Interview: HE Mohamed Alabbar

As Chairman of the Dubai Events Council, His Excellency Mohamed Alabbar is in the business of bringing the world to Dubai’s door. He talks to Vision about the emirate’s unique capacity for facilitating cross-cultural exchange

Q: As Chairman of the Dubai Events Council, you are instrumental in bringing individuals together from all over the world to share commercial and cultural experiences. How important is this notion of convening in our increasingly globalised world?
A: Dubai has differentiated itself in the region as a cosmopolitan hub and is today home to over 200 nationalities. In fact, the evolution of Dubai from a trading town to today’s global metropolis has been possible because of the leadership’s focus on welcoming the world with open hands and hearts and providing them with the right opportunities and platforms to prosper. In today’s globalised world, bringing people together and building bridges across differences is extremely important. This spirit of collaboration is underlined in our bid for the World Expo 2020, and reflected in the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. Dubai is a global hub for business and culture; its openness is its biggest strength. We attract the brightest talent and benefit from the experiences of people from around the world. This healthy culture of facilitating intercultural dialogue and harmonious co-existence makes our city a beacon of hope for the 350 million people in the Arab world.

Today, the various activities of the Dubai Events Council are carried out with the active involvement of the public and private sector, benefiting all cross-sections of society

His Excellency Mohamed Alabbar, Chairman of the Dubai Events Council

Q: Looking at things from a more commercial and governmental point of view, what are your thoughts on the power of strategic alliances and public-private partnerships generally and, specifically, in relation to the Dubai Events Council’s activities? 
A: Dubai has always been at the forefront in promoting public-private partnerships. Take the success of the Dubai Events Council’s various initiatives in the past. In 1996, when we launched the Dubai Shopping Festival, the underlying objective of this shopping and entertainment extravaganza was not only to promote our city as a tourism destination and boost our retail sector but also to create a tangible framework of co-operation across all stakeholders of the economy.

In the following years, this strategy has proved extremely successful. Today, the activities of the Dubai Events Council are carried out with the active involvement of the public and private sector, benefiting all cross-sections of society. We continue to drive such partnerships through initiatives such as Dubai Summer Surprises, Eid in Dubai and now the Summer Is Dubai campaign.

Q: Is there a best-practice approach to forging public-private partnerships? 
A: Dubai has already created a successful model in nurturing and sustaining public-private partnerships. This is reflected across all sectors of the economy: trade, tourism, transportation, education, healthcare, hospitality, and media and information technology, among others. Dubai’s approach has been to create a platform for growth that instils trust and investor confidence. The creation of free zones such as Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Academic City and Dubai Healthcare City has provided what private entrepreneurs value most: the ease of setting up and the freedom to do business.

The government’s involvement, however, has not been restricted to being the facilitator: we have been active participants in driving growth through innovative initiatives that add value to the business community. This co-creation model, which is now fast gaining popularity across the world, has long been Dubai’s force for growth.

Q: The Dubai Shopping Festival is one of the Dubai Events Council’s headline events, and one that showcases Dubai’s multi-cultural credentials. What do you feel are the social, cultural and economic benefits of multiculturalism, and in what way is Dubai a model of multiculturalism?
A: Multiculturalism continues to be one of Dubai’s strengths, but we also focus on conserving our Emirati identity and values. The social benefit of living in a cosmopolitan city is the broader perspectives it provides for the city’s people. With exposure to diverse cultures, the people become more receptive, welcoming and respectful of others’ views. This is important not only to promote social cohesion, but also from an economic point of view, as it facilitates stronger business partnerships that go beyond trade ties with just a few traditional markets bound by a common culture.

The city serves as the regional headquarters for Fortune 500 companies because they believe in the level playing field that Dubai offers for growth. They also have access to a pool of talented professionals from different cultures, which is increasingly crucial for businesses to succeed globally. Multiculturalism ensures a free flow of ideas that encourages and inspires the community. Dubai Shopping Festival is just one example of how our city has leveraged its multicultural identity. The success of initiatives like Art Dubai and Dubai International Film Festival are also powerful statements about how we as a city can benefit from our cosmopolitan outlook.

Q: What is the positive economic, cultural and social impact of international events?
A: There are three key aspects to hosting international events. Firstly, it provides the city’s people with hands-on experience of the latest trends in different sectors globally. GITEX [the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition], for example, brings the latest in information technology to our city, while the Dubai Airshow is a spectacular showcase for the global aviation industry. Secondly, the events energise the local economy by driving the growth of our core sectors, including aviation, hospitality, retail and tourism. Several visitors to our city have returned to set up businesses or even make Dubai their first home. Finally, international events provide a glimpse of the diversity of Dubai for a global audience. The perception of Dubai today as a global city has been established by the success of the international events we host.

Q: How would you characterise Dubai’s specific qualities as a global destination for festivals, events, shows and activities? And what are its ambitions in this sphere?
A: The geographic location of Dubai, central to countries in the West and East, is one of our key advantages. We are just four hours’ flying time away for over 2.5 billion people. Second, the city has a superior infrastructure and connectivity that enables the seamless operation of global festivals and activities. Emirates Airline, which started operations in 1985 with two aircraft, today has a fleet of 190, flying to over 120 destinations in 70 countries. The city has over 399 hotels and another 200 hotel apartments providing in all over 80,000 rooms for visitors.

With efficient public transport, including the Dubai Metro, world-class leisure attractions, natural splendour and a cosmopolitan outlook, the city offers visitors an experience of a lifetime. Our ambition, as reflected in the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, is to scale up the infrastructure further in tune with the massive growth of the city as a business and tourism hub.

Q: The UAE is bidding to host the World Expo in Dubai in 2020. Would you agree that Expos are powerful events in terms of bringing individuals together from all corners of the globe to spark innovation and forge partnerships for progress?
A: Expos are compelling platforms for strengthening a global partnership model and promoting innovation. What Expos do is break the silos in which countries and individuals operate. They promote a spirit of global citizenship, providing a credible platform for the give and take of information. Our experience in hosting global events has highlighted how individuals from around the world can work together for the collective progress of mankind.

Q: In what ways do you consider Dubai to be the ideal venue for staging the World Expo in terms of its traditional convening power?
A: With some 70 per cent of international visitors expected to attend the World Expo 2020, Dubai’s central location, superior infrastructure and strong connectivity make us the strongest contender for the bid to host it. We have already committed more than Dh31bn (US$8.4bn) to create a robust infrastructure for the Expo, and over the past months we have found support for our bid from global leaders. Our passion to do things not just better, but in the best possible way, and the spirit of optimism and positive energy that Dubai shares with the world is our biggest asset. Visitors from all over the world feel at home here, and are not constrained by linguistic, cultural or social barriers. Any visitor to Dubai immediately becomes part of our community, and the sense of belonging Dubai provides makes us the ideal venue for hosting an event of such magnitude.