Trapping the MICE market

The smart money’s on Dubai’s blossoming MICE market, according to Rob Clark, director of revenue for the three upcoming InterContinental Hotels Group (IGH) properties at Dubai Festival City.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 14, 2006

HME: What are you doing at the moment in preparation for the opening of the InterContinental, the Crowne Plaza and the InterContinental Residence Suites, which are due to come online in mid 2007?|~|Clarke,-Rob-B.jpg|~||~|Although we’re six or seven months away from our scheduled opening, we’ve got ideas for pricing, market segments that we’ll be targeting, geographical regions that we’ll attract the guests from — we’re setting all that in place so that when we get closer to the time we can very quickly fine tune it to suit the market.

Personally, I’m closely monitoring our competitors, comparing what the beach properties are doing versus the city hotels; seeing where everyone’s pricing levels are; seeing how the various different hotels are reacting together, and looking at how that’s affecting the market. I’m just trying to keep my finger on the pulse, because with us not having a hotel at the moment, it would be quite easy to lose touch.||**||HME: What observations have you made about the state of the market?|~||~||~|The radio station Dubai Eye and daily newspaper Emirates Today have recently reported that a lot of MICE groups are cancelling their bookings coming into Dubai due to the fact that there is a shortage of rooms.

What’s happening is that because large group bookings are unable to get enough rooms all in the same hotel, and because the rates are going sky high, MICE groups are cancelling their bookings and redirecting them from Dubai.

Currently, when you have a big group of 500 rooms coming to Dubai, for example, each hotel has an allotment of rooms, so there are 20 in one, 50 in another and 100 somewhere else. Delegates are spread out all around the city.

So what we’re doing with the three IHG hotels at Dubai Festival City (DFC) is creating an ideal scenario where there are these three hotels almost next to each other, able to offer a combined total of up to 2020 rooms.

With our DFC properties, the MICE group might not all be able to be in the same hotel, but they can all be next door to each other. So there may be a shortage now, but in six or seven months time, we will be bringing so many rooms to Dubai, and a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art convention centre, and all the other facilities, that we will finally be able to accommodate those big groups.

Bookings in the MICE market are usually being planned a year or two ahead, so it’s great for us to be able to come on board now and say, “We are here, if you want your MICE group to be accommodated in Dubai in six months time, then we can take bookings.”||**||HME: What do you think is causing the present rooms shortage?|~||~||~|I guess at the moment the development that’s going on here is in itself driving a lot of the high occupancy. There are a lot of exciting developments all through Dubai, and the infrastructure required to serve those, and the people coming in for project work from around the world, is feeding, or inflating, the occupancies that we’re getting at the moment.

This is a good thing now, and obviously [when all these projects are finished] we hope that people will start to utilise all the developments, bringing the business and leisure tourism here in force. I suppose the ultimate plan is that one market will be replaced by the other and that we see that flow through happen without very much downtime in between.||**||HME: What are going to be your main markets for the new properties?|~||~||~|Our prime target is of course going to be the MICE market and at this point in time we’re looking at the UK, as a big market for Dubai, as well as Germany, and also the US. I believe there is a real future for Dubai as a world-leading MICE destination — there’s the infrastructure here and there is such a vast array of attractions that make great incentives.

The American market should be a big market for Dubai, and we hope it will play a major part in our business, but I think there is still a lot of education that needs to be done in that market. We will be having familiarisation trips and press trips in order to get people out here so that they can see Dubai for themselves.

I think there’s still the widely held misconception in the US of what Dubai and the Middle East is all about, and by coming here, they can see exactly what the place is all about. I think if they came here, they’d absolutely love it.||**||HME: What are the main considerations for MICE organisers from these markets and how do you think the DFC development will help? |~||~||~|Right now, traffic is a real problem here, not just for the residents, but also for MICE visitors. Because delegates are spread out at various hotels around the city they can end up stuck in traffic jams, and that throws the convention or event’s schedule out.

We’ll be able to provide an alternative to all that. There’ll be no need to get stuck in the traffic because the convention centre will be right at the heart of the development. And for the partners of those attending the events there will be loads to do because this is a multi-purpose development, so there’ll be shopping, golf, a luxury spa and so on, right on their doorstep.

This convenience and the number of attractions that Dubai has to offer will be a key selling point for the international market, and then there will be things such as the Dubai Shopping Festival that will attract the regional leisure market. So for us it’s a matter of balancing all these things to make sure we don’t have any down periods throughout the year.||**||HME: Is it going to be a challenge for you to oversee the revenue management of the three quite different properties?|~||~||~|Compared to being a revenue manager in one hotel, as I was before at the InterContinental Deira, there are more synergies in this arrangement in terms of the pricing of each of the hotels. I don’t think this is difficult, but it certainly adds another dimension to the job.

When you’re looking at pricing and marketing strategies, if you’re with one hotel then you can afford to be fairly blinkered and just do what’s best for you. When there are three properties, however, there needs to be consideration for the market in which each operates.

I think the approach we’ve had here, where the revenue management and a number of the services such as sales and marketing, PR and reservations are shared across the three properties, is the best way to operate.

How we manage that when we’re actually up and running, with three different general managers in place may be a different story, however!||**||

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