Dubai emerges as global events hub in drive to hit 2020 goals

Tamara Walid
Tamara Walid

Dubai, which has long cemented its position as the Middle East’s business and trade hub, has also successfully become one of the world’s top cities for events, from conferences and trade shows to music, sports and art-related events

Last month, The International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA), at the 60th Annual IFEA Convention and Expo in Tucson, Arizona, recognised Dubai as the 2015 World Festival and Event City. Now, as the emirate seeks to meet its 2020 tourism goals, its calendar is set to expand with new homegrown as well as international events.

The Dubai World Cup, Art Dubai, Dubai Design Week, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Dubai International Film Festival are examples of homegrown events that continue to attract thousands of international visitors. Under the government’s Tourism Vision for 2020, Dubai aims to attract 20 million visitors per year by 2020, doubling the number received in 2012. Its end goal is to position Dubai as the No. 1 choice for the international leisure and business traveller.

Sally Edwards, Director of Dubai Calendar for the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), and her team are working towards contributing to these numbers by identifying potential gaps in the market and creating local events to fill them.

“Dubai has got a solid base for events. One of the things we can give credit to Dubai for is they’ve gone out and created specific events for Dubai… They’ve created really strong anchors,” says Edwards.

Sensation
One of the world’s leading dance events, Sensation returned to Dubai this year with international DJs and impressive light installations

“When you look at both business and leisure events, they are extremely important and certainly, as part of the Tourism 2020 strategy, events are one of the key pillars we are focusing on to get to the visitor numbers of 20 million and also tripling the value of the visitor economy.”

Dubai Calendar makes sure there’s something on every weekend so tourists or business travellers always have options when visiting the emirate, explains Edwards. Leisure events contribute to “improving the business experience when people come to Dubai” for exhibitions or trade shows, she adds.

Edwards looks at gaps in the market based on time and genre, assessing whether there is a mixture of arts, sports, music, and cultural events throughout the year. Then there are events targeted at specific geographic markets.

In recent years, Dubai Tourism has developed a roaster of homegrown events dedicated to showcasing local talent and the emirate’s cultural diversity – the city is home to more than 200 nationalities – and marrying that with international names. One such example is last month’s inaugural Dubai Comedy Festival, which attracted budding and established local and regional comedians, as well as global performers such as Dave Chappelle and Trevor Noah.

“We are very keen to see Dubai become the comedic hub for the region and then have a role on the world stage as far as comedy is concerned as well,” says Edwards.

One of the things we can give credit to Dubai for is they’ve gone out and created specific events for Dubai… They’ve created really strong anchors

Sally Edwards, Director of Dubai Calendar for the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM)

Other events coming to the market and garnering increasing interest include those in the extreme sport genre and video gaming. Dubai’s gaming exhibition and summit attracted global and regional players.

Classical and world music concerts are also becoming more popular, with opera singers, ballet dancers, and popular international bands performing more frequently in the emirate.

“We are seeing some bigger concerts coming in,” says Edwards. “With the opening next year of Dubai Opera, we’ll have a world class venue to hold events like that. It is certainly growing and developing.”

“Classical music is one side but then you have art and design and the development of that whole theme. I think that is one of the important things about events developing within a city. It needs to be organic growth and have support from the local community, but as that grows we can come in as a tourism body to support that and elevate it where we can.”

Dubai Calendar is working on new events for next year, with new annual festivals planned for Dubai in key genres, according to Edwards.

“We are also looking to develop, as venues and the city develops, events around theatre and classical music and the music industry as well, so that Dubai becomes a destination on the touring circuit, as opposed to one-off concerts,” she adds.