The end of phase one of the $2.7bn project will see the opening of a 28,500 gross sq metre exhibiting space, which constitutes the first wing of the planned u-shaped structure. The entire venue is set for completion in August 2008 when it will comprise 57,000 sq metres of gross exhibition space as well as a 21,000 sq metres visitors' concourse and 7500 sq metres of multi-purpose halls.
The structure will be the centrepiece of the Exhibition City that will include mixed-use developments offering commercial, office and residential space as well as a number of hotels and a high-end marina development.
The project is already generating much interest with the growth of the exhibitions industry in Abu Dhabi set to reach unprecedented levels. The phase one exhibiting space will house its first exhibition in February 2007, the annual International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2007).
This exhibition, which is reportedly sold out, is the first of many high profile events scheduled for the centre. Two others are CityScape Abu Dhabi and MECOM, the Middle East Communications exhibition.
The venue's operating company, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), recently entered into long-term agreements with four leading exhibition organisers as foundation partners who will stage regular exhibitions at the centre. The four companies, Reed Exhibitions, CMP Information, IIR (Middle East) and dmg world media, have already committed over 30 exhibitions and conferences to the venue. This goes a long way to meeting ADNEC's ambitions of attracting approximately 40 core exhibitions to the venue.
ADNEC are confident there is a huge potential market for exhibiting in Abu Dhabi, particularly in the light of the construction and development plans of the emirate. Paul Vincent, Sales and Marketing Director for ADNEC, told OBG, "We are not simply trying to catch a market, but rather to grow the market as a whole."
The exhibitions sector in Abu Dhabi has a relatively long history, growing organically out of the military shows in the emirate. However, ADNEC hopes to take this to a new level creating a world-class venue with world-class exhibitions. The projected potential consequences for Abu Dhabi are impressive with the venue providing the stimulus for further economic growth and effectively issuing in a whole new business sector in the capital.
Vincent told OBG, "There is an increasing recognition of what exhibitions can do for a city both in terms of economic impact and marketing value on a global scale.."
According to ADNEC estimates, based on their projected event calendars, the new venue could generate as much as Dh19bn ($5.2bn) over ten years.
Some analysts suggest that this figure may well even be on the conservative side. A study carried out by KPMG in 1999 examined the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in the UK, which provided an instructive example of the economic impact a world-class centre can have on its local environment. According to their report, the NEC Group venues generated £711m (Dh 4.9bn/$1.4bn) over the course of a 12-month period (Sep 1998 - Aug 1999). During this time, there were approximately 900 events attracting 5.6m people. The business generated also sustained 21,844 full-time jobs. And that was seven years ago.
The Abu Dhabi venue will also spawn growth in the hotel, leisure tourism and construction industries.
Vincent said, "The exhibition centre will create a self-sustaining cycle. As the venue seeks to take advantage of the increasing number of visitors and developments in Abu Dhabi, it will in turn attract more development and visitors to the emirate."
The National Exhibition Centre is an important pillar in the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority's (ADTA) strategy for the emirate as it seeks to expand meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism in Abu Dhabi and reinforce the image of Abu Dhabi as a leisure tourism destination.
The ADTA plans to increase the number of MICE visitors from its 2003 level of 40,000 to 236,000 by 2015. However, it's wider strategy for the emirate targets over 3m visitors a year by 2015, more than three times the figure for 2003.