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June 12, 2014

Middle East: Incentive nation

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They came. They saw. The UAE conquered. As the last of 14,500 Chinese visitors, brought to the emirates by Nu Skin, had boarded their flights home on April 16, Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi were able to reflect on 10 days of fevered activity and two years of meticulous planning that enabled them to accommodate and entertain one of the largest incentive groups the nation has ever hosted. 

In recent years, Nu Skin has become celebrated for the trips laid on for its star performers. The American multi-level marketing and direct-selling personal care company uses group incentive tours to motivate and reward those employees who have generated the best returns and, in the last two years, its Chinese division took 6,000 delegates to Phuket in Thailand and 2,000 delegates on a cruise to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. For many destinations in Asia and beyond, it’s a company whose business is certainly worth courting. 

The UAE has long recognised the emerging power of the Chinese outbound visitor market. China entered the list of Dubai’s top 10 source markets for the first time in 2011, a position it has since maintained, while a series of promotional initiatives ensured the country was Abu Dhabi’s fastest growing source market for hotel stays in Q1 2014. The Dubai Convention and Exhibition Bureau (DCEB) made its move in the autumn of 2012, submitting a bid to host the Nu Skin Success Tour 2014, an incentive group departing some time in March or April, 2014. 

According to Steen Jakobsen, Director, Convention and Business Tourism at DCEB, however, the initial specifications were for a much smaller group. “We gave a presentation in Nu Skin China’s offices in Shanghai in October 2012, for what was then a trip for only 6,000 delegates,” Jakobsen said. “Dubai was competing against Macao, Seoul and Singapore – all regional giants of the conventions and tourism industry with their own unique offerings and right on Nu Skin China’s doorstep. However, we always felt that our pitch could more than hold its own.” 

According to Jakobsen, the growth in Dubai’s economy and infrastructure, as well as its emergence on the global tourism map, had piqued interest in the emirate across China and even though the competition was from long-established players in the sector, Dubai’s offering had key differentiators. Among these were its unique cultural and environmental heritage drawn from its desert landscape and their presence alongside ultra-modern leisure facilities. 
Also in Dubai’s credit column was the commitment of DCEB. “At the bidding stage itself, we offered a marketing fund to Nu Skin to support the event,” confirms Jakobsen. “We also included other facilities and amenities, such as welcome bags for each guest and assistance with marketing and public relations support.” 

As a follow-up to the bid, DCEB co-ordinated an inspection trip with Nu Skin China’s senior management in November, 2012. Less than three months later, in January 2013, Dubai was announced as the destination for the 2014 Nu Skin Success Trip. 


Once the deal had been inked, a second inspection trip followed in April, with 30 Nu Skin VIP sellers accompanying the company’s management. Nu Skin then outsourced the management of the trip to Beijingbased CYTS Tours Corporation who, via meetings facilitated by the DCEB, selected Arabian Adventures to handle on-the-ground logistics in the UAE – a suite of services that included hotel bookings, transportation and itinerary management. 

In July 2013, however, it emerged that the group was now expected to be more than the initial 6,000. Considerably more, as it transpired. While the plans were still being drawn up, the figure that Dubai was preparing for almost tripled to 16,000. 

“While the number of delegates looked daunting on the face of it, we were confident of being able to handle it without a hitch – and we did,” said Jakobsen. “Our task as the general co-ordinator was to liaise with Government bodies and private entities in the UAE to facilitate the smooth movement of the delegates to and from each of their destinations, from the moment they landed until they boarded their flights home. While the eventual number dropped to 14,500 in the end, we would easily have been able to handle more.” 

One vital component of the DCEB’s task was to train 300 Mandarin-speaking tour guides. The Tour Guide Training Programme from Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) had been specially adapted to prepare for the Nu Skin trip and, beginning in October, they provided indepth coaching on all the destinations on the itinerary, which included not just Dubai but Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. 


On April 6, 2014, the first of the guests arrived in Dubai, followed by six additional waves of around 2,200 each day until April 12. Every wave comprised several sub-groups varying from 12 to 44 people. Emirates was the official carrier and 77 commercial flights over seven days, originating from Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, were required to fly in the delegates. The airline also managed to charter an Airbus A380 to fly from both Beijing and Hong Kong. 

It was at this point that Arabian Adventures took over. More than 40,000 room nights had already been booked in a total of 40 UAE hotels – 25 in Dubai and 15 in Abu Dhabi. Ferrying the guests on full city tours of Dubai, taking in The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and the Dubai Creek, required more than 370 coaches. 

Tours also included the Blue Souq and Islamic Museum in Sharjah and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and a dinner at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. In between, there were company functions at the Dubai World Trade Centre and two celebratory dinners for more than 7,000 guests each at the Meydan Events Arena at Dubai’s Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa. 


As with all incentive trips, the only real barometer for success is the reaction of the guests themselves. In the case of Nu Skin China, the UAE stands to benefit from 14,500 instant champions for the country in what has the potential to be its biggest market. Anecdotal evidence gathered during the trip was certainly positive. 

