Home to some of the world’s most impressive towers and structures, event planners are finding themselves drawn to the Middle Eastern city of Dubai that promises hospitality and service from the heart. By Kristie Thong
Dubai exudes a contrast of old and new, with a rich Arab culture blended with modern stupendous infrastructure sitting within the Arabian desert. Its success in winning the bid to host the 2020 World Expo represents the first time such an event is held in the region, which will be a platform to help pioneer new partnerships for growth and sustainability. The event is expected to attract more than 25 million visitors, with 70 percent of them coming from beyond the United Arab Emirates.
The MICE sector is also thriving in Dubai. Besides the World Expo 2020, the city secured no fewer than 10 international conferences to be hosted over the next three years. This will bring the number of conferences heading to Dubai to 21 with an expected delegate attendance of more than 46,000 by the end of 2016.
Dubai’s presence was felt at this year’s Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo (AIME) in Melbourne. The Government of Dubai’s Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM), together with 27 representatives from local hotels and DMCs, showcased and met with interested event bookers, hoping to attract more MICE groups to the destination.
Steen Jakobsen, director of convention and business tourism from Dubai Convention and Events Bureau, confirmed that MICE is one of the key focus areas “to achieving the Dubai Tourism 2020 vision, with the strategy setting out plans for enhancing Dubai’s status as a global business and knowledge hub”.
Julie King, director of the DTCM Australia and New Zealand Representative Office, said at AIME that Dubai is a dynamic destination where it is easy to conduct business.
Dubai has a current hotel room inventory of 84,000 with plans to strengthen it to between 140,000-160,000 by 2020, while state-of-the-art conference and exhibition facilities, an efficient and fast rail public transport system, and exciting attractions create opportunities for both MICE and leisure visitors alike.
“The emirate is a globally recognised centre of commerce and trade which offers world-class facilities, an impeccable reputation for high quality service, and excellent value for money,” King added.
Ajay Bhojwani, managing director of MCI Middle East LLC, said that Dubai offers a great blend of a destination that offers both attractions of a city as well as a beach destination.
Strategically located between the east and west, passengers from either side of the globe can converge in Dubai easily to meet and conduct business. “Not to forget the great connectivity with Emirates Airlines and many more airlines that connect over 220 destinations directly to Dubai, as well as the local metro and road transportation developed in recent years, makes the city easily accessible internally and from outside the country,” he said. Additionally, the government’s efforts to ease visa regulation and launch multiple entry visas have paid off, effectively opening Dubai to the rest of the world.
Jestine Alfred, destination manager of UAE for Pacific World, said that the unique experiences offered, from adrenalin-pumping desert activities to the relaxing world-class spas, make Dubai an ideal MICE destination.
Agnelo Fernandez, managing director of Dubai-based 1001 Events, added that the city boasts some of the largest shopping malls, including Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, IBN Battuta Mall, and Bur Juman.
Dubai is home to a variety of hotels ranging from mid-scale to luxury five-star hotels, with most offering meeting spaces for MICE groups of various sizes. Alongside prominent properties such as Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and Fairmont The Palm Dubai is an impressive integrated entertainment destination resort. Atlantis Dubai encompasses a 46-hectare site with 17 hectares of water-themed amusement, extensive fresh and salt-water pools and lagoon exhibits, an open-aired marine habitat, luxury boutiques, dining choices, and 5600 sqm of meeting and function space.
Dubai’s convention centre is one of the largest of the region spanning approximately 100,000 sqm, according to Pacific World’s Alfred. Other interesting venues include Armani Pavilion, a function space which offers the backdrop of a dancing fountain as well as the Burj Khalifa (tallest tower in the world), and the popular Events Arena facing Burj al Arab.
Alfred added that Dubai offers a wide range of world-class standard golf clubs with a lot of function spaces.
“Dubai is a world-class destination that today competes with any other international destination, so the expectations are high, especially around customer service and quality standards,” MCI’s Bhojwani said.
On the nuances with working with suppliers and venues in Dubai, he advised event planners to be prepared for last-minute changes and work as “a lot of action in the region only happens last minute”. Communication should be kept simple and straight-forward, and planners should work with a long-term objective and plan as that will help in building great partnerships and relationships.
Conferences will also need to take the weekends into consideration, which fall on Fridays and Saturdays with Fridays being the main day for prayers.
Bhojwani added: “Key events are opened by government dignitaries, so it’s always good to have that planned and have a conference patron – an organisation or individual from a ruling family [in attendance].”
1001 Events’ Fernandez said it is important to note that photos of local women and government buildings have to be taken with caution, while groups should always dress appropriately when in public.
Cultural nuances do not cast a shadow the fact that Dubai is primarily a city focused on hospitality and commitment, stated Fernandez.
“One of the key aspects of destination Dubai as well as its MICE industry is the ‘can-do’ attitude. The segment is always proactive and supportive, and you have a multi-lingual work force with global expertise, which ensures that there is always a solution to your challenges,” Alfred said. m
No trip to Dubai is complete without ticking off this list of attractions and activities, as suggested by local and international DMCs and event companies.
• Visit the man-made Palm Islands, touted the eighth wonder of the world. Comprises the Aquaventure WaterPark and Dolphin Bay.
• Indulge in a meal at Atmosphere restaurant, residing in Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Or visit the observatory deck for magnificent views.
• Enjoy skiing in Mall of the Emirates, a rare and least-expected sight in a desert environment.
• Learn about the Emiratis lifestyle and culture whilst having breakfast or brunch at Sheikh Mohammed Centre.
• Ride a Dhow (traditional boat) down Dubai Creek, or catch Dubai for all its modernity on a luxury yacht at Dubai Marina.
• Watch the dancing water fountains in Downtown Dubai.