Featuring in the top ten list of countries selected by both Middle East and global buyers as a venue for their events, we take a look at the unique appeal of Dubai and how its goal of becoming a world leading destination for major events is on the way to being realized.
Dubai boasts an enviable location within an eight hour direct flight of 75 percent of the world’s population. Rich in culture and history and with world-class infrastructure, all wrapped up in a cosmopolitan cityscape, it’s easy to see why the emirate is a firm favourite for hosting everything from major sporting championships to festivals and city-wide conferences.
But it’s the skillful execution of events of all sizes, that not only encourages groups to return time and time again, but helps the city win new business. Indeed, FutureBrand’s global country brand index ranks Dubai second as the place most people would like to start doing business.
The growth of international association meetings is certainly one to watch. According to the latest ICCA report, there were 31 international association meetings held in Dubai in 2010 (up from 25 in 2009), placing the emirate 51st in the organisation’s rankings. A new report is expected in late-May to reveal 2011 figures and a further expected jump in ranking.
Dubai is winning an unprecedented number of major international association events – the most recent being the World Congress of Cardiology 2012, April 18-21, that attracted in excess of 12,000 delegates.
Business tourism is expected to grow as Dubai works to raise its profile further. Emirates, expected to become the world’s largest airline by 2015, has recently released a new campaign, ‘Hello Tomorrow’ to lure global-minded travellers seeking shared experiences – known as ‘globalistas’ – and the theme translates well for the meetings industry.
“Our new corporate image and global marketing campaign both underline the confidence we have in our existing products and services, and the vision we have for the future growth of the airline,” said Sir Maurice Flanagan, Vice Chairman of Emirates Airline & Group.
“Emirates is not just offering a way to connect people from point A to point B but is the catalyst to connect people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations. “Emirates is connecting people and cultures, creating relevant and meaningful experiences that are shaping the world,” he added.
Dubai International Airport is geared up for the boom and is undergoing a redevelopment that ranks as the largest airport expansion programme in the world, involving an investment of US$8 billion. Just to give an idea of scope, the additional facilities being added will cover an area twice the size of London’s Heathrow Terminal 5.
“This is another landmark moment in Dubai’s proud aviation history and sets us firmly on course to become the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic by 2015,” said Paul Griffiths, Chief Executive of Dubai Airports. “Our plan effectively responds to the need to accommodate rapid traffic growth with timely, efficient, and high-quality infrastructure.”
Selecting a Venue
When it comes to diversity of venues, Dubai has something for every occasion with an emphasis on luxury facilities and state-of-the-art technology helping to differentiate the offer. But the demand for meeting and exhibition space is growing.
The Dubai Convention Bureau (DCB), a division of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), plays a pivotal role in increasing Dubai’s share of the international meeting and special events markets, thanks to its continuous efforts to attract new events and, ultimately, establish the emirate as a leading business tourism destination. Its hard work undoubtedly helped Dubai win the title of the Best Meetings and Convention Destination at the World Travel Awards and time will soon tell if the emirate will be able to hold onto the accolade at this year’s ceremony in May.
Looking at venues, the Dubai World Trade Centre has been instrumental in establishing Dubai’s position as a global financial and commercial hub. Hosting more than 100 shows annually, from trade fairs to international conferences and including the Dubai Airport Expo, DWTC welcomed 1,415,000 visitors from more than 155 countries during 2010, with 32,781 exhibiting companies from more than 85 countries. This represents a record 14 per cent year-on-year surge in the number of visitors to exhibitions, conventions and conferences staged at its venues.
Its facilities include the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC), which spans over a million square feet but is set to undergo a major expansion in coming years. Already boasting eight exhibition halls, multiple meeting rooms and two hotels, there are plans to add 20 new towers to the site as part of the Dubai World Trade Centre District development.
The Trade Centre Arena, located within DICEC, is a popular choice, with 9,000 square metres of space and an indoor arena capable of accommodating up to 10,000 guests. “As the largest indoor events space in the region, the Arena will attract events from product launches to concerts,” says Helal Al Marri, CEO, Dubai World Trade Centre. “It is a state-of-theart facility in the centre of the city and adds another dimension to the calendar of events we can host. It offers high technical specifications, is very flexible and its connectivity and infrastructure is a big wow.”
There are many more large-scale venues to pick from, including the iconic Meydan Grandstand; Dubai Festival City, which has played host to some of the biggest concerts and live events ever witnessed in Dubai; and the sprawling, Arabian-themed Madinat Jumeirah resort, which has various venues to suit groups of all sizes.
