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Is Ireland the Ideal MICE Destination?

Table of Contents

Introduction

Ireland – the Ideal MICE Destination

Access and Convenience

Accommodation

Venues

Corporate Social Responsibility

Culture & Leisure

Food and Drink

Weaknesses of Ireland as a MICE destination

Case Study: Web Summit, Dublin

Lack of Infrastructure and the over reliance on Dublin

The future for Ireland as a MICE destination

Ireland 2040

Brexit and potential Border implications

Safety

Conclusions

Bibliography

Introduction

The following report will be evaluating the strength behind the claim that Ireland is the ideal MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions/Events) destination. This will be completed through the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses that Ireland presents as a MICE destination. By then further focusing on the future of Ireland’s MICE industry the authors will engage in the advancements that are being pursued to bring constant improvements to Ireland’s business tourism, as well as examining the negative connotations that the future may hold.

“The MICE industry is a significant sub-sector of the tourism industry, which is the World’s leading industry.” (Brotherton and Wood, 2008, p. 401)

With the rise of the MICE industry, it has been seen as vital for countries to develop with it. Ireland has managed to successfully implement itself as one of the leading countries within the field. Currently ranked by the ICCA as the 28th best country for meetings, Ireland’s reputation is rising with The Meet in Ireland constantly seeking to bring foreign interest to what Ireland can offer in the form of meetings, incentive events, conferences and exhibitions.

Ireland- the Ideal MICE Destination

When seeking an ideal MICE destination, Ireland surely makes a strong case, offering high quality services, a proven track record in delivering remarkable Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events/Exhibitions (MICE) and guaranteeing an experience like no other (Fáilte Ireland, 2017)

Access and Convenience

Accessibility contributes greatly to that of attracting international organisations to Ireland for hosting meetings, incentive travel, conferences and events. As an island on the edge of Europe, access routes need to be efficient and effective for organisations wishing to conduct events, meetings, etc. abroad to feel the desire to select Ireland as the appropriate destination. Unlike leisure travellers, the value of time is held in much greater regard by that of the business traveller, all travel options must prove to be convenient for the organisation (Pels, Nijkamp, and Rietveld, 2003). Ireland, however does not lack in convenient and cost-effective travel routes, these being provided via the air and sea.

Ireland is the home to five international airports (Dublin Airport, Cork Airport, Shannon Airport, Knock Airport, and Belfast Airport) spread conveniently in almost every corner of the country. Not only does this provided a range of options to choose from, it also eliminates the need for further extensive travel once landing in Ireland. From Ireland’s largest airport, Dublin airport, you are never more than two planes journeys away from any World-wide major city due to frequent routes to mainland Europe, North America and Asia.

The Irish Airlines Aer Lingus and Ryanair offer flexibility to business travellers with the selection of numerous daily flights and the option of purchasing flexible tickets which allows for purchases to be chopped and changed at short notice. This can be essential for delegates as their “decisions about their travels are often made at very short notice and they need the flexibility to be able to change their reservations at minimal notice with employers prepared to pay a premium for this privilege.” (Holloway and Humphreys, 2016, p.79) While according to Mason (2001) Reward schemes (offered by both airlines) have also become known for attracting and retaining business travellers and provides the organisations with special deals/lower fares for their travelling employees should they plan on returning for future MICE activities.

The various ports within Ireland provide an alternative and cheaper form of transport from the neighbouring United Kingdom, thus expanding upon the resources Ireland have made available for the MICE industry. With four ferry operating daily between the three available ports within the south of Ireland (Dublin, Rosslare and Cork), offering daily trips to Britain and Cherbourg, France. The Dublin Port alone, which is located ideally just two miles from the City centre, has proven extremely popular for visitors with over 1.7 million passengers transported via Dublin Port every year. (Dublin Port Company).

