China Hospitality Series This is the first in an ongoing series of articles about the development of China’s hospitality industry and efforts to promote sustainability in its service economy. The articles will be based on my academic research and first-hand experience of China’s hospitality industry during a visit to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao in summer 2015. This first installment specifically looks at growth in the meetings, incentives, conventions and expositions (MICE) sector of the hospitality industry and explores some of the opportunities and challenges associated with this growth.
Growth and Opportunity in China’s MICE Industry
“Growth” and “China” are so often used in the same sentence that it has almost become cliché. Even recent reports of an economic slowdown in the world’s second largest economy seem to barely make a dent in the continuing upward trajectory of China’s service sector, of which hospitality and tourism are significant parts. Estimates are that by 2023, China’s hotel industry will become a $100 billion industry with 6.3 million rooms and reach 8 rooms per 1,000 capita (approximately on par with the U.K.).
Within the context of the hospitality industry, the conference and events sector is a rising star, estimated to be growing at a rate of 20% annually. In 2013, 340 meetings took place in China, making it 8th largest meeting destination in the world. The 2014 China MICE Buyers Report found that the majority of Chinese event planners anticipate planning more meetings in the coming year, although these meetings are likely to be shorter and more cost-efficient in response to the Chinese government’s efficiency measures (although it should be noted that shorter events and smaller budgets are consistent with worldwide MICE trends). Tier 2 and tier 3 Chinese cities such as Chengdu, Wuhan and Tianjin are building convention centers, hotels and other venues to keep up with growing domestic and international demand for meetings in China.
Attracting more business events is also a strategic priority for Macao, the former Portuguese fishing village which has been transformed into the Las Vegas of Asia over the past decade. Despite declining gaming revenue and increasing regional competition, the building of new venues in Macao has continued unabated, and most of these new facilities incorporate extensive meeting space and entertainment features targeting convention-goers and incentive travelers. In the first quarter of 2014, a total of 276 MICE events (meetings and conferences: 263, exhibitions:13) were held in Macao, bringing 304,000 participants and attendees, up significantly by 20% and 50% year-on-year.
Strategic Importance of Sustainability
Corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability are a growing movement in hospitality in general and events in particular. “Green MICE” is still in the beginning stages in China as compared to North America and Europe, although government policies are supportive of the trend. Only about 6% of Chinese venue managers and buyers report that a facility’s sustainability policies are a top priority when deciding where to hold a meeting or event.
There are many barriers to sustainable MICE in China. First of all, rapid development and urbanization make it difficult to invest in services that may not return an immediate profit. Second, there are cultural practices and attitudes that work against the idea of reduction and reuse. Third, there are infrastructure limitations that make it difficult to follow sustainable best practices – for instance, limited recycling and composting opportunities. However, because the hospitality industry is relatively young and growing, China has an opportunity to take a leadership role in green MICE by building and operating more responsibly from the start and by picking up best practices from other around the world.
Opportunities for MICE professionals
As a result of the growth of China’s MICE industry, there is an increasing need for professionals with training and skills in business travel and events. In the 2014 CIBTM Venue Trends survey, nearly 80% of venue managers reported that they will be making a greater investment in training for staff in the areas of event services and sales to better compete for meeting and event revenue.
Starting in 2001, China’s colleges and universities began developing programs to prepare students for the MICE market. By 2008, there were 184 Chinese colleges and universities offering MICE-related education, 70% of which were higher vocational colleges, and 30% comprehensive universities. Other Chinese MICE education programs have attempted to leverage collaborations with schools outside China. For instance, Yat-sen University, China and the University of Queensland, Australia established a collaborative degree program in 2009. In addition, industry leaders, notably Marriott, and professional associations, such ICCA, are partnering with Chinese educational institutions to help develop the Chinese hospitality labor force.
Chinese students are also pursuing hospitality management and event planning education in the U.S. Over the past couple of years, Kendall College has hosted an increasing number of Chinese students interested in studying hospitality management. Chinese students now make up nearly 25% of the Kendall’s School of Hospitality Management student body, and of these a large percentage are in the MICE concentration. Kendall also hosts short-term programs, such as a two-week workshop on sustainable tourism, in which many Chinese students participate. Many of our Chinese students seem to have a gift for hospitality and are eager to bring their learning and passion for the industry back with them to China.
NEXT: Bright Green Spots Spreading in China’s Hospitality Industry
Deborah Popely is Assistant Professor, Kendall College School of Hospitality Management
Deborah Popely has more than 30 years’ experience as an event planner and meeting facilitator. She is the founding executive director of Green Events Source, a non-profit dedicated to increasing sustainability in the events and hospitality industries. She has served as a presenter and keynote speaker for national industry organizations including Hospitality and Sales Marketing Association International (HSMAI), Meeting Planners International (MPI) and the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC). Ms. Popely actively participates in the events industry and conducts research in order to educate and propel the hospitality industry forward in the area of sustainability.
 A.T. Kearney (2013). China’s Hospitality Industry – Rooms for Growth, p 2, retrieved from here
 International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) (2014). International Association Meetings: China under the spotlight. Retrieve from here
 CIBTM (2014). China MICE Buyers Report. Retrieved from here
 Macao MICE Portal (n.d.).
 CIBTM (2014). Venue Trends. Retrieved from here
 CIBTM (2014). Venue Trends. Retrieved from here
 Zhang, X. (n.d.) MICE education and research in mainland China. Retrieved from here
 Zhang, X (n.d.) Ibid.