MICE - Meetings, Conventions, Incentives and Exhibitions - have become a significant factor in Abu Dhabi's tourism development, with such events expected to be one of the driving forces of the sector in the years to come.
It is a strategy that is being built on already existing success, as Abu Dhabi has begun challenging long-time regional MICE leader, Dubai, for supremacy in the sector.
Business tourism is a focal point for development and opportunity, according to Ahmed Hussein, director of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority's (ADTA) product development division.
"Abu Dhabi is tipped by the global MICE industry to become the next 'hot spot' and there are great things to see and do and we wish to make everyone in the global marketplace aware of them," he said at the launch of the ADTA's business tourism planners guide at the end of January.
Such has been the recent success of MICE tourism in the emirate that plans to add to the showcase Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) have been pushed forward, with construction of the second stage of the complex having begun in April.
The first stage opened in February, just in time to host the international defence trade fair IDEX 2007. Located close to the new Capital Centre, the $2.16bn development is also near the city's airport. The exhibition centre already boasts 28,000sq metres of exhibition space in its seven halls, two conference and 16 meeting rooms, along with associated food hall and office space.
The $158m Phase 2 development will see a further five exhibition halls, a multi-purpose hall that can seat more than 5000 and 15 meeting rooms added to the ADNEC, more than doubling its existing floor space.
Starting work on the second stage of the centre's construction is an important milestone, according to ADNEC's chief executive officer, Simon Horgan.
"Phase 1 provided Abu Dhabi with the most modern and flexible exhibition and conference venue in the world, the completion of Phase 2 next year will provide the city with one of the largest," he said on May 10.
Following its completion in August 2008, the expanded ADNEC is expected to draw more than 1m visitors a year and boost the exhibition industry in the United Arab Emirates by more than 25%. Early indications suggest this figure may be modest, as the exhibition centre has already seen 250,000 visitors pass through its doors to attend the 10 events so far hosted. If the 1m figure is achieved, it would rank Abu Dhabi second as a regional MICE destination, a far cry from the tenth rung on the ladder it held in 2006.
ADNEC has already received more than 50 confirmed bookings for major exhibitions for next year and has had enquiries from a number of other potential clients to help fill its halls.
The exhibition centre and the MICE tourism that it will attract will generate employment in Abu Dhabi and raise the profile of the emirate, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahoon Al Nayhan, the chairman of ADNEC said at its opening in February.
"The visitors that ADNEC will attract will directly benefit the people of Abu Dhabi through the economic impact of their visit," he said. "Cities around the world have experienced the commercial and cultural benefits which are generated by a successful exhibition, conference and entertainment events venue."
Dubai has some serious competition in the MICE sector, with "Abu Dhabi fast becoming a leading destination for niche tourism sectors, from luxury leisure travel through to meetings and incentives," said Rob Nicholas, a director of Dubai-based Nicholas Publishing International, which puts out a number of publications on the meetings industry.
To meet the needs of the anticipated flood of MICE visitors, Abu Dhabi is looking to increase its accommodation stock from the present 10,000 rooms to 25,000 by 2015, many of them located close to the Capital Centre. The emirate is also taking into account the recreational demands of visitors, developing a wide range of cultural and relaxation facilities spanning museums, theme parks and theatres.
Abu Dhabi still has a long way to go before it can threaten Dubai for dominance in the MICE sector but it is doing what is needed to mount a serious challenge to get a bigger slice of the cake.