EDITORIAL – Conference tourism: Sand, sea and symposia

In the immediate aftermath of two successful events, it is clear that Cayman is on the cusp of an opportunity to take tourism to the next level by focusing efforts on MICE (and we do not mean vermin or computer input devices).

Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions or Events (or MICE, as they are known in the tourism industry) are a lucrative, internationally competitive segment of the tourism market, with cities such as Las Vegas, Singapore, London, Berlin and Madrid vying to host major international gatherings of like-minded individuals and professional groups.

It is a tourism segment that Cayman is uniquely positioned to host, thanks to our excellent hospitality and telecommunications infrastructure, ease of access to population centers in North America and the United Kingdom … not to mention our islands’ natural beauty. We suspect it would not take much arm twisting for associations, organizations and interest groups of all types to convince their members to make a two-day (or longer) stop here in the interest of professional advancement.

Two such recent gatherings provide excellent examples: Last week, the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit, hosted by Dart Enterprises, again attracted thought leaders from around the world to discuss cutting-edge topics of interest within that industry. Just the week before, global experts of another key industry congregated here for the two-day International Wealth Structuring Forum hosted by STEP Cayman Islands, the local chapter of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, which featured more than 40 international speakers and experts.

The annual Cayman Captive Forum, Cayman Islands Classic basketball tournament and Cayman Cookout offer just a few more testaments to Cayman’s ability to draw niche crowds.

There are significant benefits to boosting Cayman’s global reputation as a MICE-friendly destination.

Most notably, conferences, exhibitions and events may attract hundreds, if not thousands, of organizers, presenters, vendors and attendees – business travelers who tend to spend, on average, more than leisure tourists do on lodging, meals, hospitality and entertainment.

Conferences, exhibitions and events generally are planned a year or more in advance, and can be encouraged during traditionally slow months, helping to boost off-season revenues.

MICE tourism does more than fill hotel rooms and restaurants. It also supports local entrepreneurs and professionals, including transportation providers, venue services, excursion providers, and other specialized support services.

Conference organizers may do the hard work of publicizing the event, rounding up the troops and finalizing the numbers, but they frequently rely on knowledgeable local hospitality experts and service providers to make sure events run smoothly and to address last-minute needs.

Perhaps even more so than other types of tourism, MICE tourism builds global reputation and incites new interest, attracting visitors who may not otherwise have thought to visit our shores.

But while Cayman has many of the raw ingredients to succeed in the MICE market, success in this highly competitive segment is far from guaranteed. Conference and event organizers have a cornucopia of options when choosing locations and venues. News of substandard venues and events gone wrong travels fast. At present, there are few large multipurpose spaces that can comfortably accommodate large-scale events.

When weighed against the potential upside, these concerns are worth addressing. Recent events show that Cayman is more than capable of bringing its “A-game” to MICE.