Interview: Ali Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri
What measures will ensure the sustainability of Abu Dhabi’s growing meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism sector?
ALI BIN HARMAL AL DHAHERI: In just 10 years, visitor numbers have increased from 50,000 to 1.65m per year, and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) and the Al Ain Convention Centre have welcomed more than 10.7m visitors cumulatively over that time. This represents an economic impact of Dh19.7bn ($5.36bn) since 2005. In 2014 ADNEC alone contributed Dh2.56bn ($696.8m) to the local economy. The expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport, the development of leisure attractions on Yas Island and the impending launch of Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island will only further enhance Abu Dhabi’s appeal by providing a more holistic offering. Abu Dhabi is already home to a wide range of luxury and mid-range hotel accommodations, as well as ideally positioned geographically between the West and the East, and these developments only further enhance its compelling offering as a top-tier destination in the world. To sustain this type of growth, we need to promote our business credentials and tourism attributes to attract more international exhibitions, conferences and congresses. To achieve this, it is important to improve the perceptions of our prospective clients regarding the business climate, and to influence their site selection decisions. Additionally, we need to increase our investment in the continued development and modernisation of our events infrastructure.
How important is a collaborative approach among stakeholders for enhancing the attractiveness of Abu Dhabi as a destination for MICE events?
AL DHAHERI: ADNEC has established strong synergies with Abu Dhabi’s tourism stakeholders, including key government entities mandated to promote Abu Dhabi as a top global tourism destination, such as the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau. We have also been working closely with other key stakeholders, including event organisers, industry associations and exhibitors. This coordination enables us to seize international opportunities and to submit joint bids for major global congresses and association meetings.
Additionally, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have enhanced their collaborative efforts to promote the UAE brand, which will provide the country with a greater edge in the global arena. The nature of the business compels companies to coordinate with different entities to maximise potential and enhance promotional efforts. It is important to remember that Abu Dhabi is competing with cities around the globe, many of which are more experienced and have a longer history of operating in this sector.
Why has a shift in strategy been adopted to focus more on attracting international conferences as opposed to exhibitions? AL DHAHERI: Exhibitions remain at the core of our business and we will continue to host international and regional trade shows and events at our venues in Abu Dhabi. However, we will also focus on attracting more international congresses and association meetings, in line with our new business strategy to match international trends as the industry shifts towards conventions. The reason behind this approach is that the number of international visitors attending conferences and conventions is significantly higher than that of exhibition visitors. Additionally, conferences are knowledge-based, bringing knowledge and technology to Abu Dhabi.
Business tourism has emerged as one of the key drivers of Abu Dhabi’s economy, as envisioned by Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. According to a recent study, business delegates spend seven times more than regular leisure tourists in Abu Dhabi, and 10% of the delegates return to Abu Dhabi as leisure visitors.
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