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November 11, 2014

Middle East: Event Horizons

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Since Dubai won the bid for World Expo 2020 in November 2013, the Government of Dubai has set the wheels in motion to prepare the emirate for what is set to be the biggest event staged in the destination’s history. 

Earlier this year, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, established a committee to oversee expo preparations, evaluating the suitability and efficiency of the city’s infrastructure, including tourist, medical, transport and business facilities. 

The six-month-long World Expo 2020 will be staged at Dubai Trade Centre, Jebel Ali, occupying a 438-hectare site – one of the largest ever set aside for an expo – and boasting amenities designed to “enhance the UAE’s long-term appeal as a premier destination for high-profile events”, according to Dubai Expo 2020 committee member and UAE Minister of State, Reem Al Hashimy. 

To date, no finer details as to the facilities and attractions that the expo site will offer have been revealed, but Dubai Convention and Exhibition Bureau (DCEB) Director Steen Jakobsen says an in-depth strategy is already in place to begin promoting the city as a hub for events and to leverage opportunities for business events over the next six years. 

“When Dubai was announced as the winning bid for World Expo 2020, it created a lot of awareness of the city as a host for international events,” he says. “The next step is to communicate to meeting and event organisers the facilities that can be offered to them post-expo, because we are now bidding for events past 2020. If the organisers find the facilities suitable, that will generate a lot of interest.” 

Jakobsen says key association clients will be brought to Dubai during the expo to showcase everything the destination has to offer, but given long lead-in times for some rotational events, a familiarisation trip programme has been planned for as early as next year. 

Successful large events are those that effectively showcase their cultural attributes.Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo

“These fam trips will be held around big events taking place in Dubai, such as golf tournaments, tennis, the Dubai World Cup and Dubai Rugby Sevens,” says Jakobsen. “We will use those events to bring in planners in small exclusive groups to show them what we are capable of.” 

Martin Sirk, CEO of International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), suggests that Dubai should start seeking advice and inspiration from the host nations of previous big events including expos, the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, as well as sharing its own experiences and initiatives with international industry peers during the pre-expo phase. 

“One of the messages we are giving out is the power and the importance of networks. The ICCA is built on the foundation of sharing data on events that rotate around the world, which means people are open to sharing their inside stories,” he says. “Through the story of the successful bid for World Expo 2020, Dubai can raise its profile and share its knowledge and, in turn, gather more knowledge back from people doing other innovative things.” 

With Qatar staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup, knowledge-sharing will be key as the entire Gulf region comes under the global spotlight for hosting some of the biggest events in the world. There is a huge opportunity for the region's MICE industry to benefit from the expo. Whether they do so will depend on the lessons they can learn from previous mega-event hosts, and this will decide what legacy World Expo 2020 leaves on the region.  

London’s Summer Olympics 2012

Tracy Halliwell, Director of Business Tourism and Major Events at London & Partners, the promotional organisation for London Tourism, says the city’s meetings and incentives strategy was planned four years ahead of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We planned ahead to ensure we achieved maximum impact from the games for our meetings and incentives business and looked at how we could best showcase London during the Olympics” she says. 

“Our key priorities were about maximising the legacy of increased business opportunities resulting from London 2012 and effectively mobilising the industry to support our business priorities.” 

Halliwell says, in the pre-Olympics phase, London & Partners researched how previous Olympic host cities had generated meetings business as a result of the event. 

“We also focused on educating the London events industry about planning for a possible downturn in business prior to and following an Olympic Games as this is usually the case for host cities. This led to the development of two campaigns – ‘Limited Edition London’ and ‘London Now See It For Yourself’ to overcome this potential loss of business,” she explains. 

“We also educated the meetings, incentives and exhibitions community about pricing practices during the games. We saw that previous host cities had witnessed huge price surges, so we sought to counter this by introducing the Events Industry Fair Pricing and Practices Charter.” 

Other initiatives, Halliwell adds, included establishing relationships with sponsors and international sporting committees to help meet their business and hospitality requirements and partnering with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to establish itself as the “link” to the events industry. 