Ramadan expected to begin 20 July 2012, depending on the sighting of the moon. In Ramadan, during the Muslim holy month of fasting, work hours are reduced and there is no consumption of food or water, or smoking in public during daylight hours.
For groups seeking hospitality in an authentic setting, the Al Sahra Desert Resort and Bab Al Shams Hotel & Resort are highly rated, providing luxury and hospitality amidst the unspoiled desert, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern city.
For those looking for more metropolitan attractions, iconic landmarks with venues for hire include Burj Khalifa and Atlantis, The Palm where (if budget allows) the sky’s the limit for staging outstanding events. Atlantis, The Palm, is aggressively targeting the meetings and events sector this year, through its unique locations such as Aquaventure water-park, and expects to see up to 15 percent growth in the sector by 2013.
When it comes to mid-sized venues and meetings, the city’s numerous four- and five-star hotels come to the fore. Firm favourites include Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s dhow-shaped conference centre which seats up to 400, and the luxurious beachside resort of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, which has a quirky 300-seat theatre. However, the full list of options for those planning medium-sized events is simply enormous.
More compact and quirky venues include Art Sawa, a gallery that’s considered something of a hidden gem as far as venues go, with a capacity of 300 guests. There is also Origami at the new Radisson Royal Hotel that adds its own unique signature to meetings. Additionally, Dubai Marina Yacht Club is one of the most stylish and luxurious venues in town with stunning views over the Arabian Gulf, and capacity for up to 100 guests and a variety of configurations.
Once you have chosen the ideal venue, the finer details may be supported by some of the most talented event production specialists in the Middle East, and some of the most sophisticated event production technology available.
Where to Stay
The influx of visitors is being well catered for and Dubai’s hospitality industry is expecting a real boom with its target of 100,000 rooms for 15 million visitors by the year 2015. According to DTCM, 27 new hotels will open this year, taking the total tally to 399 and it’s affordability that makes the destination particularly attractive to the meetings industry. The Dubai Bid Alliance (DBA), launched in 2009 under the auspices of the Dubai Convention Bureau, plays a key role in facilitating the availability of accommodation for visiting delegates.
The number of hotel rooms now available to the DBA exceeds 20,000 across a variety of star ratings. The inclusion of these rooms in the DBA programme ensures flexible terms and stable room rates for congress planners who are planning large events in Dubai.
Founding DBA committee members include the Dubai Convention Bureau, Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Emirates and a variety of other congress stakeholders based in Dubai.
Discussing the success of the alliance to date, Jerad Bachar, Director of the Dubai Convention Bureau says: “The Dubai Bid Alliance continues to grow through additional alliance partners. The programme gives us a chance to deliver a strong, unified message to large-scale congress organisers. Dubai has been ideally constructed to host these types of events. Beyond the obvious infrastructure, the DBA helps deliver the message that Dubai is qualified to hold these events with ease and efficiency.”
Incentives to Enjoy
Dubai’s many charms and attractions make it a veritable playground for incentives and-corporate team building events. Highly professional destination management companies are on hand to help organise any number of incentives-based programmes.
Key attractions include Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates, which is the largest indoor snow park in the world. The facility has five runs of varying difficulty, height and gradient, the longest being a 400-metre slope stretching to over 60 metres, making it a great venue for experienced skiers as well as beginners. For snowboarders there is a Freestyle Zone and for the less adventurous, a 3,000-square-metre snow park with snow cavern.
All equipment and ski clothing is provided and the centre also boasts a chairlift and tow lift to make reaching the summit easy. Ski Dubai has a capacity of up to 1,500 people and a corporate and group bookings department is on hand to handle requests from larger groups. Ski hosts, corporate gift bags and other VIP services are also available for group bookings.
Racing enthusiasts should head to the Dubai Kartdrome, which offers a number of tailored packages for corporate events, allowing team members to pitch themselves against one another on the track in a fastpaced, fun environment.
The 1.2km international standard circuit at the Kartdrome features 17 corners, a tunnel and bridge. An indoor track is also available for racing. The facility can cater for groups of up to 80 people, providing exclusive use of the site for any event over two to three hours.
Sprint and endurance races are available, while clothing, karts and support crew are included. The venue can also organise catering services, merchandising and even trophies for the winners, as well as promoters and hostesses.
