“Please don’t touch the screen” advised an organiser as participants attempted to print their badges, via barcodes sent to their phones, at Dubai’s first business conference since the coronavirus shutdown hit in March.
Organised under the patronage of Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ‘Ai Everything’ conference, which focuses on the artificial intelligence industry, is Dubai’s first major live in-person business event following the resumption of economic activities.
Crown Prince and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was in attendance along with top level executives and officials representing key sectors including government, healthcare, education and retail from the UAE and across the world.
“Dubai continues to implement the forward-thinking vision of the leadership which focuses on anticipating, preparing and planning for future challenges. It is vital to empower the UAE’s talent with technology, science and knowledge-based tools to enhance the country’s leading global position in various sectors,” HH Sheikh Hamdan said.
In a vast hall at the city’s World Trade Centre, until recently converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients, it was a full house with occupied rows of chairs spaced far apart under social distancing guidelines. Others were outside the hall, listening to the event on screens as they waited for someone to leave their seat so they could enter.
“It’s good to be here, face to face with others,” said Reem Al Hashimi, minister of state for international cooperation, in one of the opening sessions.
“What this pandemic has taught us is that we need to be conscious and careful, but we also need to live our lives, so finding that healthy proper scientific balance is critical.”
The four-hour event looked very different from what the glittering city used to offer pre-Covid – with no crowded foyers or waiters bearing trays of drinks, and packaged energy bars and fruit replacing gourmet buffets.
A badge printing station was set up next to the hall entrance, with organisers in face shields and black suits advising attendees on how to get their credentials without touching anything.
Colourful signs on the floor adorned with smiley faces reminded participants to “keep a safe distance” and told them “don’t forget your mask”.
Dubai is betting that pent-up demand for tourism, and a quick adaptation to life under Covid-19, will see its tourism industry bounce back quickly after the painful shutdown, billing itself as a safe destination with the resources to ward off the virus.
Trixie LohMirmand, Executive Vice President, Events Management, Dubai World Trade Centre, said: “The support we have received from the government and private sector on our plans to launch the Ai Everything x Restart Dubai Summer Conference has been exceptional. We have worked very closely with various stakeholders to create a compelling conference agenda and deliver face-to-face connections in the setting of a safe, live event experience, and this was a great opportunity to showcase our streamlined events safety protocol. This is a momentous event that marks the first leadership-focused business event to take place as Dubai resumes its economic and tourist activity. With businesses being forced to pivot amid the new normal, transformation is needed now more than ever.”