“Pre- and post-event, the global coverage delivered by the games attracted new business leads and secured new events for London,” Halliwell notes. “The spotlight was on London and this meant people wanted to see the city for themselves.” 
During the games, London & Partners hosted an exclusive stakeholder hospitality programme for current and potential MICE clients, showing off London as “a city that could deliver events brilliantly”. 

The event also generated a “wide range of potential contracts and business opportunities for London’s events industry, from hospitality programmes to event logistics, catering, signage, staffing and training contracts”, she adds. 

Since the Olympics, GBP300 million (US$515 million) has been spent on transforming Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park into a space for the public, featuring parklands, waterways and world-class sporting and event venues, including The Lea Valley VeloPark, London Aquatics Centre, Copper Box Arena and the 114.5-metre tall ArcelorMittal Orbit, offering breathtaking views. 

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a stunning new events destination for London,” says Halliwell. “The venues within the park are truly iconic and provide an inspirational backdrop for both business events and incentive travel. Since the park opened, we have delivered an ongoing programme of client visits and events to showcase new spaces now available.” 

She says the 2012 London Olympics have definitely “changed perceptions of London as an events destination”. 
“Staging an event such as the Olympics so flawlessly is a great demonstration of the city’s ability to put on big events and the lasting legacy is that this is now widely recognised across the meetings industry,” Halliwell concludes. 

Shanghai’s World Expo 2012

Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA which staged its 2013 congress in Shanghai a year after the city hosted the World Expo, says it is “very conscious of the potential for both corporate and association meetings to take place around any expo development”. 

“Shanghai did a very smart job in terms of how it leveraged the expo to create all kinds of business opportunities,” he notes. 

“Each of the pavilions was a showcase for that country and that country’s companies. We know from speaking to people who ran the Germany stand in Shanghai that the event saw a constant stream of top German companies conducting corporate meetings with their Chinese suppliers, potential clients, stakeholders and R&D experts. 

“They ran incentive trips for the top sales agents to attend these meetings. All this business was happening away from the stand and away from the public face of Shanghai's expo. 

“It’s a similar situation at major sporting events. While the competition takes place on the pitch or the track, behind the scenes there is serious conference and meeting activity going on and venues around the stadia are full around the time of the event.” 

James Zheng, Deputy Director at Shanghai International Conference Management Organisation (SICMO), says its expo-driven meetings industry strategy was put into action in 2007, five years after the bid was won in December 2002. 

“This strategy involved attending major trade shows in the run-up to the event, keeping them informed of expo site progress, hosting media and industry familiarisation tours during the expo and then communicating how the expo site would be redeveloped post-event,” he says, adding that the website www.meet-in-shanghai.net featured a dedicated section providing these updates. 

SICMO executed its strategy in tandem with the government and key industry stakeholders, including tourism administrations in Shanghai, its neighbouring cities Jiangsu and Zhejiang, as well as provinces including Hangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi and Ningbo. “We also worked with public and private travel enterprises, convention centres, unique venues and hotels with meeting facilities, PCOs, DMCs and meetings support suppliers; provided training for industry people to raise their professional levels; and engaged them in the design of the World Expo travel, incentive and event products,” says Zheng. 

The expo’s lasting legacy, he continues, is the boost to infrastructure, which has attracted more business events to Shanghai since the 2012 event. The new facilities are wide-ranging and include convention and exhibition centres, as well as hotels catering to all budgets. 

Building conversions have been plentiful with the Press Centre transformed into a convention centre; the China Pavilion converted to the China Art Museum featuring many unique venues; the Cultural Arena now the Mercedes-Benz Arena for cultural, sports and meeting and incentive events; and the Expo Axis now River Mall, offering quirky venue spaces. 

“More corporates, incentive houses and associations have chosen Shanghai for their events and meetings since the expo in 2012,” says Zheng. 
“We now have two airports with five runways, handling more capacity, a well-developed metro linking the two airports and many conference venues, plus more hotels offering room rates lower than those in some metropolitan cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong,” he says. “Relatively speaking, the business cost is not as expensive in the city as meetings industry people anticipated.” 

