”MICE” tourism is gaining momentum in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal on the back of improved connectivity, the presence of several 5-star hotels and a “world-class” convention centre, say officials.
India, in the recent past, has emerged as one of the most preferred ”MICE” (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) destinations, and West Bengal plays an active part in it, they said.
The domestic market is very keen to hold conferences here given the infrastructure available, West Bengal Tourism Secretary Atri Bhattacharya said.
“Prospects for MICE tourism here are very good and word-of-mouth publicity is working very well,” Bhattacharya told PTI.
S D Nandakumar, president and country head, B2B and Foreign Exchange at SOTC Travel, said warm hospitality, rich historical and cultural heritage, best business hotels and developing infrastructure are the key reasons for the growth of this segment in India.
Nandakumar said that MICE tourism has been gaining momentum in Kolkata, and the state”s tourism board is also investing time and effort in developing it as one of the key conference destinations of the country.
The sprawling Biswa Bangla Convention Centre, which has several halls and other modern infrastructure, situated at New Town adjoining Kolkata, has already got 46 bookings for 2020, and is doing good business, Bhattacharya said.
He said that the capacity of high-end hotels in the city and adjoining areas has increased to 5,000 rooms from 3,800 in just a couple of years.
“Known as the nation”s corridor, Kolkata is a friendly, intellectual and vibrant city rich in culture and heritage and is being promoted as a favourable MICE destination,” Nandakumar told PTI.
He said that New Town, situated near the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport here, is gradually becoming a leading MICE destination of South Asia.
Leading in infrastructure, it has IT, financial and educational hubs, he said, adding, the area is also home to the largest urban park in India.
The 480-acre ”Eco Park” is a wonderful place for those combining business with leisure and one can experience duo- cycling, boating and zorbing, which make for a fine relaxing experience, Nandakumar said.
“Corporates are increasingly looking for collaborative and bespoke (customised) experiences. B-leisure is gaining popularity among businessmen.
“With increasing levels of stress at work, there has been a focus on wellness while on business trips. Wellness is one of the most important factors for a MICE itinerary and is a growing trend among such clients,” he said.
The travel industry official said that with the addition of the Biswa Bangla Convention Centre, large volumes of new events are being organised in Kolkata.
The key drivers for the growth of this segment are good infrastructure, excellent accommodation facilities, easy connectivity to the business venue or location, and latest technology support, Nandakumar said.
The state”s tourism secretary said that a large convention centre is also coming up at the seaside resort town of Digha on the shores of Bay of Bengal, about 180 km from Kolkata.
He said that apart from Mumbai, Digha will have the biggest sea-side convention facility in the country to attract MICE tourism to the state in large numbers.
“The West Bengal government is at present putting together a roadmap to increase MICE tourism in the state since it brings in a large number of tourists at one go,” Bhattacharya said.
He said that the government has also launched a market survey by a global measurement and data analytics company to quantify the number of tourists visiting West Bengal, and the categories they fall in to provide need-based facilities and infrastructure to them.
Bhattacharya said the West Bengal Tourism Department wants to attract more travellers to the state to boost the ”value per tourist”.
“By this, we mean that the period of stay of a visitor to the state needs to be increased and they should be provided with more options to spend their time better,” he said.
Bhattacharya said that the average period of stay of inbound tourists in the state at present is 3.4 days and the government is keen to increase it to 5 days.
He said there are several destinations to choose from within a distance of 200 km for those coming in for conventions, to mix business with some sight-seeing.
The world”s largest mangrove forest Sunderbans with its famous Royal Bengal Tigers, Digha, tranquil resorts on the banks of River Hooghly and numerous other rivers in the Gangetic Delta, historic towns of Murshidabad and Nabadwip are some of the destinations.
Apart from these, there are Darjeeling, Kalimpong and other popular destinations in the Himalayas, as well as the forests in Dooars in the Terai region with its rich collection of flora and fauna, tourism officials said.