Interview: Noura Al Kaabi

Why is the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment a central tourism priority for the Abu Dhabi government?

NOURA AL KAABI: MICE tourism is one of the most important segments in Abu Dhabi, spurring many direct and indirect benefits. In 2016 ADNEC contributed Dh3bn ($816.8m) in economic value to the emirate and supported over 16,000 jobs in business tourism, thanks to the enormous efforts of our partners and stakeholders. With exhibitions and conferences, one benefits from an exposure to the latest technology, know-how and equipment in each sector. The collective effort has been incredibly helpful in achieving the associated visions of different government departments across Abu Dhabi. For ADNEC, it is this clear strategy — built alongside our stakeholders — that helps us in bidding for international congresses. Health is one of the best examples, where we have worked with medical associations in the UAE and bid for conventions worldwide. Word spreads and people start talking to their colleagues, which leads to business growth here.

What is being done to capture additional hosting rights and attract new conferences?

AL KAABI: It is very important to create an expanding and diversified network each year by keeping the events calendar full and optimised. In 2016 we saw 480 events and over 1.5m visitors in Abu Dhabi, which is a 30% increase over 2015. So far, 2017 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for us, as a number of successful bids dating back to 2011 and 2012 — such as WorldSkills, a major vocational education event — are being realised this year. There are many tactics that we are using to bring more associations and organisers to Abu Dhabi, and much of this falls to our partners.

We show visiting delegations our infrastructure, hotels, airports and venues, and engage with them to do more. We try to show them that Abu Dhabi is something special. We are also participating in major industry events globally, events that specialise in bringing all associations and organisers together. Here we have teams that focus on looking at conference opportunities abroad, analysing rotations and coordinating with governments and international associations. There is a lot of coordination between us and our stakeholders, which is mainly channelled through event licences under the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, that we manage in partnership with them. This helps avoid challenges, when large events happen at the same time.

Coordination extends beyond these platforms to our counterparts in Dubai. Ultimately, we and our Dubai equivalent are two companies owned by the government, and there are multiple examples of us coming together to support businesses in both cities, utilising facilities at both the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and the Dubai World Trade Centre. We have to look at the bigger picture and be smart about how we promote the UAE as a collective destination that offers benefits for all visitors.

How has competition for hosting rights evolved regionally and internationally?

AL KAABI: If you compare the UAE with other GCC countries, we are very competitive. Our infrastructure is second to none, be it our airlines, airports, hotels or — most importantly — the venues themselves. In addition, we have a clear economic vision. The Abu Dhabi Plan and the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 classify sectors of importance and articulate how we get where we want to be. That has helped us in hosting and bidding for big congresses. All of these factors are important because competition in the segment is intense. We bid not only against Middle Eastern countries, but also against venues in Italy, France, Russia, Brazil and beyond. Despite this, we continue to win new hosting rights. We added 15 new exhibitions and 22 new conferences to our circuit in 2016 alone.