Zheng’s advice to Dubai in the 2020 run-up is to build hotels across all category ratings, initiate favourable visa policies during the event and publicise them, create an expo website dedicated to the meetings industry and create a database of the volunteers who once worked in the megaevent for future reference. 

“Don’t forget to engage industry partners in your marketing strategy. Create a win-for-all plan so these partners become involved in initiatives and incentives.” 

Sirk says Shanghai taught Dubai to “plan all of the build-up”, marketing opportunities and the infrastructure enhancements. “A good parallel would be how Sydney, in the run-up to the Olympics in 2000, put in a four-year plan for boosting convention business on the back of it,” he says. 
“They knew they'd have this new infrastructure and, during the construction phase, flew in waves of key buyers for event after event. "They used the Olympics to put themselves at the front of the queue for several bids so when the games had finished, there was a massive stream of international business. 

“Decisions are made for those events two or three years before the Olympics, so unless planning is in place three or four years in advance, it’s a wasted opportunity – you will have an empty space the minute the event is over that could be the platform for other activities. 

South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup

This 'ability to host' factor, combined with a strong destination marketing strategy, is the real make-or-break legacy for the meetings industry, regardless of the type of event staged, says South Africa’s Chief Convention Bureau Officer, Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo. She refers to how the 2010 FIFA World Cup transformed global perceptions of what South Africa could offer. 

“With the new post-apartheid democracy, we had an opportunity to present ourselves as a new South Africa,” she says. “Bidding for big events was a bold step for a young destination, but we needed to take the opportunity to put ourselves centre stage and counter negative perceptions - such as we can’t deliver, are not safe and not clean.” 

She says it was “really easy to win business” in the run-up to the World Cup, because South Africa was “flavour of the month”, plus investment in supporting infrastructure was paying dividends. “Leading up to the tournament, we showcased our ability, also hosting World Cup rugby and cricket, which helped us say ‘we can do major events’. Proving our ability was our major sales and marketing tool.” 

During the FIFA World Cup, the incentive and corporate market took precedence, with the tourism authorities pitching the World Cup as a “euphoric experience”. 

“We also hosted key association members at dinners and events that showcased the destination to them,” says Kotze-Nhlapo. “We focused on local, national and regional associations because sometimes it is difficult to convince them to bid.” 

South Africa also ensured the media was well looked after, providing world-class facilities for visiting journalists and arranging “amazing pre-event itineraries”. The result was overwhelmingly positive World Cup and destination coverage that Kotze- Nhlapo says gave South Africa the confidence to “go out and compete with the world for meetings and events business”. 

The World Cup also alerted the government to the economic benefits the meetings and events industry could generate. This led to the formation of the South Africa National Convention Bureau two years after the event. “The biggest legacy of the World Cup, therefore, is that we now have a mature meetings industry with a co-ordinated strategy,” says Kotze- Nhlapo. “Now the world knows we are a real competition in the meetings marketplace.” The cornerstone of that strategy, she adds, is the “creation of a knowledge economy”, identifying the meetings, events and congresses that are aligned to South Africa’s social and economic goals. 

“We are looking at who we bring to South Africa, aligning meetings to government objectives and attracting thought leaders to help with our policies and new ways of thinking,” explains Kotze-Nhlapo. “Since the World Cup, it has been much easier to bid for events. We have the best infrastructure in the world and we no longer see questions about security issues. If we do, the answer is always that we held a seamless World Cup with no incidents, attracting 300,000 people, with 70,000 spectators in a stadium in Soweto. 

“However, the factor we will never be able to measure is the enormous goodwill that came out of the World Cup. Yes, we are a Rainbow Nation, but we are one and we are friendly.”

In this respect, successful large events are those that effectively showcase their cultural attributes, suggests Kotze-Nhlapo. 

“I would say to Dubai [when planning the World Expo], display your traditions and your culture and allow visitors to meet the real people. Authenticity will put you on the map,” she advises. 

“Meeting planners not only seek destinations with proven capabilities and expertise, but those that offer unique experiences. Offer diversity, choice and authenticity and it will bring delegates back."

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