Accommodation

It is vitally important for a country to be able to offer good quality accommodation to tourists as they are likely to spend a lot of money in other areas during their visit. This benefits lots of other industries such as restaurants, bars and visitor attractions. In 2015 Fáilte Ireland’s Survey of Overseas Travellers showed that the average overseas tourist to Ireland spent €530 during their stay. (Fáilte Ireland, 2016) With over 60,000 rooms available on this small island, Ireland is well equipped to handle large scale Business Tourism events. There are a wide range of locations of different types, including a vast amount of quality hotels ranging from three to five stars. Some are located in the bustling city centre of Dublin, some in scenic rural locations in the west of Ireland, and everything in between. Whether you want close access to the high-end shops on Grafton Street, or you want to experience life in an ancient castle, Ireland almost certainly has an option to suit your needs.

Venues

The importance of having good quality venues to hold MICE Events can’t be stressed enough. It can be of huge benefit to the rest of the economy, especially if it the venue is successfully integrated with leisure tourism related elements. (Whitefield, et.al, 2012) Ireland is home to plenty of high-class venues capable of holding all types of MICE events. In Dublin alone, there is the Convention Centre Dublin, the 3Arena, Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium, the RDS, and Universities such as Trinity and UCD. Around the rest of the country, you are not short of options either, with venues such as Thomond Park, Belfast Waterfront and University College Cork.

Take “Google Engage” as an example. In 2017, 6500 delegates descended upon Dublin for a three-day conference. While this huge number was too large for any one venue, Irish creative event agency, Cogs & Marvel were able to cleverly combine the use of the 3Arena and the CCD to accommodate all the delegates comfortably. (Gaffney, 2018)

Corporate Social Responsibility

The field of Corporate Social Responsibility has been a growing trend in recent years and today it certainly plays a significant role within the business tourism industry. White (2006) defined corporate social responsibility as “achieving commercial success in ways that honour ethical values and respect people, communities, and the natural environment.” It is vital for the MICE industry and those working within the industry to become more socially responsible and begin to embrace more environmentally conscious ways of doing things.

“Greener meetings and events are meetings, conferences, exhibitions, incentive travel programs, and special events that continually endeavour to provide superior experiences through sustainable strategies” (Goldblatt, 2012)

The Convention Centre Dublin (CCD), recognised as Ireland’s premier location for the MICE industry, was opened in 2010, and is the world’s first carbon-neutral constructed convention centre. They also received ISO 14001 accreditation just one year after opening and have a comprehensive waste management policy. While Croke Park, Ireland’s largest stadium and the home to the GAA has long been cited for its phenomenal sustainability credentials. As the first stadium from Ireland and Britain to secure ISO14001 and ISO 20121 standards, the Croke Park association actively engages with the local community and continues to exercise new-fangled initiatives to help the stadium remain sustainable and environmentally friendly, mainly focusing on reducing the cost on electricity, gas, waste and water used throughout the stadium. Corporate Social Responsibility has rightly become more and more important within the MICE industry, and organisations/venues that work accordingly with this help to relieve concerns of health and safety for delegates and conference/event attendees. (Inoue and Lee, 2011).

Culture & Leisure

An important aspect of selecting a location for Business Tourism that can be overlooked is the enjoyment the delegates can experience outside of the conference or event. This is especially important for the Incentive side of MICE as the whole purpose of the trip is to reward/motivate the employee for their significant efforts. “Travel better matches people’s needs for achievement, recognition and reward than do products” (Sheldon, 1994, p.20). While it is also vital that this form of reward can leave a lasting impression on the attendee. Larson (2007, p.15) states “A tourist experience is a past personal travel related event strong enough to have entered long-term memory” (cited by O’Connell, 2011). Thus, providing additional importance to that of the employer’s experience of the chosen destination.

When selecting a foreign destination, giving delegates a taste of culture is often seen as important (for example; The River Dance introduced during Ireland’s hosting of the Eurovision, 1994). In recent years the marketing of Ireland’s cultural and scenic landscapes and sites have increased substantially. Whilst ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ has begun to take centre stage for such Irish tourism organisations such as Failte Ireland and Discover Ireland, the South, West and North of the Country have experienced significant tourist numbers wishing to embark on the tracks and trails of ‘The Wild Atlantic Way.’

