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The Return of MICE: How hoteliers and events professionals see their industry’s rebound

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After the toughest two years the industry has ever gone through, things are finally starting to look up. Antonio Ducceschi from Starhotels Group shares what he and his team envision for the future.

The Return of MICE – an interview series with industry leaders

Countries across Europe are finally easing the remaining restrictions. Region-wide corporate and leisure travelers are raring to get on the road again. Hoteliers and event organizers are more than ready to welcome them back. And of course, we’re all looking forward to leaving memories of the pandemic behind us forever.

Given this industry-wide re-start, we wanted to know how MICE professionals feel about moving forward and share some positivity. That’s how the idea of the Return of MICE interview series was born.
In each edition, we speak with a seasoned professional in one of Europe’s main markets. The goal is to get an inside look at the industry and to understand how we can contribute to the return of MICE.

Our chat with Antonio Ducceschi marked the start of this interview series. Based in Italy, Antonio currently holds the role of Chief Commercial Officer at Starhotels Group. He’s also a member of the Global Board of Trustees for the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Foundation.

In his many years of leading sales and events teams, he’s seen his share of challenges and successes. Now, it’s time to hear from Antonio, how he and his team braved the crisis and how he envisions the way forward.

Let’s start with a question we ask all our guests: How has this pandemic changed you as a person?

In short, it has helped me re-evaluate and adjust priorities in my personal life and business.

Looking back to the last two years and knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

It’s difficult to say what we would have done differently because this exercise doesn’t work well in this case. When we face a new situation, we usually have two ways of approaching it. We can make assumptions about how it will evolve and plan accordingly. And we can try to learn from similar occurrences in the past. Combining these two approaches normally allows you to make a well-informed decision.

During the pandemic, we could only make assumptions because nobody had gone through anything like it before. Unfortunately, we realized that these assumptions were wrong quite often, and we had to correct our course. We gained new knowledge and experiences every day and regularly had to change decisions we had made the day before.

One thing I would do differently is to remove the stress around changing direction or revising our strategy. Especially in these unfamiliar circumstances, this was necessary every so often. As the situation unfolded, we adapted because it was right to do so.

What positive developments did the pandemic set in motion?

In general, the hospitality industry is very traditional, and change happens slowly. I believe the pandemic accelerated some trends that were already on the horizon. For one thing, it showed us the need to review the overall business model, remove unnecessary admin and cut bureaucracy. The main way to do this proved to be cultural changes supported by new technology. Companies which implement this will be able to adapt to sudden demand changes more rapidly in the future.

The pandemic also forced us to look for new revenue streams and go out of our comfort zone. We had to try different ways of interacting with the client to generate new business opportunities.

People often ask experts what’s going to change in the next ten years. Jeff Bezos once responded that it’s more important to look at what’s not going to change in the next ten years. So, what do you think will stay the same in the MICE & groups sector in Italy?

At MPI, we have a straightforward way of describing the value of MICE: when we meet, we change the world. You’ll see that this is true if you think of the many important in-person meetings throughout history that changed the world’s destiny.

People meet to exchange experiences and opinions, improve personal skills, create new networks and make important decisions. This will always remain important which is why I believe that meeting face to face will remain important and valuable.

Yes, the HOW of getting together may change depending on the situation. But the WHY is a constant: we meet to move forward and achieve a certain outcome together.

First, create smooth and easy processes to book meetings. In many cases, it’s still way too complicated.

How should hoteliers continue to innovate knowing the above?

Here are a couple of quick things hoteliers should keep in mind:
First, create smooth and easy processes to book meetings. In many cases, it’s still way too complicated.

Second, provide alternative solutions to host meetings in different settings. Move away from offering only traditional meeting spaces and keep in mind that the HOW needs to serve the WHY.

The MICE & Group sales process is still labor-intensive compared to room sales. What do you think is the main reason for that?

Here I come back to my previous statement about our industry culture. We focus too much on the HOW and too little on the WHY. There’s too much emphasis on logistics right now. In turn, there’s not enough discussion about how we can help the organizer create the desired outcome and offer the best meeting experience for attendees. With that, I mean offering value that makes an event worth attending, not the quality of the coffee break.

Technology is another factor. From this point of view, we haven’t evolved much. While room sales have experienced a massive distribution evolution, meeting sales have not. There’s still room for improvement here.

And our final question: By when will we see a full Return of MICE in Italy?

We expect a full recovery by mid-2023. We’re certain of that because we can provide the venues, destinations, and meeting experiences that make participants say, “it was worth attending.”

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