Manado is relying on MICE to steer some attention away from its reputation as a gateway to divers’ paradise to its other tourism products. By Mimi Hudoyo.
Ask any diver about Manado, and chances are, they will tell you that it is one of the highlights in Indonesia’s lively diving scene and an important gateway to famous dive sites around Bunaken island.
But Manado, the capital of the North Sulawesi province, Indonesia has more than just dive sites to offer. Travellers can explore Manado’s forested landscape, local culture and culinary traditions.
To shine the spotlight on the alternative side of Manado’s tourism products, the North Sulawesi government has decided to develop the destination’s MICE appeal. North Sulawesi Tourism Promotion Board chairman, Widijanto, explained: “The best way to introduce travellers to a destination is by inviting them over and see the attractions for themselves. We do that by drawing them here for MICE events.”
Hoteliers and tour operators in Manado told TTGmice that the city had witnessed a significant growth in its MICE business since it hosted the World Ocean Summit in 2009, which attracted some 5,000 delegates from 87 countries, including six heads of states.
Sail Bunaken 2009 followed soon after, drawing 163 yachts from 25 countries. It was attended by 2,465 divers who participated in an underwater flag-raising ceremony in celebration of the Indonesian Independence Day.
The last few years have seen continous improvements in Manado’s infrastructure and facilities – new roads have been built, additional electricity power capacity has been added and new hotels have sprouted across the city. These give travellers more reasons to visit Manado.
Novotel Manado Golf Resort and Convention Center director of sales, Yazid Sidik, noted that the property’s MICE market had blossomed from 25 per cent in 2010 to 60 per cent this year, largely due to the rise in association meetings.
Swiss-Bel Maleosan general manager, Soewarno, believed that Manado’s tourism authorities were right to grow the destination’s tourism business by focusing on MICE. He said: “MICE comprises up to 35 per cent of our market share, and it forms 44 per cent of F&B revenue and around 21 per cent of total hotel revenue.”
Similarly, Hotel Sedona Manado, one of the earliest international hotels in the city, has seen sizeable increases in its MICE business. Its general manager, Dino Antonio, said: “Although the MICE segment ranks third or fourth place, way below the leisure and diving segments which are currently our major source markets, we have seen growth in the last seven months or so. In view of the MICE potential, the (hotel) owners have instructed us to construct a (larger) meeting hall.”
The resort’s current meeting facilities include three function rooms that can hold banquets for 50, 85 and 200 guests, an outdoor space on the beach for up to 300 people and a lagoon area for 1,000 people.
Most of the meetings in Manado were held in hotels, while the larger association meetings, particularly gatherings of doctors, were held at the convention centre, noted Jonathan Mokalu, resident manager of Sintesa Peninsula Hotel Manado. “Even if events were held at the convention centre, all hotels in the city would get a share of the business through accommodation for the attending delegates,” he said.
Mapanget Megah Wisata Tours and Travel managing director, Reenaldo Wangkar, said: “The fact that these doctor associations are taking their events to Manado reflects the level of confidence and interest MICE delegates have in the destination.”
Wangkar recalled that an association meeting for doctors that came to Manado five years ago had ran into difficulties due to limited flights and a lack of “decent hotel rooms”. “After that, none of these associations were willing to consider Manado,” he said.
But this year, at least four association meetings for doctors have taken place in Manado. Attendance at these events ranged from 600 to 3,000 delegates. The destination also hosted the 500-pax ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and 700-pax National Science Olympiad.
Next January, Manado will host the ASEAN Tourism Forum and a venue for Travex, the exhibition component of the annual event, is being constructed at Grand Kawanua International City, close to the Novotel Manado Golf Resort & Convention Center.
The city’s existing convention centre can accommodate up to 5,000 delegates, and is supported by a number of three- to five-star hotels within the city and its surroundings. These hotels offer 1,784 guestrooms and most have meeting facilities, with capacity ranging from 50 to 5,000 pax.
Hotels provide broadband Internet access, and most of the time, the connection is free for guests.
To drive MICE traffic to Manado, North Sulawesi Tourism Promotion Board works with DMCs and PCOs in Jakarta and Bali, since there are no MICE specialists in Manado, said Widiyanto.
“It is in our plan, however, to participate at regional and international MICE shows and, together with the local government, we will continue creating international events here in Manado,” he added.
However, some corporate buyers at the recent International MICE and Corporate Travel Mart in Manado told TTGmice that Manado’s main obstacle was the pricey airfares for the Jakarta-Manado connection. A buyer from a pharmaceutical company who declined to be named said the cost of doing an incentive programme in Manado was the same as in Thailand because of the expensive airfare. Manado’s saving grace, according to the buyer, was its novelty.
“Therefore, to make up for the (cost), Manado must come up with more attractions and quality services,” he said.
Jakarta is Manado’s main MICE source market. The city’s Sam Ratulangi Airport offers domestic flights operated by Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air and Batavia Air, which provide connections to major cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, Makassar and Bali and secondary cities such as Pontianak, Palembang and Jogjakarta. The only regional service available at the airport is provided by SilkAir, which connects Manado with Singapore four times a week.
Wangkar said: “We have learnt that Batavia Air is preparing twice-weekly flights between Manado and Guangzhou. That should open up the destination to the Chinese market.”
Indonesia Ministry of Culture and Tourism director general of tourism marketing, Sapta Nirwandar, said efforts were being made to attract more domestic and regional airlines to fly to Manado.
Apart from the air access obstacle, local suppliers pointed out that attention must also be paid to the range of tourism products and standards of tourism professionals.
Sintesa Peninsula Hotel Manado’s Mokalu said clients had asked what else was there to do in Manado after their meetings. “There needs to be supporting products, which have not been packaged and sold properly, to support available meeting facilities. Delegates need to unwind, see, feel and experience the destination after long days of meetings.”