senior regional sales manager of Worldhotels Oksana Baidakova notes.

Experts from foreign travel offices prove these facts as well. For example, requests for event planning in Monaco Tourism and Congress Bureau have become more frequent. "The only problem we are facing is the belief that it is very expensive to hold an event in the Principality. Which is absolutely not true, because Monaco offers absolutely acceptable prices for group accommodation", Julia Cherednichenko, head of Moscow office, says.

The travel flow from Russia to the Dominican Republic has grown by 217% in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period of the previous year - more than 118 thousand Russians chose the resorts of this country from January to June. "On our part, we are trying to make this destination more popular, and DMCs that specialize in the Dominican product hold special events, for example, familiarization trips for the representatives of MICE agencies”, Galina Lysenko, head of the representative office of the Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic in Russia, Ukraine and the CIS comments the situation. "All the market participants are interested in bringing more business travellers to the country, and the increase in the number of flights from Russia will only facilitate the process".

The expert adds that one of the advantages of the Dominican Republic for foreign event planners is the fact that most hotels of the country offer “all inclusive” catering and the single price concept helps avoid unexpected situations that may affect the total travel budget.

A weighty argument

A considerable increase in the number of average and small-scale events and a decrease in the number of large events (in this case the quality becomes more important than the quantity), a shorter time of commercial offer preparation for the customer, the more and more frequent use of electronic platforms like Cvent to plan meetings, enhanced control of MICE programs by purchase departments – all these trends that have a global scale, as much as a local one, were pointed out by Ms Svenia Bushing, regional sales director Europe of Hilton Worldwide.

We are still witnessing a decrease in sales depth in the Russian market, Oksana Baidakova (Wordhotels) comments the situation. In her opinion, the requests of MICE customers have not changed for the past year in general: “The things that have always been important, are still important – a quick response, good prices, definitely lower than the published rates, help in communicating with the hotel – by explaining some special market features”. Lada Samodumskaya (Kempinski) also agrees with her colleagues. “Nowadays customers have set a really high working rate: they expect an instant reaction to their requests – an hour or two, four is the limit, they look for complete adjustment to their requests, expect know-hows and alternative offers from the hotel, value the desire of the venue to find ways to meet extraordinary requests and to make advances due to the rapidly changing request parameters, for example, the number of participants, dates and other details. This is why market players need complete self-control. Many tasks are settled at the last second, and we, as a venue, often have to adjust in the real time mode”, the expert notes.

“It is very important to maintain a constant contact with the customer, to react in due time both to emergency situations and current questions. And an individual approach, independent of the event budget and the status of the guests becomes an additional point to the price that sometimes comes to the forefront itself”, Kristina Aleshina (Deutsche Hospitality) stresses.

Apart from support from A to Z in the 24/7 mode, with the hotel`s team available on the phone, in messengers and in person whenever it is convenient for the customer, clients nowadays expect the hotel to offer them consultations on interesting ways of serving meals, ideas on networking, recommendations of reliable providers, detailed information on the city and its tourist facilities, Olga Akimova (angelo by Vienna House Ekaterinburg) adds. “We regularly look for and create non-conventional formats of interactive events. For example, last year we launched jazz evenings, parties on the roof with a view of planes take off, BBQ parties on the summer terrace, gastronomic dinners, cuisine shows and master classes of Urals cuisine by the chef, introduced a healthy and a vegetarian menu. Now we are in search of a form of a meal that boosts brain activity”, Olga shares her experience.

Another important trend, in expert opinion, is the technification of events that implies online registration, connection of speakers` tablets and smart phones to huge plasma screens by Wi-fi, the use of a mobile concierge to chat with the conference manager, an application to exchange contacts. “The move beyond the familiar framework and the speeding up of all the processes are obvious”, Olga says.

On the MICE wave

Despite the ever-increasing role of technologies in the MICE segment, the relations “The Provider - the Customer” are still the key component of successful business, Ms Bushing is convinced. This is why Hilton Worldwide has decided to join the list of participants of International MICE Geography Show — 2017.

Taking into account that the choice of professional MICE exhibitions in the Russian market is not large, for many exhibitors ABT-ACTE Russia workshop is a great opportunity to meet corporate buyers and the representatives of MICE agencies, to establish new contacts and to remind their old acquaintances about themselves, to tell everyone about their product and to exchange experience with their colleagues.

Many providers have already presented their products and services at IMG Show. “Our participation in the last year`s exhibition turned out to be entirely positive – we presented the facilities of our hotel chains to corporate buyers and acquired unique business contacts. This is why we have made the decision to continue this good tradition and to join IMG Show-2017. The general policy of Deutsche Hospitality is aimed at establishing closer and more trusting relations with corporate buyers. And of course, we expect traditionally nice and efficient communication with colleagues and industry representatives at the exhibition, Kristina Aleshina says.

More and more new companies are joining IMG Show. One of them is the National Tourism Organization of Korea. “The launch of a full-scale marketing activity in the MICE industry in the Russian market is a kind of a start-up for our office. We have taken part in some other professional events, and even large ones. But it has been our first time in such an alliance as this one – together with the Tourist Bureau of Gwangju province, Lotte Hotels and Resorts and several DMCs”, Ekaterina Lopukhina, marketing director of Moscow office gives her comments. “Korea is on the rise at present, including the business travel industry as well. Many Korean brands are famous all over the world, and there is an active exchange of business travellers between Korea and Russia. But we would like Korea to be discovered as a great destination for large conferences and interesting incentive tours. We have heard many positive reviews of IMG Show from our partners. The fact that not only MICE agencies, but also corporate buyers themselves attend the event is an extremely important fact for us – it is a good opportunity to inspire key decision makers with the new destination, South Korea! Besides, we like the format, the opportunity to take part in the virtual tender and in additional advertising activities”.

The year 2018 is ahead, the year of presidential elections, and in this connection Kempinski expects a decrease in business activity in winter, but predicts a rise in all the other months of the year. “As we see, a huge reconstruction is under way in Moscow for the new season, and we sincerely hope that after all the scheduled renovations are over, city facilities will allow us to hold much more festivals, events and congresses”, Lada Samodumskaya supposes. “In any case, we are ready for new challenges of the rapidly growing MICE market, we are keeping in pace with time and are looking forward to having an opportunity to broaden the pool of our partners during the future IMG Show!”.

“This is an anchor event of the MICE industry in Russia. Meetings industry experts meet here to learn about market trends, to present their know-hows and to find useful contacts”, Olga Akimova says. “The format of the event itself invites to business communication during the exhibition, and the gala dinner – to the establishment of informal acquaintances. To be an active IMG Show participant means to be in the trend and on the MICE wave”.

Natalia Travova