The overall outlook for the Middle East Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry is upbeat, despite recent regional political upheaval. This is according to delegates polled at the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM) which is being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre this week.
At a panel discussion entitled ‘What is happening in the World of Meetings?’ hosted by Sally Greenhill, from The Right Solution, delegates were asked how the current political unrest had affected their business.
41% said there had been some cancellations and fewer enquiries, 19% of those present said they had seen no effects and that they still had an optimistic outlook for 2011. 53% were also forecasting an increase in their meetings and events business for 2011. There was also general consensus that the global economic situation has recovered slowly leading to increased competitiveness in the field.
When asked what key issues would help increase meetings and events business in 2011, 41% thought increased awareness was the key factor, as opposed to 38% that said political stability was more important.
Delegates at this session were encouraged to participate in interactive voting, giving their opinions on a number of different questions posed. 61% of those voting were from the Middle East, 22% were from Europe and seven per cent each from Asia and Australia.
“The ability to poll a wide range of industry experts on such a signficant topic is further evidence of how GIBTM has established itself as a perfect platform to network, exchange ideas and share knowledge,” said Lloyd Kenyon, GIBTM’s Exhibition Manager. “The future development of the MICE industry in the region is very important, GIBTM is the pivot to drive and shape the industry’s knowledge.”
Tourism which represents 1.2% of Abu Dhabi’s total GDP and 4.3% of employment in the Emirate serves as an important pillar for Abu Dhabi’s development goals to stand out as a global business tourism destination.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s (ADTA’s) development goals to deliver new and significant MICE business to Abu Dhabi are in line with the Abu Dhabi government’s 2030 economic vision, stated Gillian Taylor, ADTA Business Tourism Manager.
ADTA has a 10-year plan to have Abu Dhabi ranked in the world’s top 50 meetings destinations, increasing its convention potential 10-fold and its MICE and business tourism income five-fold.
In the wake of Egypt’s recent social unrest, Samy Mahmoud from the Egypt Tourism Authority said at a press conference that a number of measures were now being taken to boost tourism to the country. Over 10% of Egypt’s labour force is employed in the tourism industry and about 14 million people visit Egypt annually. Last year tourism brought in approximately $13bn while the country lost over $1bn during the nationwide tumult.
However about five million dollars is now being spent on advertising, incentives are being offered for charter flights from any destination to Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxur, familiarisation trips are being organised for the media and an awareness programme has been laid out for travel trade.
Security was still the biggest concern for visitors, Mahmoud affirmed, and he believed it would take at least 4 months for tourism to recover. Many Egyptian hotels had dropped their rates by more than 50% but he was hopeful that the market would be one of the first to recover. The MICE industry is still very small in Egypt and more training and education is now necessary to boost numbers in this sector.
Bahrain is another destination investing heavily in its meetings, incentive and exhibition sector. The sector contributed $184.6m to the country’s economy last year and is expected to contribute $223.6 by next year, despite the economic disruption caused by the unrest. The country’s MICE segment, whilst a substantial contributor to the local industry, has already made significant contribution the country’s GDP and will be a future driver of economic growth for Bahrain.
The Middle East generally is a healthy, competitive environment according to Jerad Bacher, Director of Dubai Convention Bureau.
“One example is the cruise industry which is doing very well, especially in the UAE. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah are attractive ports of call and cruise lines like MCS Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises sail around the region increasing tourism significantly,” he said.
Another key discussion topic at GIBTM this year has been the effect that Social Media plays in promoting MICE business, increasing awareness, improving and maintaining a high level of customer service, and communicating directly with target audiences. When the participants at the seminar What is happening in the World of Meetings? were asked which their favourite social media platform was, 41% of them voted for Linked In, while 30% chose Facebook and 11% each mentioning Twitter and YouTube.
“A huge impact on the meetings industry is technological advances. It is important to have a phone application for your business – it may not be appropriate depending on the company, but if it is, you need to join the game. Research shows that there are approximately 400,000 apps out there marketing people’s businesses,” stated Sally Greenhill.