As we look forward to IBTM Arabia, held in the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi this month (25th – 27th March), here’s a roundup of the latest activities and developments from seven of the leading destinations and most promising hotspots of tomorrow from the MENA region and beyond.
In the UAE, Dubai is continuing to benefit from its long-established brand in the business events world and now is home to over 96,000 bedrooms across 501 hotels, as well as over 7million sq ft of convention space. And as the entire Middle East region continues to gain prominence as a MICE destination, Abu Dhabi especially is experiencing rapid growth with increasing global reach and recognition. Tourism is at the heart of the UAE’s national economic development strategy. The Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi has announced its goal to attract three million business visitors by 2021.
Along with huge investments in MICE infrastructure, this is being achieved by easing regulations; such as making its visa-process easier and focusing on success factors for business events that the country offers, such as year-round sunshine. There’s already strong evidence that the strategy is working. In April 2018, the MENA Hotel Benchmark Survey Report revealed that Abu Dhabi attained the highest hotel occupancy figures of any Gulf Cooperation Council city, with an impressive rate of 87.9% — climbing 4.7% year-over-year. Experts believe this success for Abu Dhabi is set to continue.
Following on the success of the UAE, and with a need to end its member states’ reliance on hydrocarbons for economic growth, the entire GCC is poised to develop as a global MICE hub. Along with huge investments in infrastructure, relaxing regulations, and creating tourism resort areas that will be governed by laws “on par with international standards”, such as Saudi’s Red Sea Resort, the brand strategy is to present the region as the future of MICE. Huge success is forecast. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the GCC will attract 195 million visitors per year by 2030 – this is above the global average for any region. Social media, digitisation, personalisation, augmented reality and virtual reality are all playing a role in placing the GCC at the cutting edge of technology – home to the next gen of events. Currently the region is preparing to host the Dubai World Expo 2020.
With its long history as a favourite holiday destination, Cyprus has much to offer MICE organisers. The island is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa and boasts immense natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and first-class facilities offering advanced technology, supported by warm hospitality, good infrastructure and personalised services. The country’s convention bureau is now promoting Cyprus as a world-class conference and events location. It’s sunny coastal capital city, Nicosia, boasts a host of business-friendly hotels and resorts. The recently refurbished Filoxenia Conference Centre can seat up to 850 people in its largest room and offers ample amenities for large conferences and conventions. Additionally, the Cyprus State Fairs Authority, also in Nicosia, offers 30,000m2 of indoor space and 100,000m2 of exhibition ground. Besides exhibitions this multi-use complex can host conferences, product launches and meetings. It is fully equipped with the latest audio-visual technology, meeting rooms and break-out rooms.
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, has climbed the ICCA rankings – reaching number 8 in the world based on number of meetings held in 2017 – as the Prague Convention Bureau pursues a strategy of teamwork and partnership amongst conference facilities, hotels, event service providers and other interested parties. The city hosts around a third of all conferences held in the Czech Republic and is enjoying vigorous investment in new congress and convention facilities; growing its portfolio of dedicated MICE venues. Set to open in summer 2019, the new ‘O2 universum’ is the perfect example. The congress and cultural centre will be directly linked to the O2 Arena, with its 15,000 capacity for corporate events, adding 50,000sqm spread across four floors.
Up and coming Georgia has ambitions to become the meeting hub of the Caucasus region. And with a visa-free regime with 98 countries, Georgia is well-equipped to realise its grand goal. Located at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, Georgia has integrated aspects of several cultures, while retaining its own cultural identity. Historically a popular destination for Russians and Ukrainians, the secrets of this beautiful and intriguing country have now been revealed to the world and the number of visitors has grown steadily. According to the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), in 2018 Georgia set a new record, hosting over eight million international travellers, and in all of 2017, international tourism revenue reached $2.7billion, an increase of $594 million on the previous year.
It’s an exciting time to be in Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire, as the country has recently begun promoting itself as a business travel destination and is rapidly developing on the MICE scene. A report by the World Travel and Tourism Council reveals that tourism accounted for 4.2% of the country’s total GDP in 2017 and is expected to rise by 6.2% each year to 2028. With an extensive network of well-equipped hotels, offering spacious business centres, and purpose-built meeting and convention infrastructure, the country’s ascent as a business events destination should be no surprise. Indeed, in the past decade, Azerbaijanian cities, including its capital Baku, have hosted dozens of major international forums for government and businesses – International Business Forum on Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development in the Black Sea region and the international Baku E-Trade Forum to name but two – and numerous foreign companies and banks operate there. Azerbaijan has caught the tourism bug and realised the potential in its amazing natural attractions and favourable weather. Tourism has already become one of the leading and most dynamic sectors of the country’s economy, so you can expect to hear much more from Azerbaijan in the months ahead.
Rwanda is hard at work positioning itself as a MICE destination of choice. The national government has taken the decision to prioritise MICE as a key driver of economic growth, investing in business events infrastructure, such as the Kigali Convention Centre, hotels and the national airline. It is also attracting private sector support. The strategy is showing every sign of success, according to the Rwanda Development Board Annual Report, MICE revenues are expected to have increased to $74million in 2018 (from $42million in the previous year). An estimated 169 international meetings took place in 2017, and in 2018 the African Agriculture Revolution Summit (AGRIVIVE), the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Good Governance Meeting, Transform Africa Summit and Africa Investment summit were all held there. In 2019 the Africa CEO Forum – the largest international gathering of decision-makers and financiers from the African private sector – will take place at the Kigali Convention Centre.
By Danielle Curtis