Dubai: When Dubai was playing host to the Expo over those six months, the rest of the exhibitions and conferences hosted by the city could cruise along. Such was the visibility the Expo brought in that every other event stood to benefit. The Expo thus was the safety net and the springboard at the same time for a sector that was getting its feet back in the post-Covid phase.
Now, three months down from the Expo’s closing, what next for the events industry and Dubai’s status as one of the global hubs for events? Geoff Dickinson CEO of dmg events and the upcoming President of UFI (Global Industry Events Association) For 2024, looks deep into the crystal ball for a peek into the future.
Would you say that the number of annual industry-related events worldwide continues to shrink even after cities have opened in full?
Once cities re-open, pretty much all the events return – we have seen this in Dubai as city that managed its way through this pandemic superbly. We at dmg events are back to running all our events this year in Dubai - and in all other cities - that have re-opened.
Some events disappeared where, sadly, small organisers were not able to continue operating due to the financial stress from the pandemic. However, we maintained our confidence in the power of quality face-to-face events and launched new events over these past two years. We launched with Dubai Police the World Police Summit at the Expo 2020 site in March and this event will grow and develop next year at DWTC.
We also created the World Utilities Congress in Abu Dhabi in May at ADNEC and a new hydrogen event in Canada. In 2022 we launched six new trade fairs in four countries and working on the launch of more for 2023.
But has business related travel actually returned in strength?
If you fly Emirates currently, they are generally full in Business Class and even in First. The power of face-to-face communication is firmly understood now, particularly after these two years. Businesses are desperate to re-establish customer bonds and connections with face-to-face meetings.
Apart from Dubai and UAE, are there other regional cities that have seen MICE return to pre-pandemic levels?
Many cities are now returning to pre-pandemic levels it is only cities with continuing restrictions that are not. We operate globally with 10 offices around the world and events in 28 countries. Our recent events in UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi) Saudi (Riyadh), Canada (Calgary), Egypt (Cairo), Nigeria (Abuja), and Italy (Rome) have all re-bounded. Many, such as our Riyadh events, saw increased attendance from pent up demand.
The Dubai World Trade Centre this year saw the largest ever attendance for Gulf Food.
Do you see organisers having to slash rates for exhibitors to make a return?
We have not slashed rates, nor in the main have other organisers. We have held rates to be respectful and sympathetic to our exhibitors who suffered during the pandemic. Our exhibitors have not cut back on their space, nor have they pulled back on their spend on their stands.
We recently ran our Hotel and INDEX (interior Design) events and there were some truly amazing stands. The one issue that remains at this point is that exhibitors from some destinations, particularly China, still have travel restrictions and we are therefore missing exhibitors from several countries – but these will return.
Events are rapidly recovering their volumes and our ADIPEC event in Abu Dhabi in November 2021 was at 95 per cent of its pre-pandemic volume as was our energy event EGYPS in Cairo in February.
Many key industry events still make do with a virtual counterpart to the main event – does that need to go before MICE recovers fully?
All crisis tends to see an advance in the need, use and development of technology. For event organisers being able to go online/virtual allowed us to maintain the event brand presence and continue our connections for our customers. The advances in the quality and delivery of online events were huge over the past two years.
This will create an upside for events as it means that people who for some reason are not able to attend in person can now attend and watch conference sessions online. Online/virtual events will not replace live in-person events, but they will complement them and extend their reach.
For example, ADIPEC oil and gas event in Abu Dhabi attracts visitors from all over the world – but some staff e.g., say a young strategist from Exxon Mobil in Houston may not be funded by his or her company to travel so far. But they can now attend online…
The online/virtual events component of our live face-to-face events will add delegate and visitor volumes which in turn is likely to increase exhibitors and sponsors. So, whilst short-term, the pandemic has been incredibly financially stressful for event organisers. Long-term, it will see increased revenue for hybrid events that are both face-to-face and online.
As things stand now, the main hurdles facing trade shows and organisers?
The main hurdles are quite small, it is just waiting for global travel to fully open without restrictions - e.g., China. The events industry is bouncing back fast, and customer demand is stronger than ever before because people miss face-to-face meetings.
What would be the revised agenda, if any, for the UFI?
As a board member of UFI the global events industry association I work actively with the association to support ongoing initiatives to make sure the events industry is advancing in the right direction. UFI signed up at COP 26 in November 2021 to – Net Zero Carbon Events – to connect the events industry globally to the rapidly growing movement towards net-zero by 2050.
The venue will start to move to green power solutions, stand contractors will create re-useable stand designs, water will be recycled at an event, and carbon credits will be used to offset travel. The industry will become carbon neutral.
I have every faith that face-to-face events will bounce back and grow at pace in the coming years.