ALREADY firmly established as a leisure destination, the Middle East region is now growing as an international meetings and business centre.
Whether Dubai events like the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last year, or Qatar’s WTO Ministerial Conference and the upcoming Asian Games 2006, the region, strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, is now firmly established on the MICE map as the ideal meeting place for the corporate communities from around the world.
Over the last three years, International Congress and Convention Association chief executive Martin Sirk said earlier this year, the largest growth in membership in the organisation has come from the Middle East, and the number of members in the meetings and conference industry in the region has risen by 200 per cent.
Dubai, for example, was recently voted third in a CNN poll as the most preferred city for business travel after Hong Kong and Singapore, the two cities against which the emirate positions itself to tap into a greater market share. 'We have been attracting more and more MICE business and are committed to enhance the MICE share in the overall tourism growth. The hosting of several major events in Dubai in the recent months proves our MICE strengths,' said Khalifa Ali Buamaim, manager, overseas promotions, Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
Much of that success comes from the countries’ infrastructure support. Not only has Dubai’s Emirates airline added four strong new routes to its service book in the last six months, including Shanghai, Vienna, Glasgow and New York, but the opening of a third airport terminal in 2006 will ease passenger flow to the emirate. In Qatar, again, the country’s national airline, Qatar Airways, was recently declared the world’s third five-star airline. Also, the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has announced increased service to London, which is only one of the newly-launched destination on its routes. The others include Bangkok, Geneva, Mumbai, New Delhi and Munich. This means the strategically-positioned region is now even better connected to the rest of the world. Dubai, for instance, is already linked to over 130 destinations worldwide by 103 airlines.
Again, almost 100 new hotels in the region – announced at this year’s Arabian Travel Market – mean better facilities for both business and leisure travellers, given the increased market segmentation. Indeed, each hotel chain spoke not of one hotel that would serve all markets, rather, they talked of separate city centre and beach properties to cater to the business and leisure segments respectively.
Each of these hotels recognises the importance of personalised attention to the MICE business. At the Radisson SAS Hotel Muscat, which is positioning itself as one of Oman’s premium MICE destinations, all the hotel’s employees are trained and certified in meetings and events management. The training programme has been developed in partnership with MPI, the worlds’ largest and most professional organization.
'Here at the Radisson SAS Hotel Muscat, we think and act on behalf of a meeting organiser. We believe that our guests have important preparations to take care of to address the conference and hence we take care of all the practical details,' said Joseph Thanpan, meetings and events manager at the Radisson SAS Hotel, Muscat.
Not only do such landmark projects as the region’s manmade islands or Dubai’s commodities exchanges bring in yet more industry business, the infrastructure goes one step further: agencies like the Doha Convention Bureau and the Dubai Convention Bureau, ensure that convention hotels and venues are marketed both regionally and internationally and actually bid for on their cities’ behalf for international events. 'We established the Doha Convention Bureau in January,' said Fred van Eijk, CEO of the Qatar Tourism Authority. 'Their first priority was to get a grip on coordination. The bureau acts as a first point of contact for potential organisers. It also advises on the periods in the year that are most suitable for different kinds of events.'
By creating an online calendar that’s updated as soon as information is made available, the bureau creates the space for events organisers to check on potentially conflicting schedules and rework their dates or times accordingly.
It’s this mix of factors that’s driving MICE business upward. 'Dubai, with year-round sunshine, highest safety levels, excellent tourism infrastructure, and a fascinating mix of Arab traditions and breathtaking modernity, is a unique global MICE destination,' said DTCM’s Buamaim. That’s something that holds good for the entire region – depending, of course, on just what target market your event caters to.
– With reports from Kavita Pandit/Oman and Gina Coleman/Doha
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