China’s MICE industry bleeds talents and suppliers; freelancing an alternative

China's zero-Covid strategy is taking a toll on its MICE industry; people walking in Chengdu pictured

China’s beleaguered meetings industry could find a silver lining if “freelancing” becomes a viable route for practitioners who have lost jobs and wish to return when opportunities arise.

China Star founder Liu Ping is proposing the launch of an HR workshop for all sectors of the industry – such as event organisers, simultaneous interpretation companies, and technology providers – to address legal, contractual, remuneration and other questions related to freelancing.

China’s zero-Covid strategy is taking a toll on its MICE industry; people walking in Chengdu pictured

Liu is seeking support from ICCA to invite international speakers who have used freelancers, and a freelancer to share their experience on a panel.

China Star, established in 2005, implemented a freelance programme this year when it had to trim headcount. These team members, exclusive to the company, work from home or remotely in any location.

As part of the deal, Liu said China Star “raised the bonus for each project” freelancers take on, but they had to “pay their own insurance”.

“The government should invest in and pay to train (freelance) staff (who lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic),” she commented.

Manpower attrition is also affecting expatriates in the industry.

The expatriate founder of a DMC, set up more than 10 years ago will be leaving China soon, while an expatriate director moved home earlier this month.

She said: “It is unfortunate to have to close the company, but there has been no cash flow for the last 10 months. It is expensive and time-consuming to operate in China where you have to have special licences to do things legally. It was not possible to carry on anymore with no government help.”

Meanwhile, Alicia Yao, general manager of IME Consulting, observed the industry is facing a talent war with companies headhunting staff to work on and design meeting programmes.

Yao continued: “Online tech companies have taken over about 50 per cent of traditional meetings business and are trying to hire staff with three to five years of experience.

“But there is not enough talent who can design and manage hybrid events. Staff with 10 to 15 years of traditional industry experience are losing out to juniors who have better English language and digital marketing skills, and are eager to learn.

“There was more demand for incentives in the past,” Yao noted. “But clients are organising more sales and marketing events now, and there is a shortage of the right people who can run hybrid events and design content.”

Yao noted that among those who have managed to stay on are working part-time to manage and run meetings for associations in distribution and retail, sectors that are doing well.

She added: “The challenge in China (because of ongoing Covid-19 outbreaks and a zero-Covid policy) is having to switch meeting dates several times. Attendees still prefer meeting face-to-face and online events are not as popular.”

Despite the challenges, Yao is hopeful China will open for incoming business by end-2022.

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