The likes of Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway have always attracted significant footfall as some of Ireland’s landmark sites, whilst the 2017 to the Star Wars franchise – Star Wars: The Last Jedi – brought the island of Skellig Michael into the spotlight. Tourists have certainly taken to what this small island has to offer, with the World Travel Awards awarding Ireland for Europe’s leading tourist attraction three years in a row in 2015 (Guinness Storehouse), 2016 (Titanic Belfast) and 2017 (Spike Island), clearly illustrating Ireland’s ability to market their cultural sites to the world market.

Rogerson and Visser (2007) evaluated that an average of 20% of delegates attending major conferences and organisations bring an accompanying body (Wife, partner or family member) with them. As this number is only going to rise organisations must assure that there is an abundance of leisure activities to undertake for both delegates and partners. Ireland’s golf industry is the leading sports tourism for the country with high profile courses such as Adare Manor, Lahinch and the K Club attracting golf enthusiasts from far and wide to visit, with the latter of the golf courses providing an economic impact valued at $306 million from staging the 2006 Ryder Cup (Hudson and Hudson, 2010). Areas such as Dublin and Belfast promise numerous shopping facilities for international brands of all natures.

Food and Drink

Food culture in Ireland has become a massive attraction for many tourists. There is great variety from some of the world’s best seafood to more traditional “hearty” Irish dishes. Not too long ago, the food sector in Ireland would have been considered rather under-developed, however now, it “has evolved to a stage where Irish companies are firmly implicated in a competitive European and global marketplace.” (McDonagh & Commins, 1999) Ireland is of course well known for its drink culture. While this can have both positive and negative connotations, from a tourist’s point of view, it can create a fun and lively atmosphere for the duration of their stay. This so called ‘drinking-culture’ has provided Ireland with some of finest attractions to the public such as the Smithwick’s Brewing Experience, the Jameson Distilleries and the Irish Whiskey Museum. Whilst the Guinness Storehouse played host to over 1.7 million visitors in 2017.

Weaknesses of Ireland as a MICE destination

The MICE industry in Ireland is currently experiencing an exponential growth – Fáilte Ireland announced a 10% increase in international client leads within this sector from the figures in 2016 (Fáilte Ireland, 2017). Despite this level of growth, the author believes that there are many infrastructural flaws that prevent Ireland from taking advantage of this growing industry sector and becoming an elite MICE destination.

Case Study: Web Summit, Dublin

A key case study where Ireland’s infrastructural flaws were brought to the fore was the 2015 Web Summit that was held in the RDS for 40,000 delegates.  Event organisers were forced to make the executive decision to move the event from Dublin to Lisbon for 2016-2018 in order to continue the positive progression of the event. The core factors resulting in the flop of the Dublin event included traffic management, public transport and hotel costs (Russell, 2015). The Summit’s founder Paddy Cosgrave labelled the Web Summit as “too big, too unmanageable, too risky for Dublin”.

Since moving to Lisbon the event has gone from strength to strength with the latest renewal attracting 60,000 delegates to the Portuguese city. The Lisbon metro line which links Lisbon Airport directly to the doors of the summit’s venue was pivotal for this growth as it allowed delegates from over 150 countries reach the venue with ease. With a wait time of just 5 minutes between shuttles it allowed the Summit to move the delegates around the city in a timely manner.  This efficiency of public transportation offerings from Lisbon Airport is the polar opposite to the limited transportation options (bus and taxi) from Dublin Airport.  ‘Surely it is unforgivable, unbelievable and hard to fathom that in 2016, Dublin Airport still has no rail line that connects passengers with the city centre’ (Kennedy, 2016).

