Americans consider Mideast meetings

More than 70 per cent of North America association executives would consider the Middle East as a prospective conference location, according to a new study released recently by Development Counsellors International (DCI).

With the region’s meeting, incentive, conference and exhibitions (Mice) industry valued at more than $1.3 billion, the study ‘Will Demand Meet Supply? Inside the Business Events Dilemma in the Middle East’ examines the unique position of the Middle East’s global business hubs towards attracting future business events from the North American market.

According to Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), the potential for additional growth in the meetings industry is primarily due to the strategic geographic location of the Middle East between the US, Europe and Asia. Growing trade activity has spurred interest among key industry sectors for a ‘new’ destination to host events, beyond Europe and rth America.

In fact, the Middle East is already the fastest-growing international association market, with the number of meetings held in the region tripling throughout the last 10 years, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).


• Potential growth in regional membership: Since participation from North American-based associations is low in the Middle East when compared to other global regions, 62 per cent of respondents believe the region offers an opportunity to create and grow Middle East regional membership for their organisations.

• Continuing education and regional events: Association executives also indicated that they see value in the region for continuing education opportunities and seminars, since the business community remains underserved in this area. The same can be said for regional chapter meetings and events, which are critical for building a deeper membership pool for global conventions.

• Past experience in the Middle East: Of the association executives surveyed, 33 per cent had hosted a conference in the Middle East. Of those who had hosted their meetings in the region, more than 50 per cent indicated that they had been held in the UAE, either in Dubai (38.2 per cent) or Abu Dhabi (16.4 per cent). Doha, ranked third with 16.3 per cent of responses, Jerusalem ranked fourth with 14.5 per cent of respondents, and fifth was Muscat with 5.5 per cent.

• Primary deterrents to hosting: Nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated that they would consider the Middle East as a location for future conferences. Of the 26.1 per cent who would not consider the region in the future, security and safety concerns were noted as the primary deterrent (34.9 per cent), along with lack of regional membership (25 per cent) and the travel distance (16.3 per cent). Interestingly, given the profile of many Middle East locations as luxurious, the price point was not the top concern.

'The UAE continues to lead the region with massive infrastructural developments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but convention centre openings and expansions in Israel, Oman and Qatar are representative of the growing sophistication of the region’s offerings,' says Middleton.

'Attracting North American associations will be critical as the Middle East marketplace becomes increasingly more competitive.'


While this study showcases that the Middle East is on the rise as an association conference location, it is clear that there is more work to do. With Chinese membership in global associations growing more rapidly than membership in the Middle East, many North American-based associations are likely to be persuaded to invest first in that market.

Yet Middle Eastern destinations will not be dissuaded. Dubai has been focused on the Mice market since 2008 and with new hotel openings occurring regularly and the expansion of the Dubai World Trade Centre recently announced, the destination will continue to dedicate resources to attract conferences and meetings to the Emirate.

Oman is wooing business to its meeting space with an aggressive, multi-year partnership with PCMA leading up to the opening of the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre in Muscat in 2016.

Abu Dhabi is turning up the heat on its marketing efforts to win international association meetings, hosting ICCA’s Middle East Chapter Workshop in April 2015 that shared tips and business solutions to industry suppliers for dealing with bidding process for conventions. One thing is for certain, the marketplace will become more competitive and more sophisticated with this investment in Middle East marketing dollars.

* The primary research for the study was based on an online survey fielded by DCI in January 2015.