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June 4, 2008

Middle East embraces the meetings culture

Over the past two years, a growing number of international events and live communications agencies have taken the plunge into Gulf waters, having seen the opportunity to serve their clients locally, rather than exporting services on an event-by-event or campaign at a time basis.

However, it is not all plain sailing for these agencies – despite their European credentials – as beyond the budget, many clients in the Gulf are still in the early stages of realising the importance of effective events and the benefits they bring to the marketing and communications mix.

The attraction of the Middle East is clear to see. Launch parties for major real estate projects, openings of new developments, product launches, public entertainment events, festivals and corporate events are the staple diets of destinations across the Gulf, and agencies that were once brought in from more established destinations for their expertise are now seeking a slice of the action on the ground.


ADNEC: Just one of many things drawing the meetings
and events industry into the Middle East


Natalie Krushner, global events director, KHP Consulting, which has offices in London, Munich, Paris and Bahrain, says, “It’s an amazing time to be involved in the events industry here because of the general scope of events and activities that are required. All of the developments underway across the region are coming online day after day and operating in very competitive marketplaces – be that in finance, entertainment, tourism and industry. First impressions are everything, which means that it’s imperative to have the right vision and the right impact to make people receptive in the long-term.”

Industry overview
As in so many business and industry areas, Dubai is blazing a trail in the events market. David Hackett, Chairman of The MINT Organisation, says, “We are in a marketplace where incoming business has established Dubai as a very high profile, very credible events destination. What is changing now is that Dubai is moving to be a destination that is actually generating its own outgoing business as well. This can be seen throughout the region, but more than ever in Dubai because of its role as hub for headquarter operations.”

Going against the norm has proved beneficial for event management company, Revelation from the UK. Quick to identify an opportunity, Matt Sims, managing director of Revelation Middle East, which has set up in Abu Dhabi, says, “One segment that has grown considerably for us is traditional exports where a company puts up an event overseas. More and more of our clients are coming to the Gulf region and so we decided to come here as well. We sighted the opportunity in Abu Dhabi with ADNEC and we jumped on it.

“What we have done is react to an opportunity with a number of organisers based at ADNEC, most of whom we had worked with in the UK and who were looking for support, because there is even less talent available locally in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai.

“ADNEC is our sponsor and we are their sole event production partner based at the venue. Our key clients are the organisers based at ADNEC as well as those using the venue to organise shows.

“Within the events industry all stake holders in the UK are very acutely aware of Abu Dhabi and have been to ADNEC and are very motivated by what is going on there. In terms of the UK events industry, there is a real synergy between it and what is going on in Abu Dhabi and ADNEC,” he clarifies.

Growing pains
In spite of the rapid growth of the events sector, the region still has a long way to go before it attains the maturity of established markets such as Europe and the US. However, far from seeing this as a handicap, those involved see it as a challenge that needs to be creatively overcome.

Hackett says, “This is still an immature market in the sense that a lot of clients don’t yet understand the difference between a locally staged event and an international event. So they are still working with people who specialise in PR to do their event logistics. But this is now changing with the emergence of professionals in each of these individual sectors, as well as quality production companies.

“What we have got to recognise is that Dubai is at the forefront and it is logical that more event companies will come into the marketplace. Our issue is to ensure we gain first-mover advantage and to make sure that we are encouraging clients that there is a difference between the supplier’s relationships that existed in the past to that of a full-service agency. It is exciting to be part of an industry that is changing very rapidly.”

Concurring with this viewpoint is Richard Beggs, managing director, MVM Events, which has offices in London, Sydney and Dubai. “Unfortunately, in Dubai and many parts of the Middle East, there still exists this feeling that ‘an event can be organised by my secretary’,” he says. “As a consequence, things become random, they are impossible to measure and there are no pre-set objectives before the event takes place and therefore it is impossible to know if there has been a return on investment or not.

“There needs to be an element of lessons learnt to appreciate the need for event planners; professional conference organisers delivering complex events that are actually an extension of the business tools of the company.

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