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Middle East meetings industry coming of age

From March 26 – 28, the 6th Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM) brought together the largest gathering of meeting industry professionals in the Middle East. The conference was held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

gibtmGIBTM is a hosted-buyer event that forms part of the Reed Travel Exhibitions portfolio. In these events, hosted buyers from around the globe are prequalified by show management as decision makers for major meetings, conventions and events. These buyers are invited as guests of the convention in an effort to maximize sales potential for exhibitors.

At GIBTM, over 273 hosted buyers were brought to the show to meet with more than 330 exhibitors, a 17 percent increase from 2011.

Another aspect that differentiates the hosted-buyer model is the tracking of pre-scheduled appointments between exhibitors and attendees. This year, GIBTM reported that more than 7,650 pre-scheduled appointments took place during the three-day show, an 8 percent increase from last year.

These numbers begin to describe a region on the rise in the global meeting industry.

“The Middle East has recognized the potential in attracting meetings to the region, and the successful GIBTM illustrates that there is a hunger for the meetings sector to develop at a swift pace,” said Lois Hall, exhibitions manager for GIBTM and Reed.

As the largest gathering of event professionals in the region, GIBTM is doing its part to help the industry move forward.

This year, new educational activities included business travel learning sessions with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and seminars led by the International Congress and Convention Association and Meeting Professionals International.

Another education session meant to boost the Middle East meeting industry was hosted by Ali Al Saloom of AskAli.com. This session was held in Arabic to give local professionals a better understanding of the industry.

“We see the business travel sector as important, but regionally, it is not yet well understood,” said Saloom. “Therefore, by explaining the industry in Arabic, we are creating an awareness of the entire spectrum and its commercial potential. In order to be sustainable, we need to be authentic. We need the local touch and local people to be involved and visible as hosts for our international guests.”

The session focused on what business travel means for the region, what possibilities it provides for the Middle East, as well as the value it holds for the economy.

“The UAE is an ideal place for people to meet and do business,” said Saloom. “We have outstanding venues, easy access to almost every part of the world and excellent travel infrastructure. Now, we need to focus on how to brand, market and utilize the destination with all its potential, and define and promote our unique selling point.”

Hall said that show management was amazed at the response to the AskAli Arabic session.

GIBTM also featured the latest Global Meetings Industry Research report for the Middle East, which also points toward substantial growth for the region. The research was carried out by Reed Travel Exhibitions, Sally Greenhill of The Right Solution and Rob Nicholas of meetme.

The report revealed that the UAE is among the top ten countries that Middle East and global buyers visit for their events. The research also found that event organizers plan to increase the volume of events and their budgets in the region.

“Over 90 percent of regional buyers predicted that their budgets will either rise or remain the same over the next 12 months, and we are seeing a much more positive attitude here compared to the global situation,” said Greenhill.

The results of the report were drawn out of a survey of 1,063 buyer-respondents.

These findings are also supported by a study commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.

The survey found that the direct economic impact of business events on Abu Dhabi is expected to grow by 7 percent annually over the next eight years to reach $1.4 billion by 2020. This is compared to $657.5 million in 2010.

Based on the survey, the authority has high expectations for its Meetings Incentive Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) business for the coming eight years. By 2015, it hopes to see Abu Dhabi as the region’s main location for tradeshows and ranked among the world’s Top 100 destinations for the meetings industry.

As long-time residents in the Middle East meeting industry, Reed Exhibitions also sees a bright future for the region. In 2012, Reed expects its exhibitions will gather more than 130,000 attendees at 14 events covering a total of 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space.

“There is immense potential in the Middle East, and we are dedicated to bringing together senior buyers, decision makers and suppliers to grow the business travel and meetings industry,” said Hall.

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