A weeklong event in Buenos Aires acted as the unofficial relaunch of the meetings sector after the pandemic slump. But recovering lost ground — just 20 percent of the business is back — while dealing with new hybrid models could take about two years, tourism officials admit.
Buenos Aires is gearing up to reclaim its position as a top destination for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions – the MICE market – in South America. This segment has only come back 20 percent since its decline during the pandemic – one reason officials were happy to host MICE WEEK, a first for Argentina comprising a series of events from May 10 to 12 to woo international buyers. The event was a year in the works.
What’s more, the professional events and incentives segment is one of three pillars in the recovery plan for Visit Buenos Aires (Visit BA). One other perhaps unintended selling point for Buenos Aires is value. After a 14 percent currency devaluation in 2021, it has never been cheaper for international visitors to visit Argentina. This means an upgraded experience for a lot less money, giving the country a push in the luxury travel sector as well.
MICE Week included a Meet-Up event organized by the Argentina Association of Professionals Organizers (AOCA) and the first post-Covid in person UFI – The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry – LATAM Conference since 2018.
“This is the first time these events are held under this new platform. About 2,500 people signed up, including 81 international buyers, of which half set up meetings with Visit BA. So we are very excited about the potential opportunities that can arise from it,” said Karina Perticone, the executive director of Visit BA, a public-private entity dedicated to tourism.
Buenos Aires might also be getting a hand soon. During MICE Week, Argentina’s Tourism Minister Matías Lammens said his office is working on a new fund to subsidize MICE recruiting and promotion activities nationwide. The plan will be presented in the short term and will be based on a scoring system to determine the amounts.
Before the pandemic, Buenos Aires was ranked by ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) as the number one MICE destination in Latin America and 18th worldwide. In 2019, about 127 ICCA recognized events were held in the city. This led to 450,000 international visitors and an economic impact of $500 million. Perticone estimates this is 30 percent of international tourism in the city.
“The industry has changed a lot since then, and of course, hybrid events are here to stay. Capturing international events takes between two and four years. So we are working to recover our usual levels, hopefully within the next two years,” said Perticone.
Neighboring Brazil is one of the main source markets along with the East Coast of the U.S. Other major markets have included Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Mexico, Spain, the UK, Germany, and Italy. But with travel restrictions and limited flights the past two years, these markets have not been feeders.
Still, Matías Sket, executive director of AOCA, added that Meet Up’s activity is signaling a recovery of the sector for all destinations within Argentina, with an average of 24 meetings per exhibitor. There were 32 bureaus and destinations from 22 provinces on hand. “We estimate the economic impact of the sector is about $430 million a year, and we already confirmed a 2023 edition of Meet Up in Buenos Aires,” he said.
Buenos Aires is well-positioned for medical and scientific international conferences, and it is becoming a key destination among the entrepreneurial, with a focus on finance and cryptocurrency.
“We not only have the five-star hotels and infrastructure to hold first-class events, but also the qualified professionals to carry them through without surprises,” said Perticone. In fact, during MICE Week, AOCA launched a new e-learning platform thought of as an online business school.
Argentina is an ideal destination for large meetings and events with the necessary infrastructure, including excellent connectivity and natural resources like the Mendoza vineyards and skiing in Patagonia.
Perticone also believes there are growing opportunities within the sector; in particular, that there’s still room for hotel chains that want to invest in new congress venues in Buenos Aires and add capacity for more events in the future.
For instance, one of the larger venues in the City, the Costa Salguero Center, where many professional exhibits used to take place every year before the pandemic, is about to disappear: its plot is about to be used in other real estate projects. This will also mean fewer options available for large event organizers in this South American city, once business-as-usual activity returns.
Photo credit: Central Buenos Aires at night. Turismo Buenos Aires