The main event

Dubai is now one of the world’s favourite destinations for international conferences and exhibitions and has recently won global bids for eight prestigious events. Dubai World Trade Centre CEO Helal Saeed Almarri tells Vision why Dubai is so attractive to the planet’s most influential business leaders

Where can you find the region’s most talented dentists, the world’s most influential lawyers, and the planet’s most ground-breaking, life-saving cardiologists gathering in one place? The answer is at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), which is now a favourite meeting place for global business leaders and professionals, and playing a pivotal role in the emirate’s drive for recognition as a truly global city.

‘Flexibility is key, and Dubai can offer that. The way the emirate reacts and works is very fast’

In October, the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Annual Conference comes to the emirate for the first time; the largest international gathering of lawyers and bar associations in the world, and a meeting place for more than 4,500 of the globe’s wealthiest and most influential lawyers and legal professionals. This is just a snapshot of a packed calendar of congresses, events and major exhibitions for 2011 that include the World Hospital Congress this November, the 21st World Diabetes Congress in December, and the amazing ‘Gulfood’ show, probably the largest annual food event in the world, sprawling over 100,000 sq m of exhibition space, and attracting exhibitors from 150 countries.

Next year, the venue, and city of Dubai, will also play host to the 2012 World Congress of Cardiology. It’s the first time in the World Health Foundation’s history that this particular major global congress will be held in the region.

The bid process, for this and other similar conferences, is generally conducted ‘as a city-bid’. In the case of this particular event, Dubai pitched against Singapore, Kyoto and Cape Town in the final round. The fact that the emirate is winning bids against this calibre of impressive international competition is evidence of the city’s reputation as an influential player in the burgeoning global events industry, and as a meeting place for the world’s business leaders.

Today, the DWTC is already the region’s leading destination for exhibitions, conferences, and events – including concerts and theatre. Helal Saeed Almarri, CEO, says the emirate’s success in attracting major international congresses and events is testament to Dubai’s position as a leading regional business hub. “At DWTC, we have invested in state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class services, and we are committed to providing the ideal global networking platform to host prestigious international events.”

Almarri argues that Dubai is considered attractive because it is in an important growth region, and because it’s a city where congress and exhibition delegates can come and conduct their business cost-effectively with great infrastructure and facilities in support.

Increasingly, he says, Dubai is also a regional headquarters, and therefore a natural meeting place. “During the global downturn, a lot of multinationals have consolidated their offices here to Dubai. It’s a place where they, and their people, want to be based, and so the Dubai office now frequently covers the wider Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region, Africa, Pakistan and India.

“That means big decision-makers are often here already. As a result, and quite naturally, they want to stay here and have their conference, event or exhibition on home territory.”

But Almarri is also quick to highlight a number of other ‘local factors’ that have helped catapult Dubai to the top as a destination for global gatherings. ‘Connectivity with Dubai’ is at the top of the list, thanks to Emirates Airline, and other regional airlines, which continue to shrink the world.

When it comes to hosting, Almarri believes that Dubai has an almost unique ability to go one step further for the client and “pull out all of the stops”.

“The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is a good example,” says Almarri. “We are still at the maximum capacity on our roads when a big show is in the city. But the RTA is happy to put on extra buses when this happens, and we are also now seeing 10,000–15,000 visitors travelling on the new Metro for our major events.

“Flexibility is key, and Dubai can offer that. The way the emirate reacts and works is very fast. It’s not just about us at the DWTC being able to react. It’s Emirates Airline, the RTA, Dubai Municipality, the police, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and so many private local companies, like our hotel partners, as well. It’s a ‘can-do’ society. Dubai makes it happen.”

A classic example, he says, was the DWTC’s ability to stage a David Guetta concert – and welcome an audience of 12,000 – the night before the opening of the most eagerly-awaited show of the year, GITEX, the acclaimed technology event – with which the growth of DWTC has become synonymous. “It’s all about the flexibility of the team, the venue, and the city. The attitude all round is phenomenal. Between us we can make it work!”

Explaining the continued growth of the conferencing and exhibition market in general, Almarri highlights the fact that business still needs to be conducted face-to-face, especially in emerging markets. It’s true. While dramatically improved technology and the internet have sped the dissemination of knowledge, and email allows a level of personal contact, face-to-face meetings remain critical in business, and networking, discussion, and the testing of ideas among colleagues are more important than ever.

As a consequence, Almarri believes that there will be a lot more regional conferences coming to Dubai, although he is also hoping to attract, and is expecting, more signature global events.

“I think we’re looking at a lot more conferences, especially from the region,” he says. “We’ll bring a limited number of new exhibitions, but the ones we have already will certainly increase in size. I also expect to see more annual corporate events, and some ‘mega’ consumer exhibitions.”

The DWTC is already making a very positive impact on Dubai’s economy, contributing to the emirate's GDP and potentially creating new businesses, or resulting in new companies moving to Dubai as a result of experiencing the location.

“In terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the impact even now would be tremendous,” says Almarri. “There’s no doubt we are playing an important role in driving economic growth.”