The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA) is aiming to more than double the economic impact of the meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) segment of the tourism market by 2020. While the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) is key to this, a growing number of hotels and other enterprises are also focused on catering to the segment, offering conference and exhibition space.

NEW TARGETS: According to a 2011 study commissioned by the TCA, the emirate hosted about 500,000 international and domestic business event visitors in 2010, each of which on average spent around Dh2420 ($658.72) during their business trip. While in total this amounts to approximately Dh1.2bn ($326.6m), the overall economic impact of business events is likely much greater, as this figure does not include indirect economic benefits. For example, while the direct impact includes items such as payments to hotels, indirect benefits take into account re-circulation of this money as hotel employees spend their wages in the emirate. According to an analysis within the 2011 study, the multiplier effect for Abu Dhabi business event visitors is about two, meaning that the total economic impact of business event visitors was around Dh2.4bn ($653.3m) in 2010.

In March 2012 the TCA announced that it was targeting a combined direct and indirect economic impact of MICE tourism of Dh5.1bn ($1.4bn) by 2020, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 7% between 2012 and 2020. Other goals include a four-fold increase in the number of events and doubling the number of MICE visitors. The TCA hopes that by 2015 the emirate will be positioned among the world’s top 100 premier destinations for meetings.

By promoting Abu Dhabi as a premier location for MICE events, the tourism authority plans to attend 23 international road shows and exhibitions in 2012. They are also strongly positioned to attract major conventions and exhibitions given there are currently 20,000 hotel rooms available, according to public statements by Mubarak Al Nuaimi, the international promotions manager at the TCA.

TRACK RECORD: While sufficient hotel capacity may be a significant factor in attracting new MICE business, perhaps even more important will be Abu Dhabi’s recent success with the World Ophthalmology Congress, which was held in February 2012 and brought some 12,000 delegates to ADNEC. The economic impact of an event this size was significant. Al Nuaimi estimates that the combined direct and indirect positive economic benefit of the conference to the emirate amounted to Dh167.1m ($45.5m).

Other local enterprises also stood to gain from the influx of visitors, including retailers, restaurant owners and the emirate’s tourist attractions. Indeed, the informational packets prepared for attendees highlighted two promotions – golfing and visiting the Ferrari World theme park. The ophthalmology congress was an important milestone for Abu Dhabi as it boosted credibility by demonstrating that the emirate could successfully host a major conference.

In the meantime, the UAE’s capital has already been chosen for several big-ticket events, including the 2015 World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which was announced in April 2012. The congress will bring 3000 delegates to the emirate and is expected to generate a direct economic impact of Dh14m ($3.8m). The emirate beat out competing offers from Vancouver, Canada and Florence, Italy to earn the right to host the event, which was previously held in Washington, DC, Mumbai, India and Singapore. The successful bid, which was a collaborative effort by the TCA, the Emirates Cardiac Society and the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi, included a promise to provide financial assistance to delegates from low- and middle-income countries to ensure that they can attend.

Other major upcoming events include the World Route Development Forum in October 2012, for which 3500-4000 participants are expected, followed by the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in April 2013, which will host more than 1000 leaders in the global tourism sector. Then in 2015, the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort will host a projected 1000 attendees for the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums Annual Convention, while the emirate will attract about 3000 delegates for the Asian Pacific Congress of Cardiologists, which will be held at ADNEC.

MULTIPURPOSE FACILITY: These large conferences may make the headlines, but ADNEC also caters to smaller engagements. Its facilities include 19 meeting rooms, with sizes ranging from 82 to 235 sq metres, in addition to 11 exhibition halls, each of which covers 3168-7920 sq metres. Larger spaces include two conferences halls with capacities of up to 1000 people, plus the International Convention Centre (ICC), which opened in 2012 and can hold up to 6000 people. ADNEC also has the Al Maared Hall, a 1500-sq-metre hall that can be used for wedding functions. With 73,000 sq metres of internal exhibition space, ADNEC is in fact one of the largest venues in the region. In addition, there are three hotels located on-site at ADNEC: Aloft Abu Dhabi, Hyatt Capital Gate and Premier Inn Abu Dhabi Capital Centre. As well as 89 hotel rooms, the Hyatt, which opened in December 2011, also has 15,000 sq metres of office space.

ADNEC, which is owned and operated by Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company, a 100%-government owned entity established in 2005, is a relatively new facility, having opened in February 2007 in time for IDEX 2007, one of the world’s largest annual defence exhibitions. The exhibition centre continues to host IDEX every year, in addition to other regular conferences such as the World Future Energy Summit and the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition.

The number of events hosted by ADNEC has increased significantly in recent years, rising from 148 in 2010 to 231 in 2011, an increase of 56%. Growth in the centre’s wedding business has been particularly strong, reaching close to 100 weddings in 2011, representing a more than 500% increase compared to 2009. Results for the first quarter of 2012 are promising as well, with ADNEC having hosted 64 events with more than 125,000 visitors. The three largest events of this period – the World Future Energy Summit, World Ophthalmology Congress and Tawdheef – combined accounted for more than 64,000 visitors.

VARIETY OF VENUES: Of course, ADNEC is not the only place to host a conference or corporate events in Abu Dhabi, with many of the emirate’s hotels also including space for meetings or conferences. Two hotels that opened in 2011, the St. Regis and the Park Hyatt – both located on Saadiyat Island – each have large conference venues. The former has the 1300-sq-metre Al Mudhaif ballroom that can hold up to 1000 guests. The latter offers a range of meeting venues, including 11 function rooms and the Alyazya ballroom, which can accommodate 550 people.

In addition to the hotel meetings spaces, event planners can also consider the Yas Marina Circuit. While perhaps best known for hosting the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the circuit’s facilities are used year-round to host corporate events, including conferences, exhibitions and team-building exercises. Its largest venue is the Media Centre, covering a 1200-sq-metre area. Hosting mainly conferences and symposiums, it can seat 1140 guests or hold 2359 standing. In addition, there are also 12 Paddock Suites, each of which hold up to 400 people and can be used for presentations, product launches and dinners. Finally, the Yas Racing School includes boardrooms and offices, in addition to a larger restaurant area and two terraces. The Racing School also allows corporate clients to use its fleet of racing cars as part of team-building activities, with participants driving or riding on the F-1 track.

The aforementioned novelties help differentiate the facility from the many other MICE event locations available in the emirate, as do the nearby presence of the Yas Links golf course and the Ferrari World amusement park, Richard Cregan, the CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, the operator of Yas Marina Circuit, told OBG. “MICE tourism holds significant potential for the emirate as clients now have many venues to choose from. We would like to capitalise on our positioning to gain more business from this market segment,” he said.

The government of Abu Dhabi has invested heavily in creating a MICE segment, in part through its ownership of ADNEC but also through supporting the development of the emirate’s hotels and infrastructure, as well as the islands of Yas and Saadiyat, which host important tourist facilities and attractions. In many ways, a focus on catering to business travellers makes economic sense, as these visitors spend on average more than their leisure counterparts and stay longer. Indeed, according to the TCA, of the emirate’s international visitors, some 7% are motivated by MICE events, but these same individuals account for 21% of total international tourism spend. For this reason, an emphasis on developing and strengthening this segment seems well-placed to continue in the near future.