Interview: Helal Almarri
What impact has the exhibitions and conferences industry had on the greater economy? What needs to be done to ensure sustainable growth?
HELAL ALMARRI: It is difficult to gauge the full impact of the exhibitions and conferences industry on the overall economy, but studies indicate that for every Dh1m ($272,000) spent in the exhibitions and conferences sector, five new jobs are created in Dubai. In 2011 DWTC contributed Dh6.5bn ($1.8bn) to the overall economy, equivalent to 2.1% of Dubai’s GDP, resulting in over 36,500 jobs across the emirate in 2011 alone. However, one also has to consider that this is the impact without the value of the many commercial deals brokered at events in Dubai throughout the year, which result in considerable foreign direct investment coming to our emirate, the UAE and the entire region. The events industry alone is responsible for driving more than 20% value to Dubai’s entire tourism sector and 5% of the total foreign visitors to the UAE in 2011. For the events industry to sustain its growth it must focus on enhancing the networking potential at an event by attracting not only large volumes of visitors, but (more importantly) top-tier decision makers. Additionally, it needs to continue to develop a secure networking base – one that includes a diverse range of stakeholders from many regional markets as a means to promote active dialogue. By doing so, participating companies and national pavilions will see the tangible returns on their investments.
To what extent has the global financial crisis had an effect on the events industry?
ALMARRI: The region remains a key market because of its nascent stage of growth, high levels of disposable income and demographic diversity. Thus it has proven resilient to financial crises. While many countries around the world are still battling the effects of the global economic downturn, regional governments and the private sector have already begun investing and Dubai has provided a secure hub for trade with the region. However, that’s not to say that we were not affected. The dynamics of the industry have changed to a certain degree, as companies globally have had to reduce costs. They attend events more selectively and need to see tangible returns to send their people. However, we are very fortunate as these market conditions are actually quite favourable for Dubai, because many of our events had achieved critical mass as the must-attend networking events for specific sectors, even before the crisis. We were able to solidify our position as an international centre for exhibitions and conferences well before the full impact of the crisis was felt. While the past couple of years have seen many firms being cautious, the reality is that business in this region continues to grow and governments are investing in infrastructure. In the past few years, Dubai completed its metro line and Emirates Airlines expanded operations. Dubai International Airport is set to undergo an expansion and many hotel developments are back online. This will further enhance Dubai’s position as a hub.
What would fortify Dubai’s World Expo 2020 bid?
ALMARRI: A key priority will be to promote Dubai as the city that offers the most integrated proposition and which truly mirrors the theme “Connecting Minds – Creating the Future”. DWTC must continue to establish credibility with global audiences in terms of our ability to attract and host higher numbers of visitors and maintain Dubai’s status as a leading destination. Dubai’s proposition is unique in that we have robust infrastructure and a proven record of delivering secure and logistically sound events. We now need to ensure that city development plans for 2020-21 stay on track, so that transport, hotel and tourism infrastructure can accommodate the expo’s needs. Much of our investment is part of the Vision 2021 agenda, so the expo itself serves as an incentive to fast track development. The additional anticipated $2bn-4bn spend is similar to what most other host cities have incurred in the past and we expect to deliver far-reaching economic value in the returns for Dubai, the UAE and the region as a whole.
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