Ahead of the Middle East Special Event and Exhibition Show in April, Alan Kelly, Commercial and Strategy Director at Informa Middle East talks to eventnewsdxb on the state of the local MICE industry, the ingredients for success and the changing role of delegates:
Q: What are the major factors which determine whether a regular event is good or great?
A: For any event, it is crucial that it has the right audience â€“ whether itâ€™s delegates, visitors, sponsors etcetera. Knowledge is also now at the heart of every event. At our B2B events for example, the â€˜learningâ€™ aspect for attendees can really help set an event apart from its competition. Delegates now expect a sold return on their time, whether in the form of gaining new skills , a great learning opportunity, or an understanding of a new industry or market. Without this, delegates will simply not return in the future.
Q: The events industry seems to act as a fairly accurate barometer for market economies; when company budgets need to be cut, training and events can be among the first to go. Is this a false economy?
A: Itâ€™s very hard to agree with this conclusively, as itâ€™s very dependent on the specific area. For example, at Informa, there are three key elements to our business offering â€“ training courses, conferences & events, and exhibitions. However, it is our peripheral conferences and training provision that act as our immediate economic indicators, with training usually the first to be reviewed within company budgets. Exhibitions on the other hand are much harder to judge as they are often booked up to a year in advance, so are very much a lagging indicator. Then of course, there are key industry events that are resilient to economic shocks due to the vital role they play within their industry, in good times or bad.
Q: As far as delegates are concerned, how has their participation changed? With constantly evolving technology, are they far more engaged and active?
A: Delegates on the whole have far greater expectations as far as events go nowadays. Itâ€™s simply not good enough to expect them to come along and just sit and listen, remaining very much on the periphery. For conferences and exhibitions in particular, there is a strong demand for interactive workshops and the ability to advance a skillset. Being able to offer both learning and networking opportunities is now of key importance.
At last yearâ€™s Middle East Special Event and Exhibition Show (MESE), the influence of technology on the events industry was a key discussion area, as it will be again this year. New technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and computer-generated environments are transforming the experiences of guests. Additionally, the data they produce will enable events to become far more immersive and tailored to delegatesâ€™ specific needs. The ability to engage and better involve audiences can only be a good thing and will breathe new life into the UAEâ€™s crowded events market generally.
Q: Does the draw of Dubai as a tourist destination also help with the number of delegates and exhibitors? As a vibrant and dynamic city with enormous ‘out of office hours’ attractions, it must be fairly attractive in its own right.
A: Dubai is undoubtedly a very attractive eventsâ€™ â€˜hubâ€™ and has, as a result, developed a thriving events ecosystem. It now has excellent travel connections, a great national airline and public transport system, an abundance of hotels, restaurants and shopping â€“ from both an international and local point of view. This has helped Dubai to become probably one of the fastest-growing MICE cities in the world and has played a huge part in attracting international audiences and winning major events such as EXPO 2020.
Q: How would you rate the health of the MICE sector in general in Dubai – why it is doing well/not so well? How would you recommend we can improve/maintain the quality and success of the industry?
A: Generally speaking, the MICE sector in Dubai and regionally is currently doing incredibly well. At Informa we have experienced year-on-year growth. However, pricing structure is key and remains a big issue in Dubai. The desire for hotels to only lease their conference rooms with a minimum amount of bedrooms can be, in my view, short-sighted. MICE is an extremely competitive market place and as competition increases with new hotels opening, this can result in many empty event spaces. Additionally, when determining the design of event space, hotels should involve event companies from the outset. This is key to ensuring all the required elements are in place – adequate room lay-out, plenty of natural light, parking facilities and so on. Mixed-use spaces such as design studios and art galleries are upping the ante and offering highly unique and creative event options, so itâ€™s vital hotels do not focus solely on prices but also improve their offering.
Q: With an Informa event, for example, the recent edition of Arab Health, does it need to reinvent itself each year to keep the audience alert and entertained or does it just need to maintain its role as a great environment for participants to gain knowledge, expand business and forge new partnerships?
A: The success of Arab Health is dependent on a good mix of both. Its ability to achieve this year-on-year is a huge achievement and explains why it remains one of the strongest and most well-attended events in the region, in addition to being one of the largest of its kind in the world, with significant global reach. Itâ€™s crucial that the event keeps advancing and stays ambitious if it is to keep attracting and engaging visitors, medical practitioners, new exhibitors and buyers from all around the world. The Arab Health Conferences are equally as important for its delegate â€˜take-awaysâ€™ â€“ the acquirement of knowledge, the ability to update and improve skill levels and extensive networking opportunities â€“ are now â€˜expectedâ€™. Organisers recognise that this aspect is key if the exhibition is to remain a world-leader in the health arena.