Fledgling industry growing in hub areas
When Michael Duck, senior vice-president for major exhibition organiser CMP Asia, was asked if he had a moment to discuss the best dates to hold a MICE event in China he said: 'Now is not a good time [to talk]. I am in the midst of two exhibitions and a congress in Hong Kong this week and I have three exhibitions in Shanghai next week. I suppose that gives you some insight as to dates.'
China's MICE trade has boiled down to three major hot spots - Beijing, Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) - and each has nuances when selecting a date. However, Mr Duck said, most major events took place between March and May, and from September through to November.
Richard Willis, chairman of Sky Travel, a Guangzhou-based destination management company and member of the global Kuoni Travel Group, said the three metropolises could host events all year round, but organisers should avoid 'critical periods and extreme weather conditions'.
Mr Willis advised those considering Beijing for corporate travel in winter to be cautious. 'Winters can be very harsh and icy. Outdoor dining is a definite no, but some activities such as hiking are okay, as long as you keep safety in mind. Beijing winters can be beautiful on a sunny day.'
He also warned that the spring brought pollen, which could trigger allergies.
Mr Duck said January in the nation's capital was simply too cold, and August was too hot and dusty.
Clemson Lo, general manager, MV Destination Management, a Hong Kong-based MICE organiser, said Beijing and Shanghai should be avoided in the winter.
'I think September, May and June are much better,' he said.
Mr Willis said the monsoon season made Shanghai undesirable in June. Mr Duck said the same was true for the PRD immediately after.
'You would not hold fairs in Guangzhou during July and August as it's in the middle of typhoon season, when it is very humid and rainy.'
The climate did not weigh as heavily with Mr Willis. 'The Pearl River Delta is good all year round. Of course, the heat in summer can be a problem for certain people, and the rainy season is not fit for outdoor activities.'
Mr Lo said November and December were good months for holding MICE events in the PRD, adding that China did not have long holidays for Christmas.
Lunar New Year, however, is another story.
'It is best not to hold shows three weeks before and after [Lunar] New Year,' Mr Duck said.
'Many Chinese companies are trying to get into their best shape just before the new year and are preoccupied with selling stock [and other business activities].
'They are also involved in celebrations with clients, which takes visitors/buyers out of circulation. Many Chinese companies now give longer holidays to their staff, so the period following [Lunar New Year] must be taken into account.'
Other holidays of note are Labour Day during the first week in May, National Day in early October and the People's Congress at the start of March. 'You can hardly find workers,' Mr Lo said.
Mr Willis said the annual car show periods in Beijing (June and November) and Shanghai (April) stressed the limits of the cities' travel and tourism infrastructure, making domestic flights, accommodation and ground transport difficult to get.
A demand cycle driven by weather, holidays and competing events had started to emerge in this immature MICE market but Mr Lo said this had not affected the cost of holding an event in the PRD.
'Except for Hong Kong, the costs of other PRD cities are usually lower than Shanghai and Beijing. Macau and Zhuhai could be good choices,' Mr Lo said.
However, Mr Duck said holding an event around the two Canton Fairs (in April and October) meant that an enormous number of people would visit and hotels put room rates at a premium, so it was best to steer clear of the PRD during that time.'
Mr Lo also said hotel rooms cost more during the big Guangzhou trade fair dates.
'But this is not a main concern of an event planner. It does not appear to me that there is a particular time that would be more expensive,' he said.
Mr Willis said: 'Spring [April-June] and autumn [September-November] are high season ... all the hotels charge a premium.'
Selecting the best time to hold an event in China, like elsewhere, requires give and take.
The battle between and among MICE events and tourism for destinations during high season will continue putting pressure on prices. Weather and national holidays must be taken into consideration. And all this must be tendered against the delegates' needs, making a date in China even more difficult to set.