The perception of time is slightly different in the Gulf and it has to be that way. Modern economies in the region are mere decades old and they are competing with multi-centurions.
Despite a late start, the rapid expansion of infrastructure, commerce and tourism in the UAE has outpaced every other destination in the world. Qatar is also not far behind, while Oman is also entering the arena with the benefit of hindsight. With ibtm arabia approaching next month and in an anniversary year, I decided to explore how the MICE industry has been affected…
Dubai now stands as the world’s fourth largest visitor market (ranked by international overnight visitors), outshining other leading destinations such as Istanbul, New York and Singapore. This is impressive considering that its airline started only in 1985 and a hospitality sector of note was only present from the new millennium.
When the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM) first opened its doors in 2007, the regional MICE industry outside of Dubai was only in its infancy. Incentives were largely absent from a wider landscape that lacked the resort and attractions infrastructure to support them, and large-scale meetings simply couldn’t be supported as venues were not yet built and destinations lacked the requisite accommodation mix.
GIBTM (now ibtm arabia) made its debut amidst the rising tide of regional development and while the MICE industry was benefiting from the natural swell, it became an important annual measure of progress. The three-pronged approach of building international awareness – and often, concrete business – through a Hosted Buyer Programme, creating dialogue between buyers and suppliers, and a strong educational approach became the catalyst needed to take the industry forward.
Remarkable progress has been made over the years. GIBTM was among the first exhibitions to be hosted in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre in 2007 and from this a calendar of 327 events (2014) was created that now take place annually in the incredible facility.
During early educational sessions, the regional industry was told that it would only ever become mature when it started to attract the holy grail of events business – rotational association meetings. That could only come with the right venues and infrastructure to support them, and it took a further three years for Dubai and six years for Abu Dhabi to reach that point.
The destinations continue to strive to make their way further up ICCA rankings. In fact, Dubai jumped 19 places from 2013 to 2014 to rank 44th in the world, while Abu Dhabi broke into the top 100 for the first time in 2012, compared to being placed 234th the year before.
Today, we see Qatar and Oman at the beginning of the same journey towards this success. Qatar has been on the scene for some time with its Qatar National Convention Centre (opened in 2011) and Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre is set to make its grand entrance in 2016.
The shifting sands of change have also extended to the source markets and types of visitors and events being hosted in the region. Economies have expanded, as has the meetings sector in the Gulf. From relying on European source markets, hotels and venues now enjoy a thriving intra-regional business travel and MICE industry.
The growth of inter-continental travel going east to west and vice-versa, as well as the expansion of regional airline capacity that has more than quadrupled over the last decade means that 90% of the world is now both well served and within nine hours of flying time.
As no other destinations on earth have been built from scratch in 50 years – with 80% of the region’s infrastructure less than two decades old – the world is intrigued to see the Gulf with their own eyes.
Want to see what the world will look like tomorrow? Visit www.ibtmarabia.com to find out more.