Middle East MICE sector poised for unrivalled growth

Scheduled to take place from February 9-11, 2016, exhibition manager, ibtm arabia, Shinu Pillai speaks with Panayiotis Markides and shares his comments on the trends that will be showcased at the show.

TTG: In terms of hosted buyers, who can delegates at ibtm arabia expect to see at this year’s event? What separates hosted buyers from other buyers attending the show?

ibtm arabia is a closed event, that is strictly between a selection of Hosted Buyers and suppliers, both in equal numbers. There are no trade visitors. Those who will be participating have been handpicked and personally invited following intensive research among all of the suppliers who have told us who they want to meet with and the same has been asked of the Hosted Buyers.

Travel Forward 20

Once a Hosted Buyer has applied or has been individually selected they undergo a process of qualification to ensure that they have business to place and a proven budget for inbound to the region or outbound from the region.

Additionally, 100 per cent of Hosted Buyers attending this year’s event are new. Our Hosted Buyer recruitment teams placed emphasis on finding undiscovered buyers and targeting emerging markets where prospective MICE buyers were just starting to learn about the fantastic industry they’re part of. As a result of this approach, ibtm arabia 2016 will feature a line-up of new agency, corporate and association buyers, with this year’s show seeing a 61 per cent increase in the amount of corporate buyers attending.

Additionally 73 per cent of the Hosted Buyers confirmed to attend ibtm arabia 2016 are senior management, managing directors, or owners and organise a variety of events; 86 per cent organise conferences and meetings, 79 per cent incentive travel, 77 per cent business travel, 57 per cent luxury travel, and 54 per cent conventions/congress. Confirmed Hosted Buyers this year have also indicated a variety of product interests: 81 per cent indicated an interest in hotels, 71 per cent in conferences/meeting venues, 70 per cent in Destination Management Services, 53 per cent in attractions/entertainment, 53 per cent in resorts/spas, and 52 per cent in destinations.

Approximately two thirds of our Hosted Buyers are international and one third are regional. Hosted Buyers will attend from regions such as Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Asia, South America, and the USA.

Just some of the buyers set to attend include Incentive Connect International (Australia), ALATUR JTB (Brazil), AW Europe (Belgium), SAP SE (Germany), Provident Global Capital Group (Hong Kong), Korea Railroad Research Institute (Korea), B.V.Coca-Cola (Poland), Peugeot Citroen (Russia), Kuoni MICE & Special Groups (Switzerland), Cognizant (UK) and Meridian Meetings Factory (USA).

TTG: What trends has the MICE industry witnessed in the MENA region, and how is ibtm arabia catering to these trends?

The biggest—and most important—trend that we have witnessed since opening as the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM) in 2007 is growth. Back in 2007 there were no dedicated events taking place in the Middle East; in Abu Dhabi incentives were largely absent from a wider landscape that lacked the resorts 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.

Today, a report from Alpen Capital suggests that international association meetings in the Middle East have more than tripled over the past 10 years. Supporting this statement, the last Amadeus report shows the GCC MICE industry is seeing continuous growth and that the Middle East is set to expand even further while attracting high-profile global events and state-of-the-art infrastructural investments. MICE visitors to Dubai currently equate to 0.9 million, this is estimated to double to between 1.7 and 1.9 million by 2020. Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority suggested that the MICE sector is currently generating $1.4 billion per annum for Abu Dhabi and is expected to reach $2.4 billion by 2020. 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.

As an event ibtm arabia has contributed and will continue to contribute to the growth of the Gulf region’s MICE industry by connecting the international meetings industry with the Middle East and generating business within the region’s economy. ibtm arabia was the first such event to help establish and build the industry in the Gulf region. Our 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.

The Middle East has developed a reputation in the MICE industry and is nearing the top of the list of destinations that international meetings planners consider for events. Dubai jumped 19 places in ICCA’s rankings 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.
TTG: Looking towards the future, what changes will be applied to the MICE industry?

The industry in the region is no different to elsewhere in the world now that it has such a sophisticated infrastructure. Technology is a driver, social media plays a huge part, incentives are back on the agenda following the slump after the crash of 2008 and the world is looking for value for money.  The industry is certainly poised for vigorous growth. Managing director of MICE Knowledge, Dr. Rob Davidson, presented his ibtm world Trends Report at ibtm world at the end of last year and reported that despite the widespread uncertainty in the economic market environment the general situation is one of overall global growth in the volume of meetings and events reflecting – in the corporate market – increasing levels of business confidence, particularly in some of the key sectors including pharmaceuticals, and information/communications technology.  He also noted that the Middle East is focusing more on meetings and events as potential sources of revenue and employment. For example, the opening in 2016 of the new Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre is positioning the Sultanate of Oman as a serious contender to host international and regional congresses and exhibitions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has developed Centres of Excellence in a number of cities, focusing on specific economic activities.  Equally, Bahrain and the UAE are also focusing on its infrastructure to support the anticipated MICE growth.

The importance of the MICE industry as a whole creates important business opportunities and provides immense benefits to an economy generating on average a higher spending level, reducing seasonality (meetings take place at any time of the year) and contributes to the spread of knowledge.