It is rumored that a certain ASEAN tourism minister, when asked about his policies for boosting MICE events in his country, replied that since the sector accounted for barely 5% of total room occupancy, his attention would be far better spent on regular tourism. While his data may be correct, his conclusions most certainly are not, as Gary Grimmer, CEO of GainingEdge, explained at the ASEAN MICE Forum at IT&CMA 2015 in Bangkok.

For hospitality, tourism makes up the lion’s share of industry revenues. The point, however, is that MICE visitors benefit a much deeper supply chain than tourists, while simultaneously providing the creative intellectual stimulus which can boost economic growth. In fact, the kind of thing that other ASEAN ministers might be hoping to accomplish through AEC.

According to Gary, it is therefore not only hoteliers, but also convention bureau leaders and national governments within ASEAN who must be aware of the latest trends in order to unlock the potential gains to their businesses and economies. The role model for this approach in South East Asia is Singapore, which has placed enormous reliance upon its human resources in order to thrive. Globally, Germany has set the example, using tradeshows and conventions as a means of rebuilding its shattered economy after World War II.

The theory itself is simple. In order to expose your own industry leaders to international expertise, you can either fly a handful overseas to meet briefly with foreign specialists at high cost, or you can host a convention where you invite the world’s leading thinkers to present their latest ideas in your own backyard – at their own expense. Choosing the latter option, you can also invite large numbers of your own graduate students along to listen, who might never otherwise have the opportunity to rub shoulders with such experts. And your own innovators have the chance to present their own research and products to foreign investors who are, after all, unlikely to invest in anything they haven’t actually seen for themselves.

In this way, the benefits of hosting MICE events begin to permeate the wider economy. While hospitality is one service sector element which is positively affected – and is a growth target across ASEAN – genuine wealth creation is derived from knowledge, in the shape of education and information technology, and from creativity, in the form of research and development, and media. As Gary made clear, the stimulation of these latter sectors can best be driven by collaboration, since very little creativity takes place in isolation.

From national government perspective, encouraging freedom of association is therefore a pre-condition to allow the exchange of ideas which leads to innovation and economic success. Domestically, professional societies and trade associations play a vital role in keeping members ahead of the latest developments, as the Chinese government has shown by refraining from exercising strict controls on such groups in its recognition of the need to maintain economic growth.

Internationally, MICE can represent the natural extension of this philosophy in building networks and promoting intellectual engagement. However, it is vital that governments and industry work more closely with convention bureau administrators and hoteliers, and with a common understanding.

One delegate summed up the current state of affairs perfectly. He had brought a large number of healthcare professionals to a conference in a certain country and had asked for specific support from the Minister of Health. He was told to see the Minister of Tourism instead. “If this had been Singapore,” the delegate pointed out, “*the first words from the Health Ministry would have been: ‘What can we do to help?’ *”