Perfect meeting place

Dubai has emerged as a leading destination for the MICE market, writes SHAFQUAT ALI
Dubai International Convention Centre ... the region’s largest

AS THE first Arab city to host the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September last year, Dubai proved to the world that it was capable of hosting and managing complex, high-profile global events.

According to director general of Dubai Department of Economic Development Mohammed Ali Alabbar, Dubai 2003, the term collectively used to cover the events surrounding the meetings, showed the “real side of the Arab world”. And thousands of participants including heads of states, premiers, finance ministers, Central Bank governors and other top officials from 184 member countries who attended the event went back with nothing but praise for the emirate.
Indeed, the $1 billion investment that went into hosting the mega event,  which included the opening of the new Dubai International Convention Centre (DICC), the region’s largest convention centre, has given a shot in the arm to the emirate’s efforts of becoming a global MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Conferences and Exhibition) centre and established Dubai as a major player in the international conventions market. As Dubai Tourism Commerce and Marketing (DTCM) director general Khalid bin Sulayem put it, “IMF 2003 has taken Dubai to new heights of accomplishments in the MICE sector”. But then, Dubai doesn’t believe in resting on its laurels and is now set to scale greater heights.

The opening of the Dubai Convention Bureau (DCB) in March last year has complemented the DTCM’s efforts to boost the emirate’s MICE sector. “The DCB was formed not only to meet the growing demand of Dubai’s MICE industry but also to establish the emirate as an international business tourism destination,” explains bin Sulayem. “It supports all the convention hotels and venues of Dubai by marketing their facilities regionally as well as internationally and bids on behalf of Dubai at international events.”
“The successful conduct of IMF meetings earned us lot of laurels internationally,” adds DCB director Awadh Al Seghayer. “The idea is to use this success as a catalyst and build on its success, regionally as well as overseas.”
Explaining the role of DCB, Al Seghayer adds: “We always work as a team and while formulating policies and procedures on important issues, we invite the hotels and DICC for their advice and suggestions... Opinion, suggestions and views by the concerned sectors help us in sharpening our strategies, approach and policy to further improve our flourishing MICE sector and facilities of the emirate.”
DTCM, for its part, has been marketing the facility locally and overseas ever since the idea of having the DCB was conceptualised. “We have announced the facilities of DCB in all the road shows, workshops major travel trade exhibitions and through the network of our overseas offices, with regular updates on developments of the property. This has not only helped us to keep the facilities and amenities of DCB in the news but has also showed Dubai’s commitment and seriousness to become one of the best-rated venues for MICE travellers,” adds bin Sulayem.
Clearly, DCB has become a key player in attracting major conferences to the emirate, which hosts more than 60 major exhibitions, conferences and seminars every year.

Hosting more than 50 international exhibitions, including GITEX, the region’s largest IT event, the Cable, Satellite, Broadcast and Tele-communications Exhibition (CABSAT), Gulfood and the Middle East International Motor Show every year, the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) has been at the forefront of organising and hosting exhibitions for 20 years. The premier venue for exhibitions, meetings, and conferences in the region, it offers 35,000 sq m of prime exhibition space in various configurations in the Dubai International Exhibition Centre (DIEC).
In addition, the DWTC complex includes the state-of-the-art DICC, which made its international debut as the appointed host venue for Dubai 2003. Custom-built to fill a perceived niche in the MICE market, it is large enough to accommodate most MICE events as the industry is poised for a take off in this part of the world.
By all accounts, the DICC is the ultimate answer to a MICE organiser’s dream. The state-of-the-art facility is tailored to cater to the increasingly-felt need for a modern venue for the fast-growing MICE sector in the Middle East in general and Dubai in particular.
The Centre’s Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Hall (7,760 sq m) is divisible by operable walls and has the capacity to comfortably accommodate from 600 to 6,000 delegates – its versatility and flexibility is one of its greatest assets. When set for the maximum capacity as an auditorium, it can accommodate 2,500 retractable seats in a tiered setting and an additional 2,000 seats on the ‘flat’. On the other hand, the Sheikh Rashid Hall can be configured to include four large meeting rooms, also located at ground level – two rooms to accommodate up to 547 delegates and two that can accommodate up to 767 delegates. Furthermore, the hall will be linked to Hall 8 of DIEC, expanding the centre’s capacity significantly. 
A total of 22 breakout rooms in a range of sizes, complement the Multipurpose Hall. These rooms can accommodate from 50 to 220 delegates and are ideal for use as VIP hospitality suites, seminar rooms, speaker’s reception rooms or organisers’ offices. In addition, there are 16 breakout rooms and a ballroom available within the DWTC complex.
The new centre is complemented by a range of accommodation options on-site with two hotels flanking either side of the complex – a 412-room Novotel and a 210-room Ibis business hotel – in addition to the Dubai International Hotel Apartments.

According to Al Seghayer, a number of factors contribute to secure Dubai as a leading convention and meeting hub of the region. “Geographically, Dubai is well placed at the crossroads between three continents, strategically located at the hub of a market of one billion people, encompassing the Gulf states and the vast emerging markets of Indian subcontinent,” he points out. “Dubai also boasts an array of top-quality hotels offering state-of-the-art meetings and conferences facilities and services to rival the best in the world. In addition, the destination provides excellent facilities for a variety of sports and leisure activities. It combines all these with superb shopping.”
There are now some 103 airlines linking Dubai International Airport to over 134 destinations worldwide, making it one of the world’s great inter-continental transit points. And many exciting hotel and leisure infrastructure developments are underway to meet the future demand of the discerning business and leisure traveller. Room stock in Dubai will more than double within the next ten years from a current level of around 27,500 rooms and the offering of entertainment and leisure facilities is set to expand dramatically.
“While realising that Dubai has established itself on the world tourism map, the emirate is making continuous efforts to improve and maintain perfection in its services,” sums up Al Seghayer. “The Government is aware that regular and continuous growth and improvement in the services alone will help us to retain a prominent place in this field. We have carefully planned marketing strategies, which are right on target.”

So what areas of the world does the DCB see business coming from in the short, medium and longer term? “We regard Europe as our target market and fetch loads of missions from that part of the world,” says Al Seghayer. “However, Asia and Middle East regions are equally productive in holding meetings and exhibitions.”
 “The MICE market is back and it will increase significantly over the year in 2004,” adds James Wyndham, director of sales MICE, for Jumeirah International. “The primary market for Dubai being the UK, this should be the best year for MICE out of the UK and Ireland region. This has already been envisaged by the amount of requests generated from these markets.”
Points out Michelle Jones, international sales manager, Jebel Ali International Hotels, “We have noted a significant increase in MICE group and incentive requests for the year 2004/05. ‘Awareness’ of Dubai as a MICE destination has definitely increased and reflects in the number of requests handled. We are confident the MICE market will be a growing future market for Dubai.”
Al Seghayer echoes that confidence as well. “The emirate will witness a glut of high-level conferences on different subjects during the current and coming years,” he says. “This will redefine the future of Dubai and consolidate the emirate’s status as a premier destination for conferences and exhibitions.”