It was a sector in a state of effervescence and in constant growth. But the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in mid-February was its turning point. Before, some event agencies had already perceived certain restrictions imposed by American and Asian companies in different meetings where a large number of their professionals met. And then the total break came, when in early March, the government agreed to suspend all congresses of health professionals. The one of the events was one of the first sectors that, before and more directly, received the blows of the health crisis that has come. Since then the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) industry, as it is also known, has been in technical KO. Like a house of cards, thousands of events were canceled or postponed until after the summer, or even without an expected date, without being sure when and under what conditions they will be held.
The scope of the losses is incalculable, because among so much uncertainty there is also no exhaustive study that draws an x-ray of this great industry, highly atomized since hundreds of companies that dedicate themselves to organizing and providing services for a wide typology of events live from it. : from large international and national congresses and fairs, to all kinds of company meetings, professional conferences, corporate conventions, conferences, seminars, incentive trips for clients and employees … In other words, it ranges from the celebration of a great event such as Fitur, or the Mobile World Congress of Barcelona itself this year canceled, up to thousands of corporate events of companies in their own offices, or in palaces, museums, theaters … such as presentations of new cosmetic or pharmaceutical products or press breakfasts in the halls of hotels, scientific or technological conferences in auditoriums, cultural meetings in uni Versities, events in the middle of the street … They are just some examples.
“Until now, the MICE industry was in very good health and grew every year,” says Matilde Almandoz, president of Foro MICE. In fact, a study, prepared by the Events Industry Council in collaboration with Oxford Economics, estimates the impact of the events sector on Spanish GDP in 2017 at 10,889 million euros, which places our country in 12th position on the list from 50 countries with the greatest impact on the organization of events. That same document estimates that the sector generates 83,000 jobs in Spain, which welcomed more than 22 million Spanish and foreign participants that year and that these had an average cost per person of around 500 euros during their stay.
Key to tourist seasonality, the sector urges the Government to avoid “catastrophic messages” about its complex reactivation
Another report from the Spain Convention Bureau (SCB) estimates the weight of what it calls meeting tourism in a network of 57 Spanish municipalities (with the capacity to hold events with a minimum capacity of 500 people). The document says that in 2018 the direct economic impact of the congresses, conventions and conferences (does not include fairs or incentive trips) that were held in those municipalities reached 6,600 million euros (8% more than the previous year). The number of meetings amounted to 25,804 (3.4% more than in 2017) and 4 million attendees were exceeded (4.1% more).
Beyond the figures, Spain is “a reference and a MICE destination par excellence at the international level,” says Matilde Almandoz. According to the latest ranking prepared by the International Association of Congresses and Conventions (ICCA), in 2018 our country occupied the third position in hosting international congresses (with 595), only behind the United States and Germany, and second place by number of attendees, 297,000, just behind the US “That is because we are competitive, we have good facilities and great professionals to host the best events in the world, and we have our own technological, scientific, and health ecosystems … very attractive”, explains Iker Goikoetxea, president of the Association of Congress Palaces of Spain (APCE).
The economic impact of the events sector on Spanish GDP in 2017 was 10,889 million euros
In an event tourism where there is also an important recreational and experiential burden, other factors help to be international benchmarks: security, infrastructure, climate, gastronomy, culture … «Our cultural offer allows access to unique spaces, for example the gardens of a castle or an open-air palace in the middle of May and June. This cannot be done in the UK. And our way of living abroad attracts a lot of attention ”, says Mar García, president of Associated Spanish Events Agencies (Aevea).
Effects on tourism
The MICE industry is also a seasonally adjusted element for tourism. “The events have their peaks in March, April, May and June and after the summer, in September and October,” says García. Precisely weaker months for hotels and restaurants. “The business tourist generates twice as much impact on the environment as a regular tourist, because in addition to attending the event, they use transportation, go to lunch and dinner at restaurants, stay in hotels, travel by plane, rent cars, shopping in shops, attending shows, visiting museums … », considers Xabier Basañez, president of the Association of Spanish Fairs (AFE) and general director of the Bilbao Exhibition Center. They are tourists who also have added value. «The profile of the congressman is of a medium-high purchasing power that consumes. And they are very prescriptive in their places of origin, that is, they speak well of where they have been. In this way, a relevant network of contacts is accessed, helping to generate a tourist segment of interest, the effects of which are seen later, “says Iker Goikoetxea.
It is an industry with an important tractor effect on another ecosystem of SMEs and freelancers who live around the events, such as hostess agencies: catering or cleaning companies; stage fitters; scriptwriters, audiovisual and lighting technicians; decorators …
190 trade fairs and 270 congresses (from congress halls) have been canceled or postponed
But there is an impact impossible to account for, as pointed out by all the players in this industry. “The MICE industry is strategic communication for a large company towards its employees and its customers, suppliers … It is knowledge transfer in a congress of doctors and scientists … How is this impact measured?” Asks Matilde Almandoz. The AFE president also explains it: «A fair –he claims– brings together people who exchange knowledge, experiences, business … It doesn’t make sense if they don’t generate business for those who participate in it, both for exhibitors and for attendees. The fairs have their economic impact on each economic sector they host: the machinery and tools fair strengthens that sector in the Basque Country, the shoe fair does the same for that industry in Valencia… ». And also “congresses serve as a window of opportunity for local ecosystems. For the sanitary, the scientific, the technological… If I bring a scientific congress to my city, that fabric of innovation and development of my territory will be made known to that coming expert world ».
Precisely, the Association of Spanish Fairs (AFE) and the Association of Congress Palaces of Spain (APCE) asked the Government this week for a series of different types of aid to mitigate the effects of the crisis caused by Covid-19. Until now, more than 190 fairs have been canceled or postponed in Spain (in 2018 390 were held with 6.1 million visitors) and 270 congresses. Some will not even take place until 2021 or 2022. According to AFE, the fairs have an economic impact of 10 billion euros and 2 billion the events that are held in congress halls.
The entire MICE industry is aware that it will be months before they can start their activity, especially considering that they depend on restrictions on the mobility of people, on social distancing and on health security measures dictated by governments. Meanwhile, this sector, in addition to financing to sustain the hiatus, asks the Government for caution and prudence, – “do not speculate on dates,” Matilde Almandoz qualifies – in the face of “catastrophic” and “unfortunate” messages, such as that of the Minister of I work, Yolanda Díaz, announcing this week that tourism, leisure and culture may not return to activity until the end of the year. However, pending the decisions of the health authorities, the MICE industry continues to work and prepare protocols with security measures for the first events, with the hope that they will be held at the turn of summer. .