With the majority of delegates utilising the straightforwardness of the metro service it resulted in less traffic issues around the venue pre and post event. Allowing every day Lisbon life to flow unaffected amidst hosting such a largescale event is the complete opposite to the havoc caused in Ireland. The insufficient availability of public transport left a negative perception of the Dublin event with standstill traffic around the venue leaving delegates with limited options for public transport to and from the venue resulting in a situation whereby private transportation was the only option with “taxis gouging visitors” (Kennedy, 2016). With train and bus times in Dublin less frequent than in competing MICE destinations, it can only be seen as a negative portrayal of Ireland’s ability to shift large crowds of people swiftly and efficiently – which is a necessity in the operation of an elite MICE destination.

Lack of Infrastructure and the over reliance on Dublin

In Dublin City Centre, there is an acute shortage of available hotel bedroom stock over much of the year, which results in ever increasing room rates year on year and there is a danger of losing potential MICE business due to supply constraints (Donnelly, 2018).  Fáilte Ireland currently estimates the additional bedroom stock required to meet demand is in the region of 5,000 units. There is a concern that if these additional rooms are not provided, that Dublin will be overpriced versus European destinations, which  could undermine prospects for further tourism growth in and beyond the Capital.

In relation to the marketing of Ireland as a MICE destination Byrne and Skinner (2007) believe there has been too much emphasis put on Dublin as the sole destination for such events, leaving so called “rural” Ireland in the dark. This differentiation between Dublin and the rest of Ireland in terms of providing a MICE offering, severely limits the possibilities for growth and needs to be addressed. The findings of the above cited report state that in larger countries the primary focus is on the city, whereas for smaller countries, the focus should be more about the entire destination.  This stands true in terms of the general tourism marketing of Ireland – however, in relations to business tourism it is evident that Dublin remains the primary focus.

It is evident when it comes to Ireland hosting large scale events, that the available infrastructure is not currently available in order for these events to run seamlessly. According to Fáilte Ireland’s published guide on the A-Z of MICE 2017 a fundamental necessity for the selection of such events being the rapid transportation links between airport and city centre.  Another key factor to attract MICE business is the value for money – with the restricted hotel availability in Dublin and the associated impact on increased hotel prices, plus the dependence on private transportation to get from the airport to the venue in an efficient and timely manner, these fundamental shortcomings prevent Ireland from being recognised as a perfect MICE destination.

The future for Ireland as a MICE destination

Business tourism is a huge source of income for the Irish economy. To continue the revenue that it generates, the government plan to develop the necessary infrastructure to further the growth of the MICE industry. The future offers significant opportunities for Ireland to present itself as the ideal MICE industry however, with this challenges can always arise.

Ireland 2040

Ireland 2040 is the plan to enhance social, economic and cultural infrastructure by the year 2040. Our population is estimated to grow by one million in the next twenty years and the country will need to cater for this growth. The blueprint will include the development of Galway, Cork, Limerick a Waterford and Dublin. The aim is to make these cities a more desirable place to work so that the population will be more spread. The projects estimated spend is €116,000,000,000.00. (irishexaminer.com, 2018).

€200,000,000 is being promised by the tourism private sector. The money is to be spent on things such as new hotel construction, new attraction developments and sea and air investment. Hotel construction is plays a vital role in dealing increasing the amount of potential delegates Ireland’s cities can host at one time. New attractions should further the overall attractiveness of Ireland to foreign Organisations, so that they might consider the island as a potential destination. In terms of roads the goal is to complete constructions that link Dublin to the North West side of the country. As well as that, construction will commence on linking urban areas to each other. An emphasis will be put on the Atlantic Corridor. This should connect cities like Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo with a high quality road network. (Gov.ie, 2018).

Annually 50 large scale schools will be built until the year 2021 to deal with population growth expected. Expansion of capacity institutes of technology as well as investments to deal with curriculum changes and technological advancements. A well-educated work force is of utmost importance for an organisation when selecting a destination. (Gov.ie, 2018).

