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MICE and Sustainable Tourism in the Asia Pacific Region

by Stewart Moore, CEO, EarthCheckStewart Moore, CEO, EarthCheck

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

Stewart Moore, CEO, EarthCheck

Welcome to a two part series of entries related to the business events sector, sometimes referred to as the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Events (MICE) sector. Three aspects of this industry will be discussed in this first blog: 1) The economic significance and reach of the sector; 2) Why we need to take action to ensure that economic benefits are balanced with social and environmental outcomes; and 3) What operational systems need to be in place to deliver sustainable meetings and events.

Our second blog, to be released in a future edition, will provide examples of Best Practice in the MICE sector including operational practices employed with success by Convention and Exhibition Centres, Professional Conference Organisers, and hotels.

  1. Why do we need to take action?

Today the MICE sector represents big business. The sector delivers major economic benefits to host countries and is arguably a key contributor to the growth in tourism development in the Asia Pacific region. Over 400 million jobs are created through business and meetings travel in the region which now delivers almost 20% of global international conventions (UNWTO 2012). Direct investment is evident in built infrastructure including exhibition and convention centres while indirect investment can be seen in the flow of spending by incentive groups, corporate meetings, conventions, scientific forums, and exhibitions, etc.

Importantly this discussion is not only about the big end of town. Across the Asia Pacific there is estimated to be more than 4000 intermediary agencies selling incentives and meetings products and services, of which 95% are small to medium enterprises (ICESAP 2015).

So in short, the MICE sector has become a USD200billion industry for the region (WTTC 2011). The economic benefits derived from MICE extend far beyond the actual hosting of the event, with trade opportunities being generated in both host and visitor countries. The question that remains is how can the collective economic benefits of the sector be balanced with social and environmental outcomes. Put simply, how can we now deliver more sustainable and responsible events?

Photo Credit: Adelaide Convention Centre

Photo Credit: Adelaide Convention Centre

  1. A possible starting place

In 2012, ISO 20121 ‘Standard-Event Sustainability Management Systems’ was released. ISO 20121 provides a comprehensive framework to identify the potentially negative impact of events and where to take action to reduce those impacts. Despite the development and release of the Standard it would be fair to say that takeup in the Asia Pacific region could be described, at best, as disappointing. Part of the reason for this lies with concerns associated with perceived administrative overheads and operational costs, a lack of industry training, the need for more simple and practical toolkits and a dose of healthy scepticism which faces all responsible tourism practices in our industry.

Recognising the need for action, EarthCheck, through the not-for-profit EarthCheck Research Institute has developed some practical tool kits and guidelines. EarthCheck takes a holistic and destination wide approach to how we address truly sustainable events. The EarthCheck platform can be used to benchmark and certify all elements of a meetings supply chain including:

  • The operational footprint of venues (Convention Centres, exhibition halls, hotels, etc;)
  • Transport to and around events;
  • Tours and goods purchased to support the meeting sector.

Outlined below are some simple steps that event managers and operators can use.

As a starting point, it is important to have a formal responsible event policy that is signed off by the management team of the venue and where appropriate, the event organiser.

  • The Responsible Meetings policy should be in simple language that can be shared with staff, suppliers, delegates and key stakeholders. EarthCheck provides a policy template if one is not available.
  • The policy should use an internationally recognised sustainability framework that will allow responsible business actions and performance to be reported in a transparent and credible fashion. EarthCheck has mapped the key requirements of ISO 20121 and incorporated these into our tool kit.
  • It is true that what gets measured and monitored gets managed. The policy should promote the benchmarking of operational performance so that all actions can be tracked and measured over time.
  • A good sustainability policy should be embedded within the venue’s business plan and direct all operational practices. Meeting planners should also have a policy in place.
  • Most importantly staff will need to be trained and empowered over time to implement the policy.
Photo Credit: Gold Coast Convention Centre

Photo Credit: Gold Coast Convention Centre

EarthCheck’s experience is that every event/venue and meeting planner/Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) will have a different understanding of what actions need to be undertaken. Our recommendation is that taking small steps will help to build confidence. This might include focusing on waste in the first year, and then progressively moving forward to include water, energy, social contributions, etc.

The EarthCheck Responsible Meetings and Events Standard requires each Event Organiser and Event Venue to:

  • Identify and address key sustainable development issues related to their activities, this includes measuring and collecting data on key performance areas such as Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Energy Efficiency, Use of Freshwater Resources, Waste Management, Supply chain Management and also Social and Cultural engagement with the local community;
  • Commit to continuously minimising their impact on the environment by having standard operational systems in place to measure performance;
  • Enlist management support and staff/stakeholder buy-in;
  • To identify all internal and external stakeholders and communicate clearly with these groups to seek their support.

The EarthCheck Responsible Meetings and Events Standard also provides event organisers with the option to have 1st, 2nd or 3rd party verification and certification of the event.

Photo Credit: Ecolab

Photo Credit: Ecolab

For small events, start off with appointing a staff member to help develop a policy to drive and support the sustainable goals of the event. Implementation of an operational checklist is a good place to start. As events grow in size, introduce supply chain monitoring, coupled with event communication to all stakeholders. Sustainability requires a continual monitoring process to provide outcomes which can be reported on, reviewed, and improved for future events. By using the EarthCheck tool, event organisers have the benefit of reviewing their processes against the ISO 20121 Standard to ensure compliance.

For more information on the EarthCheck Responsible Meetings and Events Tool, please email us at [email protected]

Read part 2 here.


UNWTO 2012, MICE Industry – An Asia-Pacific Perspective, UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Madrid

ICESAP 2015, ‘ICESAP Industry Accreditation Proposal’, paper presented by Incentive Conference and Event Society Asia Pacific to the 46th APEC Tourism Working Group Meeting, Boracay, The Philippines, 17-18 May.

WTTC 2011, Business Travel: A Catalyst for Economic Performance, Executive Summary, World Travel and Tourism Council, London, viewed 21/5/2015,

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