In the past 17 months, if there was an industry that was totally disrupted and didn’t get any chance to recover, it was the extravagant and high spending MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector.
But it was the small and medium enterprises that had to bear the brunt of the ban on gatherings, including that on weddings and other anniversary celebrations. Not to forget that these sectors also offered direct employment, even on daily wages, to many unskilled workers.
The decision to ease all kinds of restrictions in Oman from September is a welcome sign for businesses such as selling flowers, decoration items, catering and transportation that depended heavily on the events and management industry.
“I have been working at a flower shop alongside a colleague and doing reasonable business for over 20 years in the CBD area of Muscat. We have seen up and downs before, but since March this year things came to a total standstill as we could not generate enough for basic electricity, water and rent. With two big festivals totally washed away in lockdown, the sponsor decided to close the business for now’’, said Maria D’Silva, whose employer also has businesses selling cakes and chocolates.
According to industry sources, while online press conferences and webinars gave a credible alternative to the MICE sector, they do not offer the multiplying effect in terms of job generations.
“Someone is making money and offering jobs when people exchange business cards at networking sessions over a breakfast or lunch on the sidelines of conferences or seminar’’, said Jose Kurian, a sound mixer with an events management company.
“My boss agreed for us to stay here and continue on the job for no pay till the businesses and jobs return. The wait has been getting longer and longer due to the pandemic.”
The corporate and government conferences, events and celebrations in Oman were already affected since 2015 when companies following drop in revenues after oil prices led to a decline in both public and government spending.
The business-related to exhibitions and conferences have been continuously meeting with the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and seeking exemptions from government fees, such as rents and tax, in addition to discounts of around 75 per cent from Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre.
According to a report by GlobalData, MICE tourism was one of the first types of tourism to be impacted by the global spread of Covid-19 and it could be one of the last to fully return as international business arrivals are still affected.
“Companies in all sectors will be looking for ways to reduce costs in the coming years as they reel from the economic impact. Business travel is a costly expense for all companies, and with the rise of video conferencing software such as Zoom and Google Meet, many will realize that this type of ongoing expense is unnecessary’’, it said.
According to experts, just like the hybrid education, we will continue to have blended conferences, which will also give a boost to the SMEs supplying hand sanitising stations and masks gloves.
The Ministry of Heritage and Tourism (MHT) has authorised 4 and 5-star hotel establishments to operate meeting and celebration halls, and entry to these facilities are limited to those who received two doses of one of the vaccines approved in the Sultanate. As of today’s date, the total capacity of these halls cannot exceed 35 per cent.