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Business travel on the surge, predicts GIBTM

THE seventh edition of the (GIBTM) 2013 closed on a high note having attracted a record number of buyers from the corporate meetings sector as the booming Gulf economies attract corporate travellers, trade delegations and other business groups. 

The show which was inaugurated by HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), tripled corporate meetings buyer attendance accounting for 35 per cent of all hosted buyers attending the show, compared to 11 per cent from the corporate sector in 2012.

The total number hosted buyers was evenly split between the Middle East, Europe and Asia Pacific, with first-timers attending from key growth markets for the Middle East including Australia, South Africa and Azerbaijan.

“According to Standard & Poor’s latest forecast, GDP growth within the Gulf economies will reach 4.6 per cent in 2013, valuing the GCC economy at $1.5 trillion, which compares very favourably with many flatling western economies, facing prolonged austerity and sluggish growth,” said GIBTM exhibition manager Lois Hall.

“As a consequence the region is clearly attracting an increasing number of meetings, incentives and business travellers, especially from key regional and international trading partners. We have also witnessed a sharp increase in the number of overseas destinations, looking to attract meetings and incentive groups from the Middle East,” added Hall.

In addition to the hike in corporate meetings buyers at the show, the number of decision-makers from the potentially-lucrative international associations sector attending GIBTM more than trebled in size.

Saleh Mohamed Al Geziry, director - overseas promotion and inward missions at DTCM; Jasem Mohamed Al Darmaki, deputy director general of TCA Abu Dhabi; HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi and Hall take a tour of GIBTM 2013

A research report, conducted by Reed Travel Exhibitions IBTM portfolio and meetme in association with The Right Solution, revealed that 68.5 per cent of Middle East buyers expect the volume of events to increase over the next 12 months comparing favourably to 2012 when only 58.3 per cent of Middle East buyers said the volume of events had increased over the previous 12 months.

Middle East buyers and suppliers are also the most optimistic about the region’s outlook – 80 per cent of the 209 buyers surveyed (100 of whom were based in the region) said conference and events business placed in the Gulf, Middle East and North Africa (GMENA) region would grow exponentially over the next 12 months.

“The bullish buyer and supplier sentiments revealed in the IBTM report are reflected in the success of this year’s GIBTM, which welcomes 70 brand new exhibitors to the show floor, translating to an eight per cent increase in show space taken,” added Hall.

The 210 suppliers surveyed, 75 per cent of whom were based in GMENA with the remainder conducting business in the region, were even more bullish, with 70.5 per cent expecting a hike in the number of events staged over the next 12 months and 66 per cent confident of more meetings and incentives business being placed.

While budget constraints are still keeping grip on the purse strings in many markets globally, 59.4 per cent of Middle East buyers anticipate budget increases over the next 12 months, compared to 50.9 per cent of buyers last year.

Fast-paced technological innovation was identified by 47 per cent of buyers surveyed as the key trend currently having the greatest impact on the meetings and events sector locally and globally and social media was pinpointed as the most common technology implemented, used as a means to engage with delegates before, during and after a meeting or event.

“Acknowledging that technology is constantly evolving and changing the way in which meetings and events are conducted, GIBTM has ramped up its educational programme to include a brand new feature area on the show floor, Event Camp Middle East 2013” said Hall.

The hybrid event initiative included seminar sessions focused on technological advances impacting the meetings industry, broadcast from both the show floor and streamed online from destinations as far afield as the US and Australia. It extended GIBTM’s reach to an online global audience of 16,000 users across 10 countries in just two hours.

The session took on added relevance when it was reiterated that the Middle East was the fastest growing region for Twitter users with 2.1 million recorded in June 2012, while in November 2012 the Mena region had 45 million Facebook users, 50 per cent of whom accessed the media via mobile. Destination wise, buyers said the top six Middle East countries where they had staged events over the last 12 months were the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Qatar.

However, rising stars were identified in buyers’ top countries by satisfaction ratings, which put the UAE and Qatar in top slot followed by Jordan and then Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Buyers are also on the look-out for new places to stage meetings and incentives, with 53 per cent expecting to increase the use of new destinations over the next 12 months. Suppliers agreed, with 63 per cent anticipating this trend.

With all eyes on China as a huge growth market for meetings business for the Middle East, GIBTM brought in a delegation of 10 influential buyers to the show including first-time visitor to the UAE, Jeffery Huang, vice secretary-general and associate researcher at the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Services.

Exhibitors including hotel operator Rotana, Qatar Tourism Authority and Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) said they were impressed with the quality of the buyers at this year’s show because they covered key source markets and sectors.

In a bid to ramp up interest in Qatar, which has identified business travel and meetings as a key facet of its tourism strategy going forward, Qatar Tourism Authority’s (QTA) director of tourism development Abdulla Al Bader said it was imperative the destination brought its partners to GIBTM “to showcase the quality of Mice product in Qatar”.

“With 110 hotels and hotel apartments currently under construction and the opening of the Doha Convention Centre next year, we are clearly focused on developing world-class infrastructure to support the business tourism sector,” he said.

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