Rajeev Kohli: Mapping the future

Embarking on the final stretch of his tenure as Euromic’s president, Rajeev Kohli reflects on the intricacies of steering a global association of DMCs through the pandemic, and on shaping a future where Asia will play a pivotal role

Rajeev Kohli when he was in Singapore earlier this year for a Euromic event. Photo: Rachel AJ Lee
Rajeev Kohli when he was in Singapore earlier this year for a Euromic event. Photo: Rachel AJ Lee

Please put us in your shoes and share what are your duties as president.
This is my second term as president, and it’ll be my last, according to our association’s bylaws. When I joined in 2009, we only had 25 members, and we have doubled in 14 years to 52 members now, where the average membership length is around 11 to 12 years.

I lead a board of seven and my job is to keep the members happy, as well as work with the board to create strategic directions. We’re not a social organisation, and my job is to help deliver ROI to our members. Hence, the board is always debating new strategies, and thinking about how we can benefit our members.

One of my mandates also includes building on our reserves, so that the association can continue to run no matter what.

We also participate in tradeshows, hold roadshows, and conduct marketing and sales calls together. Currently, we also have three sales offices in the world exclusive to Euromic; US, South, Africa, and Germany. We plan to open one in Asia in 2025 or 2026.

I always tell people I have 52 bosses and six managers (laughs), every one of our members is an owner of the association, 1.7 per cent to be exact.

Being a non-profit association, how does Euromic obtain funds for its outreach, tradeshow participation, and marketing activities?
The bulk of funds comes from membership fees. In fact, during the pandemic, we brought the membership fees down to the minimum, just enough to keep the association running, as we had reserves. Thanks to our forefathers who founded the association in 1973, there’s a provision in our bylaws that ensures we take a certain amount of money and put that into a savings account, in order for when times are tough.

We maintained our marketing efforts, and did a lot more virtual and hybrid events during the pandemic. But I think more important is the fact that we started the pandemic with 50 members and ended the pandemic with 50 members. All of our members survived, which I think is a testament to our due diligence on choosing members joining the association.

As we were exiting the pandemic, we even added a German sales office. Because of our sound financial position, we could capitalise on the opportunities there.

Please share what DMCs should do if they would like to join Euromic.
We are by invitation only. Usually, DMCs will see us at tradeshows, read about us, and approach us. From there, we’ll decide if they make the first cut, and the DMC is asked to apply officially.

There’s several criteria the DMC has to meet, and a rigorous vetting process. The board will first do the vetting, then the members will vote. We’re an egalitarian democratic association, meaning we’re not leadership-heavy. Everything we do is decided collectively by our members, and for a new member to join, it is no different. We probably reject far more than we accept.

All of our DMCs also have an approved track record of delivery in the country they operate in. Most importantly, the DMC has to have MICE as a priority, because that’s the mandate of an association; even though a lot of our DMCs also do leisure. We have gone wrong in the past where we took on a member who was a great member, but the destination just didn’t have enough attractions for MICE.

I think the maximum size we will ever be is around 60 members, namely because of the joining fees and our hesitation to take on anybody. Ticking off destinations would reduce our membership fees, but that’s not our objective from a quality point of view. Fortunately, we don’t have the pressure to take on members because we don’t have to deliver a profit every year. We cut our costs accordingly based on the membership.

Could you share some of the association’s future plans and projects?
We are the first travel industry association to make having a sustainability accreditation a membership criterion. We have partnered with Biosphere – a sustainability management and certification system – to take our members through the accreditation process.

Around 50 per cent of our members have been accredited, with the other half working towards it. There are challenges in several parts of the world where sustainability is not on the radar, but we’re working on ensuring they can be accredited too. We also recognise those that have already been accredited before by a similar organisation.

Later in 2H2024, we also plan to hold a by-invitation-only client event in Edinburgh, Scotland. Running for about three days, this event will invite around 80 MICE buyers from all over the world to meet our 52 member DMCs. There will be education opportunities, a meeting component, gala dinner, as well as destination experiences.

How about Asia? Will it factor into the association’s plans, and what took you so long to come to Asia for an AGM?
Our first AGM in Kuala Lumpur in January was a success, and it was also an eye-opening for us as it is our first AGM in Asia. Euromic was traditionally Europe-focused, and although we had plans to come to Asia earlier but the pandemic put a hold on it.

Asia cannot be ignored. It makes good business sense because a bulk of the Asian MICE business is staying in Asia. Also, the business that is going out – due to the sheer volume of organisations, companies, and growth of the economies – is the highest in the world.

After the AGM, I received news that our members actually generated four comprehensive leads; that is huge.

The Asian MICE market has matured over the last couple of years, where the quality of DMCs in Asia has increased significantly in terms of their competencies and awareness of more markets, as more Europeans and US groups have come to Asia. The outbound market has also expanded over the last decade, with Asia starting to explore the rest of the world.

We currently have members in a number of Asia Pacific destinations: China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Japan, Maldives, and Taiwan. We are currently in talks with people from Vietnam and Indonesia. We warmly welcome the rest of Asia to apply, but know that only one per destination will make the cut.

What is the association’s biggest challenge right now?
The consistent and number one challenge is manpower. There has been a dramatic shift globally as the next generation seems to be avoiding tourism as a career. Every segment in the travel industry has this problem.

To combat this, we hold a young leaders camp every year, and provide education for our young members and give them training and development. The event will be held in Portugal in July 2024 this year, where many of our members will have the opportunity to send some of their younger project managers to share best practices, compare notes, and train with professionals.

We have also, for the first time, invited a young leader to sit on the board with us, as we believe we have to build our next generation of leadership internally.