If your meeting has been all about hitting targets then why not turn your company’s aims and objectives into an end-of-event activity at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club. The purpose-built outdoor clay-shooting range makes for a fun day of recreational or competitive shooting. Professional coaching is provided on gun handling and safety, before delegates can get their hands on a Beretta and take aim.
Another popular team building exercise is learning to play polo. Take your team for a lesson at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club and then compete in a mini-chukka, with a prize presentation afterwards.
With the warm climate, you may want to consider cooling down at one of Dubai’s water parks. Wild Wadi covers an area of more than 12 acres and features 30 rides and attractions while Atlantis, The Palm’s Aquaventure has a near-vertical waterslide, a magnificent 700- metre beach and a lagoon where guests can swim with dolphins.
Many DMCs can arrange day city tours taking in the Creek, archaeological digs in Al Qusais, Al Sufouh and Jumeirah, Sheikh Saeed’s House – which dates from the 1800s – and the Bastakiya area, which houses Al Fahidi Fort and many historic buildings. Other highlights of Old Dubai include the Spice Souk, Dubai Museum, the Heritage and Diving Village and Bani Yas Square. An ideal way to end the tour is to visit New Dubai, taking in the Downtown area, Sheikh Zayed Road, Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina.
It’s no secret that retail therapy is a key pastime in Dubai, aided by the huge range of world-class shopping destinations and shopping tours that are hugely popular among corporate groups. Top destinations on the agenda should include The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai Festival City, the Gold Souk and Deira City Centre.
It may surprise you to know that Dubai is also home to one of the liveliest nightclub scenes in the Middle East. The city’s growing reputation internationally has increasingly drawn the attention of some of the world’s best DJs. However, if clubbing isn’t your thing, Dubai’s bar scene is second to none in terms of sophistication and quality.
While local licensing laws limit alcohol service to hotels, golf clubs and special event establishments, heading out for a drink does not necessarily mean being forced indoors. Some of the city’s best bars can be found poolside, beachside or even on rooftops. Most of Dubai’s newest precincts boast their own bustling nightlife scene. From Dubai Marina to Downtown, they’re hives for the city’s social scene on weekends.
Busy executives can unwind at one of Dubai’s spas, which offer an A-to-Z of treatments designed to soothe all manner of stress and strain. A variety of treatments are available, from centuries-old Ayurvedic cures to classic Shiatsu or Swedish massage, as well as the full range of holistic therapies.
Novice spa users need not fear the unknown, there are qualified therapists on hand to explain, advise and recommend, regardless of whether a guest is seeking pure relaxation or simply to relieve those muscular kinks.
Male and female spa-goers are equally well catered to, as Dubai’s spas provide separate and private facilities and treatments for both sexes. From a simple hydrating facial to a colour therapy bath, a few hours or an entire day spent at one of the city’s spas will help to refresh the mind, body and soul.
Sporting types can enjoy Dubai’s wealth of golfing facilities. Once a relative minnow on the global golfing stage, the emirate is now officially ranked among the world’s top destinations for the sport. Firmly entrenched in the International Association of Golf Tour Operators’ annual list of top 10 Established Golf Destinations worldwide, the city boasts an impressive range of championship courses designed to challenge even the most seasoned golfer.
Lastly, no trip to Dubai would be complete without scheduling a desert experience such as dune driving or camping. There are many locally-based DMCs who can help arrange group trips. Among them is Arabian Incentive, a Dubai-based DMC that specialises in ‘meeting, incentive and motivational travel’ in the UAE as well as tours and excursions for those seeking luxurious adventure trips.
Offering tailor-made programmes for the premium market, Arabian Incentive has access to a new exclusive Bedouin Oasis desert camp and is also poised to launch three-day desert ‘survivor’ courses where groups camp in the wild and travel by camel.
“We mainly cater to incentive or corporate groups, so we needed a special place for our customers. The Bedouin Oasis is located in a unique area of Ras Al Khaimah, just 40 to 45 minutes from Dubai city,” says Executive Manager Emanuela Petrelli. “It is exclusive, rather than commercial, targeting high-profile guests. It can accommodate 200 to 250 people and is a cozy place with an atmosphere that is quiet and romantic. We operate the camp with no use of electricity. Lanterns, gas lights or candles are used instead, although electricity is available at the camp site for particular requests. We offer on-site cooking – chicken, lamb or sheep on a spit roast (rotating), plus traditional cooking of biryani rice and tandoori bread. The Bedouin Oasis is surrounded by trees, which add to the magic of the place. That’s why we call it an oasis.”