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March 18, 2015
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Middle East: Association kudos for Dubai


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Dubai took a major step forward in 2013 on the route to establishing itself as a global association hub. It introduced a licensing system to help regional and international professional associations, trade bodies and international non-profit organisations set up branch offices and chapters in the emirate. This led to the creation of Dubai Association Centre (DAC) a joint initiative between Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) where it is based, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM), Dubai Convention & Events Bureau (DCEB) and event management company MCI

Business owners , companies, establishments and professionals within a common industry who are registered in the state, may now form an association, while individuals or companies outside of the state are also allowed to apply for membership. In addition, international associations can open a regional representative office in Dubai in order to conduct business in the UAE, facilitated by MCI, which provides a number of support services. 

Dubai Business Events Director Steen Jakobsen provided an exclusive update on DAC’s progress. 

How has the association industry responded to DAC? 
Steen Jakobsen: DAC has received an overwhelmingly positive response since it was established. We are in conversation with more than 60 regional and international associations interested in setting up an office or chapter in Dubai.

Thirteen associations have submitted applications for the approval stage and the first association, the Arab Association for Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, received its licence in November. We also have applications from GSMA, an association for mobile technology; UITP, the international organisation for public transport authorities and operators; International Association of Drilling Contractors; Institution of Fire Engineers; plus some medical applications, including Gulf Heart Association. They all represent a very broad variety of professional and scientific associations, with quite a few from healthcare, engineering and technology. 

Why are these associations keen to establish a presence in Dubai? 
SJ: It’s a growth region they want to tap into, providing access to new members, funding sources and partners to collaborate with. Dubai is well located and a good base to cater to the entire region, offering easy access, a vibrant business climate and accessibility to growth markets such as India, Africa and the CIS countries. 

What are the knock-on effects for the industry of new associations establishing themselves there? 
SJ: They want to offer training and education to their members and other relevant audiences and communities, as the very nature of associations is to provide continuous education. As soon as these associations receive their licences, we will see more training sessions, seminars and other types of small specialist programmes, which will eventually develop into large international conferences being hosted in Dubai. 

What steps has Dubai Convention and Events Bureau (DCEB) and its partners taken in order to publicise DAC? 
SJ: We have staged road shows in Europe and North America to promote DAC to associations established elsewhere in the world. We also recently hosted about 15 association executives from ASAE (American Society for Association Executives). This was an educational visit for these associations to meet with local stakeholders and obtain an understanding of Dubai and the region. 

We also used the visit to stage a one-day knowledgesharing event at Dubai Chamber where we invited local and regional associations to learn about DAC and general association issues. We received very good feedback. ASAE executives said they were very impressed with our strategic focus to promote the region as an association hub. They think the initiative is unique and some associations that visited are showing interest in bringing a branch to Dubai. 

What are DAC’s target markets and why?
SJ: We are open to all regional and international professional and scientific associations. We are increasingly focused, however, on attracting more major global associations, particularly relating to sectors where Dubai has a strong competitive position, such as healthcare, transport, logistics, technology, engineering and financial services. 

What will be the long-term impact of DAC on the emirate’s association industry? 
SJ: For the meeting industry, we will see an increased number of meetings, conferences and seminars take place as that’s what drives associations, but the wider effects of a stronger association community will include the enhancement of Dubai as a knowledge society. 

What assistance does DAC and its partners provide for associations looking to establish themselves in the emirate? 
SJ:They get access to market intelligence and knowledge within their specific sector in order to understand its nuances and growth potential. We also connect them to their local counterparts, with the Dubai Chamber providing access to 160,000 members. 

What are the top benefits of associations setting up shop? 
SJ: It’s a region with very strong growth potential and a relatively immature association market – one that is more hungry for knowledge compared to other regions in the world. That’s the space associations want to be in and Dubai is a platform, providing good infrastructure, business climate, a highly skilled workforce and accessibility to growth markets outside the region too. 

Who are Dubai and DAC’s top competitors? 
SJ: There are some cities we are benchmarking ourselves against. In Europe it’s Brussels, in the US it’s Washington DC and Chicago and in Asia it’s Singapore and Hong Kong. We are looking very closely at the services provided to associations by those cities and also trying to understand the strategies they are pursuing.  


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