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September 7, 2010

THE NEXT BIG THING:India prepares for its assault on the global destination rankings

With ICCA’s annual congress taking place next month in Hyderabad, Pete Roythorne was at this year’s Conventions India conference in Bangalore to find out how India’s meetings industry is preparing to step into the global spotlight.

This year’s Conventions India Conclave held in Bangalore and arranged by the Indian Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB) highlighted the country’s lofty ambitions when it comes to its position in the global conference market – having its sights set firmly on a top-five position. So can it really deliver on these expectations?

India is a vast country, both geographically and economically. What other countries in the world can boast 300 medical colleges, 512 universities and an institute for almost everything from agronomy to nano technology. Its own domestic meetings industry is already massive; the Association of Surgeons of India convention hosts 8,000 delegates and the Association of Physicians of India 7,640 delegates. And that’s before you start looking at the IT sector.

“We have four of the five prerequisites for a strong meetings and events sector,” says Shyam Nagpal, managing director at Indian professional conference organiser International Conferences and Exhibition Services (ICES) and honourary secretary of the ICPB. “We have local knowledge, a strong supply of local delegates, organising committees and exhibitors. What we don’t have is the places to hold big events. Right now a lot of this work is being done in temporary air-conditioned domes.”


Game changer: Hyderabad ICC is the first of
many for an nation on the rise


Changing times
However, things are changing, and the recently opened convention centre in Hyderabad has been a game changer.

“We now have a venue, which, at 6,000 capacity, is almost the same size as the largest medical conference of India,” says Nagpal. “Plus there are more convention centres in planning stages or near completion. The new convention centre in Lavassa is open, Pune’s convention centre is opening in November and the convention centre in Bangalore is on its way. Right now we don’t have the venues we need, but everyone is in agreement, we’re lobbying the Government and things are coming together.”

Nagpal continues: “If you have a meeting in 2015, I think we will have many of these conventions centres in operation. Of course, we need to activate our state governments and encourage them to support the bids from their convention centres, but we are certainly on the right road.”

However, shifting the national tourism department’s attention away from its traditional focus on the leisure market has been a slow process, but again this is something the ICPB is tackling head on.

Government backing
“The ICPB chairman is always from the central government office of tourism and everyone else from the private sector,” explains Nagpal. “After the inaugural speech of the conference and his tour of the exhibition hall, the current chairman, director general (tourism) for the Indian Government’s Ministry of Tourism, Devesh Chaturvedi, seems to be getting the message about the power of the convention sector to generate money in the economy.

"We have agreed on two new initiatives with him: the ICPB will create a new brochure focusing on the convention sector in India; we will also drive a new campaign, Incredible Conferences, that will sit alongside the existing leisure campaign of Incredible India. The new campaign will go out globally in print, film and digital media to promote India’s convention business abroad, but also to promote it in our domestic market to get our state governments excited and impatient to bid for new business.”

But while India can bid for international business, will it come? ICCA’s congress in Hyderabad next month certainly gives the country a chance to put itself in the global spotlight. On top of that, many of the international buyers and planners at the Bangalore conference were impressed with what they found.

"With a growing number of British companies outsourcing services to this region it seems inevitable that India will grow in popularity as a global destination for meetings and incentives,” says Glen Munro, development manager at UK-based incentive and event management company MMCo.

“Additionally, India’s rich culture and history going back thousands of years can cater for the unique needs of corporate clients. Visits to the ‘Golden Triangle’, Kerala or absorbing the opulence via luxury train can create an unforgettable experience, providing transportation links are adequate."

Cultural differences
While service is one thing India does well, there are certain aspects such as transportation, that may take a bit of getting used to for other more meticulous cultures, as Bob Roozen, managing director at DMC Amsterdam points out.

“Hospitality in India is excellent, sometimes as good as you would expect to get in the big cities in Europe, with experienced staff, good clean hotels and good catering,” he says. “However, what you need to understand about travelling in India, is the local mentality. Do not be in a rush, everything takes time – transfers, checking in or out of your hotel. Where we do something simple in Europe in 15 minutes, here it can take at least 30 minutes. But do not try to change this, it will kill your mood. It’s also useful to know that congress periods are different than in Europe, so you will get good rates in September or October.”

While there are elements of India that you will never be able to change, there are plenty that the meetings industry is changing. So once the new venues are slotted into the equation, there's potentially a truly world-class destination in the making.

“The process has started and we’re on the right track,” concludes Nagpal. “We haven’t reached our destination yet, and our pace may be slow, but finding right track has been very, very important. Now we just have to continue to move forward at a sustainable pace.”

And the ICPB looks set to maintain its position leading this change.

“Next year, Conventions India will be the flagship show of the Indian convention and exhibitions event industry," says Nagpal. “We are expecting attendance to double both in terms of exhibitors and delegates.

"But any event that is going to grow that fast needs sustainable planned work. Our aim is for Conventions India to be the place where national government policy is announced and state incentives and deals will be made for doing business. It is a long journey but I think we have begun.”

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