You were recently at IBTM Barcelona: how did you feel about holding an international trade show in times of crisis, with increased regulatory constraints and reduced visitor numbers?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – I don’t know what the number of participants was at IBTM, maybe a little less than before, but the main thing is the huge appetite of participants to go back to business travel and trade shows. Today, not all destinations are open, many of my contacts wanted to come but there were accessibility constraints. From the point of view of the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau, we are mainly focused on the quality of the meetings we plan, rather than the quantity.

What is the state of the meetings & events market in Abu Dhabi today?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – The situation is very good, as evidenced by the recent launch of SIAL Middle East at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), a food and entertainment event. The day before we held the m&i Europe Winter Forum for the second time. So it’s been a very busy fourth quarter for us. The events sector is returning to normal, with a large number of delegates returning. There are also a lot of meetings and incentive operations. This is a very good sign for Abu Dhabi.

How do you explain this upturn, which is still far from being general in many destinations?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – I think it is because we are a safe destination. For example, over 90% of the population of Abu Dhabi is vaccinated. This sends a very reassuring signal to the delegates and the organisers. There is also a whole certification system, through the “Go Safe” programme, which covers event venues, attractions, hotels and airlines, with very strict protocols to guarantee the safety of visitors. Abu Dhabi has been named the safest destination for the fifth consecutive time by Numbeo. The other success factor is that within a four-hour flight, Abu Dhabi covers one-third of the world’s population. Accessibility is crucial to attracting major events, along with world-class infrastructure, and the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau’s support to organisers to help make their event a success. We are very much involved in this.

eleven new events to be launched next year

What is the volume of business today?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – In 2019, we welcomed a total of 13.3 million leisure visitors, and 1.4 million for the MICE sector, which totalled 24,000 events. Our goal for 2030 is to welcome 23 million travellers, both leisure and MICE. So we have ambitious goals. This past quarter has seen the return of events to Abu Dhabi, and the number of events is expected to grow rapidly again. The year 2022 is very promising from our point of view.ue, and 11 new events will be launched next year, including six trade shows and five association conferences.

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Do these new events mean that you are targeting new business sectors?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – Yes and no… The eleven new events I mentioned are still focused on the industries we usually target. But the pandemic has opened our eyes to new areas in which we must take an interest, such as health and safety and risk management.

Are there any developments in terms of congress infrastructures?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – Recently, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) announced a project to expand its surface area by 12% to 151,000 sqm. The message is clear: there is a real demand, which we intend to meet.

Are other major projects expected, particularly in the event industry or the hotel sector?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – There are many projects underway in Abu Dhabi, from event spaces to attractions to hotels: there is always something happening in Abu Dhabi. One example is the inauguration of the Etihad Arena last January, which is the largest indoor multi-purpose facility in the region, located on the beautiful Yas Bay waterfront. Most recently, in November, the Al Qana was inaugurated, further enhancing Abu Dhabi’s catalogue of event facilities with this world-class aquarium. Major hotel projects are also in the pipeline, including new addresses for business travellers, but I can’t say much more about them at the moment. All this is to help us meet the expected increase in demand in Abu Dhabi.

How have you weathered the months of crisis?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – I would not be honest if I said that the crisis did not challenge us, but it did. During the pandemic, a lot of activities stopped, air traffic dropped, but this did not prevent us from promoting the destination, for example by focusing on virtual or hybrid events. We have also taken advantage of this time to invest in team training, to rethink and refine our strategy by integrating the lessons of this crisis. Recently, we launched the Abu Dhabi Business & Events Week in October. The idea was simple: to bring together all the major players in the sector at the international level: ICCA, PCMA, UFI, IAEE, SITE, MPI, and other international associations. They were able to exchange during three days on the new market trends, share their knowledge, their vision of the future… Cooperation, networking and communication are essential in this period. This is what we are doing at the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau: we cannot act alone, we work closely with all our partners.We need to understand the needs and objectives of all the decision makers, the airlines, the hotels, the taxi industry.

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Is Abu Dhabi today the leading regional destination for events?

Mubarak Al Shamisi: I think so. We recently announced that Abu Dhabi will host COP 28, and now more than ever, major international events are held in Abu Dhabi. It is home to the world’s second largest oil and gas event, the number one military event… There is always competition, and the competition is always healthy, but Abu Dhabi is now at the forefront of hosting international events.

Have you invested in hybrids in the face of the crisis?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – A lot of hybrid events have taken place in Abu Dhabi in the last few months, and this may continue. The Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau has not invested in these technologies itself, but the event industry has, like the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, which has invested heavily in hosting hybrid or virtual events, or the Etihad Arena. Many event venues and hotels are investing in these new technologies, which are becoming a standard today. But I think we need to favour face-to-face meetings when possible.

What are your main challenges for the coming months?

Mubarak Al Shamisi – Only time will tell… But with all the transformations at work today in the events industry, we don’t want to make comparisons with the situation in 2019 or 2018. It’s about getting a clear picture of what the market is expecting, not looking ahead to next year, but looking ahead three to five years. How will these transformations manifest themselves, what will their concrete impact look like? As I said earlier, we need to keep our focus on the quality of meetings and events rather than on their quantity. Facing tomorrow’s challenges also means participating in international discussions between MICE players.