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June 6, 2014

Middle East in demand at AIBTM 2014

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Middle Eastern destinations and suppliers will be in strong demand at the Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM) in Orlando, Florida, in June. The three-day show, one of the primary meetings events in the whole of the Americas, is set to confirm the upswing in the region’s meetings business, with 3,000 expected visitors and more than 18,000 prescheduled appointments – a 20 percent increase on last year. 
For the Middle East, the numbers represent the opportunity of securing an increasing share of business from North America. Post-show research in 2013 revealed that Hosted Buyers wanted a greater North African and Middle Eastern exhibitor presence at AIBTM 2014, with Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar and Morocco singled out as destinations of genuine interest. Of the buyers polled, 60 percent said they placed orders in excess of US$600,000 as a direct result of their participation at the 2013 show. 

In advance of AIBTM 2014, meetme spoke with Michael Lyons, Show Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE), to understand how Middle Eastern destinations can best position themselves to capitalise on this interest. 
What can you tell us about the growing popularity of the Middle East as a destination for meetings and incentive travel among US buyers? 
Michael Lyons: At the 2013 show, we welcomed exhibitors from destinations such as Dubai and Jordan and suppliers such as Emirates airline and Abercrombie & Kent, who all had very prominent stands. The Hosted Buyer post-show survey from 2013 showed that not only were 63 percent planning a meeting or event overseas in 2014, but that there was a desire to know more about destinations such as Dubai, Egypt and Jordan. 
From a North American perspective, there is a great deal of interest in international meetings now. American companies are becoming more global. They are opening offices and factories in other parts of the world and with that comes a need to host a meeting in places like Dubai and Qatar. As a result, planners are definitely saying they need to learn more about the places where they might be having meetings. They’re not holding them all in the Caribbean or Mexico anymore. 
Is there a certain type of business that buyers from North America are likely to place in the Middle East? Is it corporate meetings, associations or incentive? 
ML: Well, we do know statistically that for US-based buyers, conferences and meetingsare still number one, followed by incentive travel and then followed by congresses. In the case of Dubai as a destination, though, it will certainly be a combination of all three. As companies expand overseas, board meetings will now take place there, but it is also one of the major incentive destinations. American companies are looking for something new and places such as Dubai can provide an experience they’ve never had before. 
What should a destination’s approach be to an American buyer that perhaps might be a bit different to a buyer from Europe or Asia? Are there different considerations or emphases that need to be accounted for? 
ML: I think that’s twofold. The first and most important is education. Planners come to AIBTM to learn about overseas destinations and the Middle East is somewhere they don’t know about in detail, particularly in differences between, say, the UAE versus Oman versus Jordan. Exhibitors shouldn’t make the assumption that the buyer or planner will know their destination, so it’s key that a country’s history and culture is explained in a context that an American planner can understand. 
Secondly, a destination will need to be able to clearly state how they can help host an event – whether it’s a board meeting, an incentive programme, an association meeting or a convention. Ascertain early what kind of event they want information on and then be prepared to talk in specifics about the packages and services that are available to meet those needs. 
That’s why trade shows can help buyers learn about the opportunities for doing business in that part of the world in a face-to-face setting. 
If interest in the Middle East is growing from North American planners and buyers, what are the barriers to more business being placed in 2014 and beyond? 
ML: The big thing that Americans have on their mind is always going to be safety; there is constant concern about political upheaval and security. That again is part of the all-important education process. It is important to say that it’s safe, that there are no issues, that there won’t be any problems if you bring people over. Those in the sector might know that, but many people won’t. 
Would you say that destinations such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have established brands that are, in the minds of Americans, almost independent of geography? They are modern, dynamic cities that aren’t bound up in the more negative perceptions of the Middle East? 
ML: I’d say so, yes. They have done a very good job of marketing themselves to North American audiences through things such as golf tournaments in which Tiger Woods plays, plus horse races or other sporting events that generate global coverage. So they are reaching a new audience this way. Even in the news, the UAE is a country that is talked about for rapid growth, economic opportunity, skyscrapers and malls and the like. Actually, I can’t wait until I visit Dubai to see what it’s all about because I’ve heard so much about it. 
As the US economy starts to improve, are you seeing budgets for events increasing for US event planners? 
ML: There are a few key trends over here for sure. One of them is the recovery of the whole corporate meetings sector, which was badly hampered for four or five years by the recession. We’re out of that now. All the surveys we have conducted show that planners expect to be holding more meetings in 2014 than 2013 and are loosening their purse strings a little. There is also a significant increase in international association meetings, particularly in Europe and in our own domestic associations here in the US. So this is a good sign of the improving economy. 
Importantly, incentive travel is making a comeback. SITE is also predicting an increase in business. Of course, everything is tied into world events, but barring any major incidents, I think we’re definitely seeing a clear upward trend for the industry. 

‘Strategic Meetings Management – Beyond the Basics’ 
Identifying specific actions that can determine current meeting volume, such as who is planning meetings, tips for programme adoption and ideas for controlling meeting and event spend. 
‘What Your Event Planner CV Needs in 2014’ 
eTouches’ Steve MacKenzie provides a checklist of the up-to-the-minute digital trends that every event planner needs in order to market efficiently. 
‘Future of Meetings: Talking ‘Bout Our Generations’ 
An interactive session that will give participants feedback about developing meetings with crossgenerational appeal. 
‘Innovation: Stop Talking About It and Start Doing It’ 
Consultants Carmen Effron and Andrea Simon walk participants through the Innovation Games exercise to transform ideas into innovation. 

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