Meetings, incentives, conferences and events (Mice) is a rapidly growing part of the business tourism sector. Swiss-based MCI Group, which has offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has many years' experience organising events for businesses. Agency President Roger Tondeur believes the UAE could become a major Mice centre.
How would you define the Mice sector?
Tourism in general can be divided into two categories – business and leisure. In business tourism there is the part where representatives of companies visit each other and this represents 80 per cent of the segment. But then there is the other part, 20 per cent – the Mice business, where gatherings of representatives of different groups take place. Economically speaking we believe the Mice business has the highest yield of the entire tourism industry because the companies pay for everything. The Mice sector has the highest growth rate among the business tourism sectors.
What role does your company perform?
Let's take companies such as Microsoft, Dell or General Motors which organise meetings to get their business done. If Microsoft does something like this it means 4,000 people are coming and the logistics will be a big burden. So companies like ours manage this type of big business gathering.
Why are you in the UAE?
The Middle East and the UAE in particular are building infrastructure such as hotels, conference centres and airports. Because of this more and more Mice events will come here. The Middle East's location between Asia and Europe makes it an easier and more convenient venue. Let's say you are part of an association and want to have a meeting. If you are in Tokyo or Vancouver, will people go there for a day or two? So you need a place in the middle. Today the very clear centre of the world is London and Paris. But eventually it will move due to the emergence of the Indian and Chinese markets. Abu Dhabi or Dubai will become the Mice destination of choice for players from Asia and Europe.
Where do your customers holding events in the region come from and what sectors of industry are involved in the Mice business?
About 50 per cent of our business comes from outside the Middle East and the other 50 per cent originates here. The biggest sectors that use Mice are healthcare and IT followed by banking.
What is the aim of the companies that promote the Mice sector?
To define their mission we have to highlight their challenge. Companies involved in this sector aim to build a community of people in parallel with assisting brands to build their communities. One of our clients in the UAE is Emirates Medical Association, which wants to develop ties among all types of doctors in the UAE.
What challenges does the Mice business face in the UAE and the GCC?
Cost. We have started to lose business because of the very high cost of coming here. There was an event for one of the biggest five accounting firms that we wanted to hold in Dubai, but it was moved to Kuala Lumpur last November due to cost. Other factors, such as taxis and the cost of living for people you want to hire, is putting a burden on companies.
Are you talking to government departments in the UAE about the cost of organising events and exhibitions?
Yes. They are well informed and say there is nothing to worry about in the long term as more facilities, halls, buildings and hotels are being built. Costs will come down when they open.
Is there a shortage of talent?
Yes – players in our sector call it the war for talents. I recruit from South Africa and Australia as they are the nationalities who like to come.
Where does Arab talent figure?
Many Arabs come as juniors and we have to train them. There is a huge need for training and we offer courses in our field through our MCI Institute. The problem is that our sector is not well represented – we need to develop a curriculum in colleges and universities that meets the demand. I am willing to be a teacher and to invest resources from my company to allow my directors to teach.
How do you see the UAE's potential for attracting more conventions?
The mosaic of nationalities in the UAE is a powerful asset. I do not want to see Dubai become another America, Europe or even Mumbai – I want it to be itself.
PROFILE: Roger Tondeur, President of MCI Group
Roger Tondeur gained his first events experience when he organised concerts in Paris. He returned to his home country, Switzerland, in 1979, and became head of a branch of Wagonlit Travel in Geneva. He was promoted to managing director in 1982 and took over the management of Telecom, the world's largest telecoms exhibition with more than 250,000 visitors.
In 1987, he left Wagonlit to set up MCI and over the next 12 years he turned it into the leading event management company in Geneva. He opened a second MCI office in Zurich and by the end of 2007 the company had 22 offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Tondeur, who is married to Ursula, has three children including a son who has followed him into MCI. He speaks five languages.