Finding it hard to get around or being stuck in traffic will hinder the way a delegate sees that city. In view to enhancing the delegate’s experience, cities should provide sufficient modes of transport for one to get around. Acknowledging the importance of public transport, the government will be investing heavily to make it more desirable in comparison to the car. To make it more comfortable and less time consuming a Dublin metro system will be introduced to ease city congestion and introduce a faster mode of transport, a metro line will be built to connect Swords and Sandyford with a stop at Dublin airport. The construction of four new luas lines (to be connected to the metro), an extension to the green line and the DART line are part of the project. Upgrades to buses in cities such as Dublin, Cork and Galway as well as improvements to bus lines and bus corridors are currently happening.

A three hundred and twenty million euro second runway is to be built at Dublin Airport to deal with the general influx of tourists into the city. This gives room for more incoming flights and gives new opportunity to have flights come in from new destinations. Development of Cork and Shannon airport will also continue as well as investments into Ireland west airport knock.

Brexit and potential Border implications

Since the 23rd of June 2016, following a UK vote the world has known of the Great Britain’s intent to leave the European Union. Yet the implications are still unknown. With issues still being addressed for the planned Brexit, many organisations are unaware of how one might prepare for such event, especially when there is a constant doubt over whether or not Britain will follow through.

Should Brexit take place, this could provide an enormous strain on the Irish MICE industry. With the potential impact of dropping markets and the loss of significant trade with the UK for Ireland being well documented throughout the media, European Business tourists may be turned off from selecting an area that relies so much upon a departing EU member. The most damaging consequence all could be in the form of a hard border between that of Ireland and Northern Ireland. With the hardship involved with the Troubles in North still lasting in memory, tourists would fear to amerce themselves in an area of potential conflict.

However such the concept of borders have represented a surprise source of attraction for tourism. According to O’ Connor, et. Al (2007), “one major attraction for tourists travelling to, across, border regions is the perceived value attained from being able to visit one island with two cultures, and this theme has become a primary attraction for tourists to such destinations across the world.” This represents both potential opportunities and challenges that may await in the future for Ireland’s association with Business Tourism.

Safety

The need for safety can arguably be felt greater now than ever before with major cities such as London, Barcelona, Paris, Stockholm and Manchester experiencing constant threats and attacks in the year 2017 alone. Baker (2014) stated the correlation between tourism and terrorism which sees the threat of terrorism and its impacts grow with that of the Tourism Industry.

Richter & Waugh’s 1983 study (cited in Baker 2014) discusses how areas with a high-rate of tourism are the areas that present the greatest risk of terrorism, attributing this to the desire for terrorist groups and organisations to garner greater attention worldwide, by painting an image of “soft targets” being under severe threat. “When tourists are kidnapped or killed, the situation is instantaneously dramatized by the media, which also helps the political conflict between terrorists and the establishment reach a global scale.” As a result, it is becoming increasingly harder for countries to ensure the safety of their tourists.

Despite not being immune from danger Ireland boasts a very strong safety record, ranking joint tenth (with Japan) in the world according to the Global Peace Index 2017, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. This is a hugely valuable asset to Ireland in terms of attracting Business Tourism as popular MICE industry destinations such as the UK and France sit at 26th and 27th respectively. Employers are legally responsible to care for their employee’s and as a result their safety must therefore be a paramount concern to the organisation. As a result, Companies are very unlikely to send their employees to destinations that are not considered safe, and if they do, it is equally unlikely that their employees will want to go. This fact can help Ireland compete with larger countries that may have more monetary power or facilities but cannot do as much to guarantee the safety of tourists. (Conghaile, 2017)

Conclusions

To conclude, there are certainly a lot of positive aspects to holding a MICE Event in Ireland and there has been vast growth in the industry over the last two decades. On the other hand, there are still many areas that it can improve as a MICE destination in order to compete with the hugely competitive marketplace that businesses have on offer to them.

Future developments should help to correct the negatives that currently hold Ireland back. When analysing the aspects that make Lisbon a more thriving destination, it is clear to see the points where Ireland need to improve to become a more desirable location, for example improving transport, developing the industry in rural Ireland as opposed to just Dublin, and expanding infrastructure and accommodation to be able to host even larger scale events.

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