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March 29, 2009

MPI GMEC:Can the Gulf realise the stream?

Reporting directly from the MPI Gulf Meetings and Events Conference, James Latham sums up feeling on the ground and addresses the key issues on the debating table that are crucial to the future development of the events industry in the Gulf.
The second MPI Gulf Meeting and Events Conference (GMEC), currently in session at Abu Dhabi`s Intercontinental Hotel, is set in a juxtaposed global economic climate to that of its inaugural predecessor.

Less than 12 months ago, MEETINGS:review reported on the region’s expansionist meetings infrastructure plans from the Intercontinental’s sister hotel overlooking Dubai’s crude statement that is the Burj Tower. Today, many of the region’s meetings and support industry projects, which were to be financed by banks and institutional investors that have long since secured their position in financial history, lie idle in the sand. 
The cash-rich energy states, however, are seizing their moment of opportunity.
Window of opportunity remains open
Despite a near collapse in the price of hydrocarbons, Abu Dhabi is more than adequately capitalised to pursue its determination to reinvest much of its oil and gas dividend into a high-end luxury and business tourism offer. Furthermore, it remains just as determined and aggressive as ever to realise its conveniently timed potential.

The emirate knows that, as markets gravitate to security of supply, so it can capitalise on the short-term window of opportunity that presents itself in the region, because of the delay in development, and the subsequent shortfall therefore, of competition for venue and accommodation for business events in premium business sectors.
But two things stand in Abu Dhabi’s way of realising its own meetings gulf stream, and the combination of Didier Scaillet, director of development at MPI, and Paul Kennedy, group director at MPI’s Gulf Meetings Week’s partner, GIBTM, both used today’s opening educational and general sessions respectively to raise the pivotal issues that stand in its way.
Major skills gap
First, Scaillet raised the heightened specter of the region`s shortfall of adequately trained hospitality, events, and meetings professionals to the tune of more than 300,000 personnel by 2015. Given the necessary timescales to recruit and train such a vast non-indigenous resource (as well as incentivise them to relocate to the Gulf within the aforementioned timeframe), hotels, venues, and service providers face a considerable a challenge. And they will need more than a promise of riches tomorrow to mobilise their dwindling capital today.

The Middle East will also face stiff competition for such human resources from China, India, Singapore, and other emerging or established meeting destinations. For example, some five million fully trained staff will be needed to satisfy the combination of China and India’s ambitions within the sector alone, according to Scaillet.

Price problems
Meanwhile, Kennedy used an opportune last-minute moderator position at the Opening General Session to hint (without directly pointing the finger) that the destination needs to join up its pricing dots to be sure of a sustained market position, rather than merely enjoy a short-term gain before regional competition comes to the table.

Mention of Cairo’s forthcoming Expo City and an invitation to the Abu Dhabi panel on display to recommend an alternative did not go un-noticed, while the Qatari contingent made it clear that they, too, were listening.
The Abu Dhabi authorities will need to impose more stringent pricing controls, particularly upon hotel operators, or the emirate as a whole will likely reap tomorrow what these operators sow today.
Could India and MPI hold the key?
If China needs to invest in human capital, it won’t be so that it can export competition. It can afford some inward investment both politically and economically, and it has wholesale infrastructure of its own on the way that dwarfs current supply in its own region.

A less autocratic India, on the other hand, may yet be the panacea to the Gulf`s meetings industry human resources time bomb. MPI`s Global Training Programme, based on its own industry standards-based nine-point Knowledge Plan, has huge potential for the association and the industry at large.

Provided MPI continues to pursue a strategy of alignment with institutional academia the world over, you can be sure that India will not be slow to recognise the opportunity in responding to demand for a qualified industry standards-based workforce.
Future still bright
Notwithstanding these essential issues, Abu Dhabi could bank the loyalty and admiration of the meeting planning communities seeking a global, and regional, hub in the forthcoming era of a destination serviced by a national airline, Etihad, that boasts its ability to fly non-stop from anywhere in the world.

Completion of its cultural attractions, and consolidation of the emirate`s 2030 Economic Vision centred upon attracting business events around 12 key sectors from Petrochemicals to Biopharmacy, suggests that Abu Dhabi is close to long-term business tourism`s equivalent of nirvana.

With the necessary price regulation and intervention, Abu Dhabi and its near-completed convention facilities at ADNEC, along with the venue`s fast-arriving compliment of support hotels within Capital Centre, are set fair.
Sourcing the human resources to collect on the opportunity will need a broader vision and MPI may yet hold the keys to that particular marketplace.

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