Local impact: Major defence industry conferences bring a host of benefits

While Abu Dhabi’s rapidly expanding defence industry is primarily focused on manufacturing and supplying equipment for local and international military entities, in recent years it has also become a major contributor to an unexpected sector: tourism. Local hotels and other tourism-related players have benefitted considerably from the numerous international defence and defence-related conferences and exhibitions that take place in the emirate. While the local benefits of these conferences are a side effect of the defence industry’s primary mandate, according to some local players they present major potential for growth.

Conference Centre

The International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) and exhibitions like it have contributed to Abu Dhabi’s growing reputation as a major destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE). In May 2013 Abu Dhabi cracked the top-100 list of global MICE destinations released by the International Congress and Convention Association, up 134 places from 234th place in 2011. In operation since the early 1990s, IDEX is organised by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company (ADNEC) in conjunction with the UAE Armed Forces General Headquarters (GHQ), and in 2013 it was sponsored by Tawazun Holdings. In 2013 IDEX attracted more than 80,000 visitors, up from around 60,000 in 2011. The number of exhibiting companies grew over the same period, from 1060 firms from 52 countries in 2011 to 1112 firms from 59 countries in 2013.

Major local beneficiaries of IDEX’s rapid growth over the past two decades include the UAE’s burgeoning defence sector, which has marketed new products to representatives from militaries from around the world, and various branches of the UAE Armed Forces, which often conclude major deals at the conference. In 2013 the UAE Armed Forces signed 55 new defence contracts worth a total of Dh14bn ($3.8bn) at the event. One of the largest of these contracts, worth Dh1.9bn ($517.2m), went to the Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre (AMMROC), a local firm, for the provision of aircraft maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) services to the UAE Air Force.

Other Conferences 

The success of IDEX has led to the introduction of a number of similar events in recent years. The Abu Dhabi International Offset Conference, for example, is held in conjunction with IDEX on a biennial basis, and aims to encourage international industrial cooperation in the UAE, in line with Tawazun’s objective of developing the domestic private sector.

The Global Aerospace Summit, an invitation-only gathering of international aerospace, aviation and space executives with a focus on procurement deals and growth strategies, takes place in Abu Dhabi on a biennial basis. The Abu Dhabi Air Expo, which is billed as the “only general aviation exhibition in the Middle East”, takes place every two years in the emirate and is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Airports, Etihad Airways and a number of other non-military firms.

The International Security National Resilience Exhibition and Conference (ISNR), which was launched in 2004 and is organised by Reed Exhibitions in conjunction with the UAE’s Ministry of Interior, has also expanded considerably over the past decade. In March 2012, around 9200 attendees viewed displays by nearly 180 exhibitors, including major local and foreign players, such as Al Fahad and Nimr Automotive. The number of attendees at the 2012 ISNR was up by 18% from the previous edition in 2010. A variety of official government delegations attended, including those from Oman, Bahrain, Morocco and Djibouti, among others.

The next iteration of the ISNR, which is scheduled to take place at ADNEC in April 2014, is expected to attract more than 400 exhibitors and at least 15,000 attendees, according to the organisers of the conference. “Abu Dhabi is focusing on the aerospace and defence industry as a key means of increasing industrialisation,” said Rhian Lindley, marketing director at SMG Aerospace, which organises the Global Aerospace Summit. “By hosting such conferences on the industry, the emirate has raised its profile considerably.”

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2014

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