In some ways the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is back on familiar turf. The biggest risk to business in 2023 is a slowdown in global growth – but it’s a phenomenon the sector has experienced and dealt with on innumerable occasions. The unpredictability of the coronavirus, at least, appears to be a fading memory after a year of revenge travel.
With bookings up across the business this year, cautious optimism is the mood of moment, as TTN
witnessed at IBTM World in Barcelona last November.
The show itself is an example. This year’s IBTM World managed 80per cent of the floorspace recorded at the 2019 edition, David Thompson, IBTM World Event Director, told TTN
. “It was brilliant to receive feedback on the show floor that there is so much appetite for doing business that many exhibitors and buyers have already scheduled additional meetings to take place in the coming weeks,” he said.
In July, the UFI, the global association of tradeshow organisers and exhibition centre organisers, highlighted the quickening pace of the industry’s recovery in 2022 in its flagship Global Exhibition Barometer research, forecasting that revenue for the first half of 2023 could expected to reach 87per cent of comparable 2019 levels, the industry’s record year to date.
“The hospitality industry in the Kingdom of Bahrain is set to grow exponentially”
– Emre Kirazci
Similar findings were thrown up by a September Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey of travel managers.
The general consensus was that international business travel had reached 50per cent of 2019 levels on average, with a quarter of the 594 buyers polled reporting 70per cent of pre-pandemic volumes.
Nearly 80 per cent of travel managers said their employees were on course to take more business trips in 2023, with roughly two-thirds expecting to see an increase both domestic and international travel over the coming year.
Meanwhile, the American Express Meetings & Events Global Forecast 2023 also predicted more in-person connections next year in an October survey. Two-thirds of respondents the 580 meetings and events (M&E) professionals interviewed across the value chain in 23 countries, said they were “very optimistic” with the number of in-person events expected to return to pre-pandemic levels within 1-2 years. Some 65per cent of respondents said that overall spending on meetings and events is increasing for 2023.
Within the region, the trade is equally positive. The ripple effects of the FIFA World Cup and Expo 2020 have led to strong numbers over the year so far, said Emre Kirazci, Director of Operations at the Sofitel Bahrain.
Business for the MICE and leisure sector alike has come from a wide range of source markets, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Germany and Switzerland, as well as from the Indian wedding sector. New air links to Baku would bring in traffic from Azerbaijan in 2023, he told TTN
“The hospitality industry in the Kingdom of Bahrain is set to grow exponentially with all the new hotels joining the market as well as the opening of spaces such as the new Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre, the largest venue of its kind in the Middle East. The addition of the new airport terminal will be a significant support to the growth not only of the tourism industry but also the economy of the country but also of the tourism industry.”
In Dubai, meanwhile, Soufiane ElAllam, Complex Commercial Director of Al Habtoor City Hotel Collection, pointed to a strong recovery for the sector, as face-to-face meetings have returned.
“We see this trend continuing with a very strong pipeline for Q1. Dubai also now has an opportunity to play on the sports scene with the currently ongoing football season in Qatar, relocation of the Asia Cup from Sri Lanka to Dubai in September and now Saudi Arabia is all set to host the 2027 Asia Cup. With Ramadan starting in Q1, we may see an extended demand for until end of Q2. Plus now the COP27 relocated to Dubai Expo City, we should see an increase in the technology, pharmaceuticals and sustainability sectors,” he said.
Yet, those hopes must be contrasted against the global economic growth outlook.
“Planners and hoteliers are more reactive and more collaborative than ever before”
– Soufiane ElAllam
“We continue to see progress as business travel makes its way back to being a $1.4 trillion global industry, pre-pandemic,” GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang said in a media statement. “It is also important to understand the context of global business travel’s recovery. Asia is still opening its borders, international business travel, in general, started picking up only earlier this year across the globe, and the US has only permitted unrestricted travel since June.”
The International Monetary Fund projects a global GDP growth slowdown from from 6per cent in 2021 to 3.2 per cent in 2022 and 2.7per cent in 2023. The agency said the cost-of-living crisis, tightening financial conditions in most regions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and yes, the lingering effects of the pandemic – all weigh heavily on the outlook.
Every sector of the economy may suffer as a result. Limited operating budgets may affect forward bookings. Commodity prices are likely to stay high, and along with continued inflation, they will likely make suppliers’ services more expensive. By some forecasts, the sector will grow more slowly next year, and will not recover until 2024.
In its Tourism in 2023 report, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) sees aggregate global tourism arrivals likely to increase by 30 per cent in 2023, following growth of 60 per cent this year.
The EIU now expects international arrivals to only return to 2019 levels in 2024. Much of the Middle East, however, is ahead of the curve and has already seen a full recovery on the back of high oil prices, the research agency said in a media statement.
The industry, already used to covid-linked uncertainty, may now have to channel those lessons over the year ahead, contending with shorter lead times and respond more quickly to event requests.
As ElAllam from the Al Habtoor City Hotel Collection says, “Events now get booked in the same year – and sometimes in the same month. Planners and Hoteliers are more reactive and more collaborative than ever before.” That reactivity may continue for the foreseeable future.