“I’m really thrilled to be here to see all the wonderful sights in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” said Fu Qin, a 30-year-old from Shanghai. “There are several high-end and luxury shopping destinations in the city, which we especially enjoyed visiting, but the highlight for me was the fastest roller coaster in the world at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. 

“I must say what I saw more than matches my expectations,” she continued. “I will definitely recommend the UAE to all my friends back home. I have already posted lots of pictures that I have taken of Dubai to motivate my friends to come and visit the UAE.” 

For Zhang Yunxi, from the city of Ningxia, Dubai’s preservation of its heritage was appealing. “The city is extremely well-maintained and supervised. I’m impressed not only with the luxury lifestyle, but also the culture and history of the traditional Middle East, which has not been ignored,” she said. “I find the sincerity and honesty of the Emiratis towards their culture and religion very admirable as well as their openness to others.” 

“Dubai is certainly a place where miracles happen,” said a CYTS official accompanying the group. “In just a few decades, the city has gone from being an almost unheard of desert to a premier global metropolis. Nu Skin has lots of similarities with Dubai in that respect. It is not a coincidence that Nu Skin chose Dubai: the destination itself is a motivator for Nu Skin and its guests.” 


For the UAE, the trip has been perhaps the best possible exhibition of its advantages, facilities and well-oiled tourism and meetings sector machinery. Dubai’s various stakeholders were all able to showcase the city’s ability to deliver on its promise, from the DCEB as the body responsible for bringing the event to the city, to Emirates, Arabian Adventures, the Meydan Group, government departments – such as Dubai Airports, Department of Naturalisation and Residency Dubai and the Road and Transport Authority – plus transport providers Alpha Tours and the 25 selected hotels. 

“The Nu Skin trip reflects well on our capabilities and is a sign of things to come,” says Hamad Mohammed bin Mejren, Executive Director of Business Tourism at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). “The trip is proof that Dubai has an exciting incentive offering and a central location between East and West, along with world-class infrastructure and a year-round calendar of events. Moving forward, we expect to welcome large groups more frequently from our key source markets.” 

The trip was no less successful for Abu Dhabi, which was able to demonstrate the appeal of its attractions to an important source market. “It showed the meetings and incentives industry that we are capable of successfully hosting events of any size for their clients,” said Sultan Al Dhaheri, Acting Executive Director, Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority. “It has also significantly lifted our credentials within the Chinese market. Our range of attractions thrilled the delegates and showed them just a sampling of what there is to do here.” 

“It takes real knowledge and expertise to handle a group of 14,500 people,” concludes Bin Mejren. “With the co-operation among our various stakeholders, Dubai reinforced its position as a capable global partner for large companies and associations who wish to meet with and entertain their colleagues in a welcoming international city.” 

Celebrating success on Yas Island

The highlight for many of the 14,500 Nu Skin delegates was a visit to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. The delegation spent an evening each at the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which was reserved exclusively for the Nu Skin trip and the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit, which hosted an evening of entertainment and banquets, each involving in excess of 7,000 delegates. 

The complexity of the task was demonstrated by the Yas Marina Circuit. Some 2,491 staff helped deliver the event, which involved F1-style display races, parades in convertibles and luxury cars, 13,500kg of food and beverage provisions and 64 performers. Approximately one million photographs were taken of the event, according to Yas Island officials. 

Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, said: “This was an extremely complex, multi-faceted event which took months of planning and a lot of hard work to execute. We’re extremely proud to add this to our growing portfolio of MICE events, which also includes the World Economic Forum, Etihad’s 10-year anniversary celebration and the IBM Global Staff Conference.” 

Decadent feast in the Dubai desert 

The Meydan Events Arena, which is located in the heart of Dubai’s desert and managed by the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, was selected as the host of the two Nu Skin 2014 Success Trip Gala Dinners on April 10 and 13, each of which featured in excess of 7,000 guests. 

They all enjoyed five hours of feasting, fun and entertainment under open skies. They were looked after by 730 crew members while the entertainment and venue set-up was provided by a 150-member team from leading event production company Uniplan Cologne. 

“The biggest challenge in the end proved to be getting the venue ready for the second banquet within 48 hours of the first one,” said Swaleha Soobratty, Associate Director of Events at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. “However, laying out a banquet for so many people is never easy and there were huge logistical hurdles to overcome and careful planning was required.” 

The planning for the gala dinners started back in February when the venue hosted an advance group of 50 Nu Skin guests for a preview. Once the menu and set-up were given the all clear, procurement started. 

“The menu was considerable. The idea was to provide the guests an authentic local taste experience. There was a choice of 16 different main dishes from the treasury of Arabic and Persian cuisine. Live meat and seafood grill stations were accompanied by 14 side dishes and, finally, the dessert table had an assortment of 17 different treats,” Soobratty said. 

After the first banquet came the biggest task of all: to reset the arena in 48 hours for the second one. “Our core team had anticipated the difficulties and planned ahead with great attention to detail. Time was of the essence and we delivered again, working like clockwork, thanks to having chalked the process down to the last detail,” Soobratty said. 

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