China’s MICE, business travel rebound underlines need for human connection

China’s corporate travel and MICE sectors are recovering at a steady clip, buoyed by rapid advances in digitalisation, indicate panellists at the Corporate Travel & Events Industry Outlook For 2021 online session on Monday.

Ni Hui, president, Grand China MICE Holdings, told participants of Virtual IT&CM China and CTW China 2020 that there was a “noticeable increase in business” this month, and projected that domestic programmes would return before international ones.

Clockwise from top: Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism’s Patrick Chen as session moderator with speakers Beckman Coulter Diagnostics’ Luc Lu; Jing Dong Group’s Fan Lifeng; Grand China MICE Co.’s Ni Hui; and Hyatt Hotels and Resorts China’s Linda Xia

While the MICE industry has been slower to adapt to digital processes, Ni said the pandemic has boosted the adoption of technology. He added that digitialisation and support from local governments are now key to China’s MICE recovery.

Luc Lu, JAPAC senior strategic sourcing director, Beckman Coulter Diagnostics, expects the shift towards online meetings the last six months to “change the way future business may be conducted”.

“For instance, we may be seeing more off-site meetings as companies adopt more tech tools,” he elaborated.

However, panellists also agree that online will not replace offline meetings entirely.

Fan Lifeng, Jing Dong Group’s general manager strategic cooperation, opined: “Certain sales trips, and conventions, are irreplaceable online. There will be a great need to reconnect (once the pandemic is over).”

Over the last two weeks, Fang has seen several companies in Beijing hold meetings of less than 500, signalling that there was pent-up demand to meet in person.

Several conferences and exhibitions have also taken place in Shanghai, noted Patrick Chen, director of Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism. Corporate occupancy at CBD hotels have spiked too.

Chen added that China Eastern Airlines’ unlimited flight offer for about US$500 per passenger will aid business travel recovery.

“It is a long way to go before we get back to pre-pandemic levels, but with the current steps being taken, the city – and China ­– is well on its way to recovery,” said Chen.

Meanwhile, Lu said some companies have started to budget for 2021 events and trips, which lends yet another positive sign, although he expects budget “rearrangements and cuts” to come.

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