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The European Parliament voted for United Arab Emirates (UAE) nationals to be exempt from obtaining visas to visit the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 European countries that abolished passports in-between their common borders.

This new ruling signals the start of an influx of UAE business travelers to European Union destinations.

“Emiratis will be able to travel freely to 25 countries in the EU for periods of up to 90 days without a visa,” said Lois Hall, exhibition manager, Gulf Incentives, Business Travel and Meetings Expo (GIBTM), taking place at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from Mar. 24-26.

After a similar decision by the UK to relax visa requirements for UAE nationals (online visa applications 48 hours in advance), the stage is set for a whole new chapter of business travel from the region, certainly if the scheme is extended to other Gulf nations.

Ready to benefit from the new ruling at this year’s GIBTM is the European pavilion, which contains 19 companies and destinations and is 66 percent larger than last year. Debutants include Spain’s Iberostar and Barcelo Hotels and Resorts; I’way Express from the Czech Republic; and Talaria Experience from Madrid as well as Arsenal Football Club.

France alone receives over 22,000 visitors from the UAE, each year, and according to an exclusive Ernst & Young report, which is to be revealed at GIBTM, Paris is the most preferred destination for Middle Eastern business travelers. London comes in at No. 2 and Frankfurt at No. 5. The report also forecasts acceleration in business travel, both inbound, and outbound from the Middle East region.

“Over 66 percent of the world’s population lies within an eight hour flight of UAE, giving the region unparalleled leverage to become the future global hub for business travelers. Indeed Middle Eastern carriers already share 7 percent of the global market, which the Airbus Global Market Forecast 2013 estimates will grow to 11 percent by 2031, an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent, higher by 2 percent than any other geographical region in the world,” added Hall.

But it’s not just the UK and the EU looking for a greater share of the regional MICE market. The Asia pavilion at the show includes Thailand and Korea, which are also looking at the Middle East outbound business.

These trends and much more will be presented at GIBTM seminar sessions, which will include Business Travel in the Middle East and ‘The habits of Middle Eastern business travelers,’ based on research conducted by international professional services firm Ernst and Young. In addition, the highly anticipated ‘Launch of the Middle East MICE Buyers Report’ where Rob Davidson of the University of Greenwich in London will present the results of the Middle Eastern Meeting Planners’ Site Selection Survey — brand new research that demonstrates the factors that are most important to Middle Eastern meeting planners when they are deciding where to locate their events.

The two seminar sessions will look at the current MICE trends throughout the region and offer trending insights and business forecasts.

GIBTM will accommodate 300 exhibitors from 35 countries, including up to 300 influential Hosted Buyers that will attend the event, with 8,500 pre-scheduled appointments. Representatives from major companies have been accepted into the buyer program. This includes Kuoni Events, TE Connectivity, UHY International, Medicongress, Mary Kay, HelmsBriscoe, FEI Company, China International Medicine Exchange Association International Service Center, Contendam and Portigon Financial Services.

New initiatives for GIBTM 2014 include the Business Travel @GIBTM, a full day of networking for the business travel industry, with attendees invited to participate in the Corporate Travel Networking session sponsored by the Hyatt Capital Gate, Corporate Travel Conference Programme and GIBTM Knowledge Hub Seminars as well as the GIBTM Official Networking Reception sponsored and hosted by Yas Island on Mar. 25.

For more information, visit www.gibtm.com.

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