The meeting place
Bahrain Hotels Company chief executive Mohammed Buzizi details Bahrain's pitch for a giant's share of Mice business
Bahrain is increasingly being recognised for its strengths as a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) destination.In recent years it has built on its reputation internationally says Mohamed Buzizi, chief executive of Bahrain Hotels Company (BHC), which owns and operates the Gulf International Convention and Exhibition Centre (GICEC) at the five-star Gulf Hotel. Buzizi, recognised as the unofficial international ambassador for Bahrain as a Mice destination, has personally been instrumental in bringing a number of meetings and conferences to the island during the last decade. As a respected chief executive with extensive knowledge of the hospitality industry, Buzizi feels that while more worldwide destinations are identifying with the importance of Mice business, Bahrain is at the beginning "of this long road." "This business is big, with the number of meetings around the world unreal. What we are getting is very small compared to what is going on around the world and there is a lot of work to do putting Bahrain on the map. "To an extent we are happy with three or four Mice business projects in one month, but what we are missing is one hundred times more. We should concentrate our efforts on attracting the market in a professional manner." There are two things that are essential requirements, says Buzizi. "We need appointed individuals from companies to look at representation and to look for business, We cannot be everywhere, nor afford the time or money. We need professional bodies in the main locations, say two in Europe (Britain and Germany), one in the US and another for the Far East, to create awareness. "Secondly we in Bahrain should compliment this by continuous advertising in the specific media that relates to Mice business. This should be properly targeted and there should also be write-ups and coverage of the events that take place here." Buzizi says that Bahrain has many plus factors as a Mice destination. "Because it is relatively new people are curious. Very much in our favour is the weather, accessibility, the friendliness of the people has a tremendous impact, and in addition the nation is service orientated. All these plus factors are often passed on by word of mouth although at times the lack of beaches is also mentioned." While he concedes that it is becoming easier to sell Bahrain as a Mice destination "we should not forget the tough and severe competition, even in our own region including Dubai." Buzizi says that it is not just a case of making presentations, with a site inspection - an aspect that "invariably works in our favour " - even more important. "Gulf Air has been very helpful, and 80 per cent of site inspections lead to us winning the business. Even if we fail, it is often only in the short-term." DEDICATED MANAGEMENT FIRM Looking ahead, Buzizi identifies with the great need for a destination management company in Bahrain. "This is very important. We do not have such specialised companies, and conference organisers always ask. I would love to see professional companies on hand to handle conferences and the follow up. "They would be on hand to handle arrival, meet and assist, visas, transport, tours, daily printing and also to arrange meetings with the authorities. "We at GICEC provide as much back-up as possible, but it would be a good professional move to have totally independent companies," he says. Attracting Mice business involves a lot of advance planning, with initial meetings and discussions often taking place two and three years before scheduled events. Already signed up for October 2002 is the Middle East Power and Water Conference and Exhibition and negotiations are now at an advanced stage for the first Arab European Plastic Surgeons Conference. Bahrain has also bid for the 2004 International Convention and Congress Association (ICCA) annual conference. This event annually attracts "not less than 550 creme de la creme worldwide delegates with Mexico this year's destination, Denmark in 2002 and then the Far East in 2003. "Whatever Mice business is being discussed organisers are always looking for value for money and they want to know what facilities are provided free. This is even with groups of doctors and lawyers," says Buzizi. "All are extremely price conscious." But once delegates arrive at a Mice destination they are good spenders. "Statistics by the ICCA show that the average spend for four days is $ 800 - $1,200 on top of the hotel costs. This is in shopping, general entertainment, taxis and other items and shows how much a country at large benefits from Mice business." Buzizi says that the facilities at the GICEC which opened in 1997 are some of the best in the Middle East. It offers the largest conference and exhibition space attached to an hotel in the region with about 4,000 sq m. "It is a very strong selling tool in our hand, having everything under one roof," he says.