The coronavirus pandemic has paralyzed the tourism industry and triggered an unprecedented crisis, devastating economies that are largely dependent on tourism, in particular those in Latin America. Although the pandemic came late to Latin America as compared to other regions, its damage has been no less severe.
The travel and tourism industry in Latin America is expected to take a USD100 billion loss due to COVID-19, according to a WEF report. One segment that has been hit the hardest by restrictions on travel, business operations, and people-to-people interactions is the MICE industry, resulting in countless event cancellations and postponements, declining participant numbers, and losses. In fact, MICE tourism was one of the first to feel the impact of COVID-19 and it will probably be one of the last to recover, according to GlobalData.
Make no mistake about it, conventions, meetings, and events are a vital component of Latin America's tourism and travel industry. MICE tourism provides an opportunity for emerging markets in the region such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Argentine to showcase their facilities and offerings to the business community, and a platform where buyers and sellers from around the world secure business and launch new products. Interestingly, the MICE industry also serves as the barometer for the health of the regional tourism industry.
Now, countries across Latin America are entering a new phase, where they are both fighting the virus and reopening the tourism economy in phases. While this is indeed a highly complex and challenging task, there is one way to make the recovery faster and stronger, and that is through regional collaboration. And that is exactly what Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina are doing.
In an unprecedented event held on September 18, the convention bureaus of all five countries announced the creation of the South American MICE Alliance, aimed at strengthening inter-institutional cooperation and developing and promoting Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lima, São Paulo, and Quito as leading MICE destinations.
Given that the regional MICE industry was expected to grow in 2020 by 2.6%, a figure that would have made Latin America the fastest-growing MICE market, the alliance is seeking to achieve the same goal in 2021 and lead a responsible recovery by joining regional forces and forming synergies.
Notably, the mutual cooperation agreement is based on three fundamental axes: Exchange of best practices and biosafety protocols for the reopening and reactivation of the events industry; joint promotional campaigns; and exchange of key information about previous events that were successfully held in each destination.
At the event, Carla Cárdenas, general manager of Quito Tourism, underscored that the South American MICE Alliance “is a clear reflection of our growth as a region, and we are convinced that by working together with empathy and solidarity, we will multiply the positive impact for our destinations. Through this interinstitutional cooperation action plan, we are committed to increase the number of event opportunities, thus generating more foreign investment and a recovery for the entire value chain of the sector."
We can all agree that the creation of the South American MICE Alliance is a great step forward, but for the regional MICE sector to fully recover from the coronavirus crisis, event participants will need to feel assured of their safety. Therefore, it is important to develop and implement new protocols using a risk-based approach, reduce the venue participant capacity as appropriate, and enable participants to engage virtually. Equally important, close coordination among sectors will be needed to adapt to the evolving health situations in particular countries.