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January 16, 2015

Middle East: Lured by the Lucre

The first Events Industry Salary Survey Middle East finds the region offering career-enhancing opportunities and higher pay packets to overseas professionals albeit with longer working hours. 

Projects that provide professional challenges and salaries that compare favourably to established markets such as the UK are the main motivating factors for event industry professionals choosing to work in the Middle East, according to the findings of the first annual Events Industry Salary Survey for the Middle East conducted by international event recruitment specialists ESP International in conjunction with sourceme. 

The survey, on the lines of a similar one that ESP International has been running for 14 years now in the UK, polled professionals in 300 companies in the region’s events industry representing a cross section of industry sectors. While the majority of those polled worked in Dubai, which underscores the city’s importance in the region’s events landscape, respondents were also based in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon

“Having run this survey in the UK for a decade and a half, at ESP International we felt this was the right time to bring it to the Middle East. The region is becoming a hot bed of activity for the sector and growth is a certainty with events such as the World Expo 2020 headed to Dubai, which will translate into high demand for events industry professionals,” said Rebecca Wilson, Director ESP International. 

“In conjunction with sourceme, we sent a detailed questionnaire out to events professionals in 300 companies throughout the region and then methodically analysed the data to come up with the statistics and facts about the sector.” 

The prime reason for professionals moving to the Middle East was a better pay package or a tax-free salary, with 22.3 percent of respondents citing this as the biggest factor behind their decision. 

Higher Salaries 

The average income in the Middle East’s events industry across all age groups and positions came to AED18,204. When compared to the UK, almost every position in the event management ladder fetched a higher salary in the Middle East, with many middle and senior management positions offering tax-free salaries more than 10 percent higher than the UK. 

“The high average salary is attributed to a legacy of pre-recession salaries when the region and the industry were booming and budgets were higher,” said Wilson. 

Around 37 percent of respondents, however, said they had received no pay rise over the last 12 months, while 34 percent said their salaries had risen between one and six percent. Only 17 percent of professionals in the sector reported hikes of 10 percent plus. 

Career progression was the second biggest reason for moving to the region at 17.3 percent, showing that professionals were keen to work in a rapidly emerging event market to pick up newer skills. 

This was reinforced by the average length of stay in the region that the respondents reported. Twenty six percent said they had been in the region for five to 10 years, which was the highest length of stay reported. Meanwhile 18 percent said they would want to spend another three to five years in the region while 17 percent were sure they would return to their home countries eventually. 

Supporting its emergence as a centre for the event industry, the survey found that the region is attracting industry professionals from all across the globe, including South America and the Far East and Australasia. Most professionals, however, hailed from the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia region, followed by the UK. 

Exciting Environment 

“People are clearly driven by the opportunity and the money in new markets. Established hubs such as the UK no longer offer such exciting business environments in many cases and this drives career-focused and geographically mobile individuals to consider relocation and take the plunge when the opportunity comes,” said Wilson. 

Supporting this fact was the finding that money, while being the biggest reason for industry professionals to move to the region, was not the biggest one keeping them here. The creativity of projects emerged as the top motivating factor for working in the region with 68 percent picking it compared to 43 percent who picked money. 

Not all is rosy in the sector, though. Almost three-quarters – or 74 percent - of professionals in the Middle East’s event industry feel they are being paid less than they are worth. The move to the Middle East also comes at a price in terms of working hours, especially for professionals from the UK. More than 51 percent of respondents said they worked up to 50 hours a week on average while 33 percent worked more than 50 hours. Only 14 percent said they worked between 30 and 40 hours a week, which was closer to the UK’s industry average of 44 hours per week. 

The longer hours in the region also do not attract as much compensatory remuneration or benefits as they do in the UK. More than 57 percent of respondents said they did not receive any additional compensation for the extra hours they put in. The corresponding figure for the UK market stood a full 10 percentage points lower at 42 percent. 

Of those that received compensatory benefits 32 percent said they got off-days in lieu while only two percent were paid overtime. For the UK the corresponding figures stood at 48 and four percent respectively. 

“The figures show that employees in the UK are better off than those working in events in the Middle East with respect to working hours and rewards,” said Wilson. 

The longer work hours here perhaps meets their match in the youthful energy of professionals in the sector. The survey found the region’s events industry professionals to be relatively young, with 57 percent falling in the 26 to 35 age group. Those under 26 years of age made up 11 percent of the total while a quarter was between 36 to 45 years. Senior professionals in the 46 and above age group comprised only seven percent, which indicates that 93 percent of events professionals in the region are under 45. 

“The survey highlights key trends and analysis and concludes overall that, for a variety of reasons, employees do not feel they are paid their worth,” said Wilson. 

“On balance, though, career minded, go-getting professionals are staying the course, seemingly challenged by a changing business landscape and satisfied by the variety of projects they work on. They love the lifestyle and tax-free economy and plan to stay for many years to come. With the overall rise in professionalism in the business environment since the recession, things look pretty rosy for the Middle East events industry.” 

Commenting on the outlook for 2015, she added: “Middle East economies, predominantly within the GCC, grew at an average four percent in 2013. This leads to job creation and the ‘Expo 2020 factor’ further compounds the obvious need for highly experienced, passionate and ambitious events professionals to see us through this landmark phase and beyond.” 

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