The future is looking bright -- and green -- for Taiwan's meetings industry. According to statistics from Meet Taiwan, the island's promotional arm for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, the destination hosted a total of 686 MICE events in 2018, bringing in 280,000 foreign visitors and generating trade revenues of roughly NT$46 billion (US$1.48 billion). This includes 173 conventions and meetings that, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), placed Taiwan as the number 23 country for number of meetings held in 2018.
Much of this has been driven by Taiwan's infrastructure development, its embrace of green initiatives and the urban-development efforts that have made the island more attractive to groups and businesses around the world. Also helpful for corporate groups: Taiwan has visa-waiver agreements with between Taiwan and 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australasia, stemming from the New Southbound Policy.
In addition, the US$240 million Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Hall 2 (TaiNEX 2) opened officially in March to make TaiNEX the largest exhibition venue in Taiwan. To top it all off, a slew of international hotel chains are expanding their footprints across the island. Altogether, this has led to a roughly 12 percent surge in visitors from Southeast Asian countries, in particular the Philippines and Vietnam, while catching the eye of more far-flung international meeting planners.
Taiwan is building on green appeal to attract groups
At a time when sustainability is becoming a priority for many industries and organizations, Taiwan's growth as a green MICE destination is playing in its favor. Two of the islands' premier convention venues, TaiNEX 1 and Kaohsiung Exhibition Center, are ISO 20121-certified, meaning a robust management framework is in place to control each event's social, economic and environmental impact.
"We constantly encourage exhibition organizers to go green with their booths -- skip the carpet, pare down the designs, or use recyclable materials to reduce waste," said Philip T.T. Huang, executive director, TaiNEX 2. "Often, this conflicts with exhibitors' desire for an attractive setup, so we try to win them over by selling them on the cost savings."
A spokesperson for Meet Taiwan added that green MICE incentives are also available to conference organizers, and that the destination management organization assists industry players such as event planners and hotels with developing event sustainability-management systems. These efforts have apparently worked to bring in new business: Taiwan's 2019 Green MICE Awards saw a record high of more than 70 entrants, including events for international clients like U.K.-based Bard Pharmaceuticals and the World Federation of Master Tailors.
Taiwan's cultural and creative venues ideal for meetings
Taiwan is an expert at grafting new concepts onto old landmarks -- and these urban renewal projects pay off handsomely for boosting MICE infrastructure while reducing the environmental and cultural impacts of demolition. However, making cultural and heritage venues available to MICE groups is not always easy, said a Meet Taiwan spokesperson. In many cases, the program office has to negotiate with organizations that are managing public venues in order to allow their private use. It has been successful so far -- and Taiwan's MICE industry growth is now demonstrating the economic benefits of offering "regenerated" spaces as event venues.
Tainan Art Musuem
One such example is Tainan Art Museum, which opened in January with two buildings: one, a restoration of the city's former police headquarters, the other a modern minimalist structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. While it is a public museum, groups can apply to use venues such as a terrace overlooking an indoor courtyard and massive banyan tree in the 88-year-old Building 1.
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
For groups that choose to meet and play in Taipei, there's Huashan 1914 Creative Park. This former colonial-era winery now houses art galleries, cafes, an arthouse cinema, and 25 event spaces for groups ranging from 50-800 people. It's also located in the heart of the city - should delegates wish to go green, public transport on the Taipei Metro is just a step away.
Xinyi Public Assembly Hall
Groups can walk from the Taipei International Convention Center (TICC) to nearby Xinyi Public Assembly Hall, a former military dependents' village, for breakouts at its dining spaces or a quick tour to learn some of the city's history.
ALIEN Art Centre
On the other hand, there is the privately-run ALIEN Art Centre in Kaohsiung that not only features exclusive works of contemporary art by the likes of James Turrell and Franz Bette, but also offers insight into the lives of soldiers who passed through its gates back in the 1960s when it was the Kinma Military Barracks.
"This place was dilapidated when we acquired it -- it cost a lot to restore, but we wanted to preserve this piece of Kaohsiung's history," said Shao Yaman, CEO of ALIEN Art Center. In March, the heritage venue hosted a private gala dinner in its event hall for 120 people for Gucci. It also has a rooftop space ideal for cocktail receptions.
Brooke Thio is a Singapore-based travel writer/editor/copywriter covering MICE and business travel.