As the world bids a relieved goodbye to 2020, professionals in the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry in Latin America continue to push the envelope with an optimistic eye on the future. And although the MICE industry was one of the first to feel the impact of COVID-19, planners in this region were, in fact, more optimistic than any other area about the health of the meeting and events industry in 2021, and even expected to see an increase in their budgets. This, according the Global Meetings & Events 2021 forecast conducted by American Express Meetings & Events.
So, what’s next for the MICE industry in Latin America?
First, a quick look back: The second edition of The Exhibition Industry in Latin America Report released by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed regional trends that included, among others, a significant number of venues that had been renovated or built over the last two years (e.g., Puerto Rico’s new Distrito T-Mobile; Yucatan, Mexico’s International Congress Center, and the Panama’s Amador Convention Center, slated for 2021), as well as good growth prospects for the industry in Latin America—still viable markers that will no doubt help strengthen the post-pandemic comeback.
A positive outlook for the MICE industry in Latin America is in view, with the future pointing to the hybrid and virtual events that have proven to be useful tools in the meeting planner’s toolkit. Video cameras, online voting, chats, and more are helping participants feel close and engaged. There is a path forward, even though as James Rees, President of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), said, “We are missing the camaraderie, interaction and face-to-face contact that we take for granted and this is having an impact on our learning and knowledge-sharing. The physical presence, the sense of belonging and the building of trusted relationships by meeting in person is irreplaceable.”
Nevertheless, there have already been successful examples of the “New Normal” events in the region, including the Expo+Foro Virtual de Turismo Global (Global Tourism Expo+Virtual Forum), held late last year and organized by the Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus LATAM & the Caribbean, included 42 plenary sessions, keynote conferences and workshops, and the participation of 150 destinations as exhibitors with over 1,200 appointments during the Business Roundtable to market Latin America’s destinations; and the FIEXPO Latin America Virtual, held online in November with representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama, among others. It welcomed buyers from all over Latin America, the United States, and Europe. as well as Latin American and international associations looking for venues to hold their congresses, and DMCs, tour operators, and meeting and event planners.
Moving forward, however, trade shows will continue to be more demanding of an in-person component. The second part of the more recent UFI global study conducted together with live events specialists Explori and supported by the Society for Independent Show Organizers (SISO), published core findings centered around a strong demand for a return of live events, as well as the time and cost benefits of digital events and the increasing comfort level of planners and attendees with digitally delivered content. Ana María Arango, Regional Director for UFI for Latin America, sees the ideal format as a mix of virtual business meetings, virtual catalogs, and highly interactive virtual networking mechanisms with smaller meetings. Planners should consider offering structured cancellation and postponement policies for exhibitors, visitors, and suppliers, and venues will need to be more flexible with their space management policies and fees.
There is no doubt the MICE industry in Latin America will be a prime detonator for the economic recovery in the region, and governments in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, and others have been lending their support to the industry. The distribution of viable vaccines and the implementation of strict health and safety protocols are helping the region emerge from the pandemic, and there is already a pent-up demand that planners should take into consideration: According to the AMEX forecast, meeting space is expected to be readily available in 2021 (and possibly offered at a discount), but more difficult to book in 2022 due to increased competition for space and the potential contraction of supply due to bankruptcies and closures. Combined with a need for more space for each person attending, the market could tighten in coming years.