What Is MICE Travel?
MICE is an acronym for meetings, incentives, conferencing, and exhibitions. It’s an overarching term that encompasses a niche tourism group dedicated to the logistics of business events. It is a highly lucrative industry revolving around incentive travel, though there is a distinction between incentivized travel and business conferences. Many cities rely on this industry for seasonal revenue.
Incentive travel isn’t a stand-alone industry. It’s part of a broader category that industry professionals often refer to as “MICE,” which stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, and Exhibitions.
Some travel groups have recently begun to move away from “MICE” as an acronym and toward terms like “events industry” or “conference travel.” Terms like these may avoid the association with rodent infestations, but they leave out incentive travel and its unique focus on traveling as a company perk.
Incentives versus Conference Travel
To understand how incentive travel is different from conferences and events, you have to look at the types of MICE travel together.
- Meetings: One-time or repeat travel events centered around an activity or goal. Meetings often take place at hotels or convention centers.
- Incentives: Trips planned as a professional reward, often for performance or loyalty to the sponsoring company.
- Conferences: Events centered around professional learning or discussion. A conference’s primary goal is the exchange of information, usually relevant to a particular topic area. The event may or may not happen repeatedly.
- Exhibitions: An event geared toward the display and promotion of products or services. Like conferences, there is usually a particular category of focus involved.
You may have noticed that out of these four travel types, three are goal-oriented. Incentive travel is the only exception.
People attend meetings, conferences, and exhibitions to learn something or achieve a professional goal. In the case of incentive travel, however, the trip is the end goal. The travelers have already achieved a particular end, and they’re being rewarded with a trip. The trip is centered on a professional goal or identity, but it’s ultimately a leisure event.
When you understand this distinction, you can approach all types of MICE travel more effectively.
MICE Planning Techniques for Incentive Travel Professionals
Incentive travel is distinct in purpose and scope from meetings, conferencing, and exhibitions, but it still belongs firmly within the MICE category.
Like the other types of MICE travel, incentive trips are logistics-heavy and have many moving parts. Each one involves booking spaces and coordinating with multiple other professionals, including:
- Hotel and conference center managers
- Food and beverage companies
- Tour operators and tour guides
- Trade organizations
- Local tourism boards and chambers of commerce
- Group activity planners and hosts
Because there are so many elements involved, organizers of MICE events have to start working months or even years in advance. They have to communicate not only with the companies that will be providing services as part of the trip but also with the sponsoring organization.
Other types of MICE events may have multiple organizations involved in the planning process. In the case of a conference, for instance, you might have an association organizing the event and corporate or professional sponsors providing funding and hosting events within the broader conference.
Incentive travel typically involves only one corporate sponsor, but there’s still a lot of coordination required.
Incentive Travel as a Process
All forms of MICE travel need publicity, but the process is very different for incentive travel planners. First, you’re promoting the trip within a single company, which is often not the case for meeting or event travel. Second, while the primary goal of conference or exhibition travel is to secure signups, incentive travel promotion exists to encourage performance.
The process of planning incentive travel typically involves three main components, which differ in some significant ways to other forms of MICE travel.
Incentive travel planning may involve more destination options than other MICE trips. Meeting and conference planners are limited by the organizer’s requirements for host cities and sites—a policy to change coasts every year, for example, or the need to accommodate a certain number of attendees in nearby hotels.
Choosing an incentive travel destination is usually less pragmatic and more driven by participant enjoyment. For instance, if you’re planning a wintertime trip for employees of a New England tech company, you’re probably going to want to bring them somewhere warm—but where?
Beach destinations like Hawaii and South Florida are popular choices for many companies, especially if travelers are expecting a relaxing getaway. Other trip scenarios may call for more of a cultural experience than a beach resort can offer. In that case, places like Ireland and Scotland are great options, since language isn’t a barrier and there’s an appealing balance of nature and urban adventure.
When you’re planning meetings, conferences, and exhibitions, scheduling is usually dictated by the event itself. Conferences, for example, will usually require the standard arranging of keynote speakers, panelists, and breakout session leaders.
When you’re planning an incentive trip, however, you have more time to fill and more variety expected within that time. If you’re doing a cultural trip, you’ll want travelers to get as much “up close and personal” experience with the destination as possible. A catered dinner of local cuisine can be a lot of fun, and there has to be sightseeing involved as well.
Outdoor adventure-style trips can involve more physically challenging activities. Low ropes courses, water sports, and zip-lining make great team-building opportunities. If you have a fit and athletic cohort of travelers, consider something like whitewater rafting or a survival skills challenge.
Budgeting for meetings, conferences, and exhibitions usually depends on participant signups. The organizer may be using the event as a fundraiser or revenue generator, in which case you’ll need to focus on optimizing income. Either way, you’ll need to control costs, but you can often balance things out by upping your marketing game and getting more signups or sponsors.
Incentive travel is different because the sponsoring company usually funds most of the trip, if not all of it. Some companies split the costs, paying the full cost for the award recipients and offering discounted or non-discounted participation to family members.
As an incentive travel planner, your goal is to offer the best experience while controlling costs for the sponsoring company. You have to think about what their preferences are for activities and lodging, as well as what opportunities will prove most motivating to potential travelers.
Incentive Planners as MICE Professionals
Incentive travel planners are part of the MICE industry, but their professional development needs are different. Still, incentive travel pros can get plenty out of MICE industry events, especially in terms of networking, so don’t count those out. Consider attending national and international programs such as:
- The MICE International Trade Market, which offers networking as well as workshops and conferences to learn about MICE travel trends
- The Meeting and Incentive Summit, a conference-workshop style event focused on professional education
- The Global Meeting and Incentive Travel Exchange, where planners based in North America can connect with suppliers across the world, and enjoy unique opportunities for one-on-one networking
These events have plenty to offer the professional incentive travel planner. They usually incorporate services for other MICE professionals, but that variety is part of what makes them valuable for incentive pros. By attending these events, incentive travel planners can learn about trends in business travel and align choices to current best practices.
Specialized incentive travel pros should also check out the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Global Conference, the primary event for this industry. Held once a year, the SITE Global Conference includes keynote speeches, cultural immersion experiences, educational sessions, and industry award presentations.
Working with Other MICE Travel Providers
As unique as incentive travel is, it would be a mistake for professionals in this field to operate in a vacuum. Incentive travel planners use many of the same resources as other MICE planners—hotels, for example, and tourism centers—and they do so within the same corporate travel framework.
Companies with incentive travel programs can promote these offerings at professional conferences and exhibitions as ways of attracting qualified talent. Alternatively, with enough of the right contacts in the MICE industry, a company can combine an incentive trip with sponsored attendance at a relevant conference. Attendance at the conference itself can even be an incentive in its own right, assuming it fits with the company’s culture and the goals of the program.
Incentive travel is a unique component of MICE travel. Though all types of MICE travel involve multiple coordination with third parties, incentive travel planners tend to work closely with both the leisure travel industry and other types of MICE travel professionals.
Unlike the three other areas of MICE travel, incentives are fully or nearly fully paid by the sponsoring company. They’re typically framed as rewards or prizes, usually as part of a broader incentive system and are geared more toward pleasure than learning. For that reason, incentive travel needs to be planned and publicized differently than other forms of MICE travel. The primary goal is to make memories for attendees without over-spending.
By plugging into the broader world of MICE travel, incentive trip planners and organizers can create programs that are relevant to the business travel community.