Exciting times ahead for the Middle East

As a result of this success as well as recent changes in the geo-political climate, more destinations across the Middle East are waking up to the potentially lucrative Mice tourism market. Eager to take their place on the global stage they are committing multi-million dollar and even multi-billion-dollar investments to support growth.

Here’s my take on some of the region’s latest news and why it’s such a hot property for inbound and outbound meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions travel market.


Rapid development makes for an exciting future.

It’s a very exciting time for the Mice market in the Middle East – with Dubai and Abu Dhabi continuing to extend their offer and new destinations making a real impact on the market. The changing geo-political climate and a lightening of security concerns mean that organisations around the globe are becoming increasingly familiar and comfortable with bringing their meetings and events here. There is incredible scope for the industry as a whole and for our IBTM Arabia event.


The UAE Federal Tax Authority has removed VAT on services provided at exhibitions and conferences


Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, in particular is being geared up for major development that will enhance its tourism portfolio. With eight projects collectively worth more than $283 million in the pipeline, Saudi Arabia is set on stimulating both local and international business investments in the region’s development projects.

Bahrain is following suit with its Economic Vision 2030 and a major new convention centre, Expo City, on the way. The new 100,000sqm facility will be built near the Bahrain International Circuit. Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister, Zayed Al Zayani, said: “We are building a state-of-the-art facility with 15,000 sqm of convention space and 4,000 plus seating capacity and new infrastructure, as part of this project in Sakhir. Once completed it will have a huge potential for hosting exhibitions and conference and put Bahrain on the international map”.


Investment in infrastructure continues to pay dividends.

The growth of the industry is under-pinned by ever-improving infrastructure – new airline routes and increased frequency continue to open up the region and hotel groups are still investing heavily, including in the mid-market range where historically there has been something of a gap. For example, global hospitality management chain, Swiss-Belhotel has announced major expansion plans across the region, with seven new hotels and resorts opening in 2018 alone, including the company’s inaugural properties in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. By 2020, they have an operating portfolio of 20 hotels across the Middle East.

Confidence in the region continues to grow as it appears more frequently on the world events stage thanks to the calibre and scale of facilities available here. Major global events are now a regular occurrence, with a number in the pipeline including the Special Olympics World Games 2019 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Expo 2020 and the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar amongst others.


The Middle East makes it clear it is open for business.

The is further helped by authorities making it simpler and more affordable to do business in their region, for example, in a clear sign of its commitment to cementing the UAE’s status as a leading destination for local, regional and international forums, the Federal Tax Authority has removed VAT on services provided at exhibitions and conferences. As a result of initiatives like this and the spotlight shining on the region, new sectors and industries are moving in, from pharma and medical tourism to engineering and finance, as they capitalise on its strategic location, easy accessibility from West and East and its modern and, in many cases, world-beating infrastructure and facilities.


* The writer is exhibition director – Middle East, Arabian Travel Market and IBTM Arabia



IBTM Arabia, which will take place at Jumeirah Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi from March 25 to 27, has partnered with ICCA Middle East for its inaugural knowledge forum.  

New this year, ‘Mice Knowledge Platform’ comprises two specially tailored sessions in association with ICCA Middle East. The first session, ‘Business approaches across Cultures’, will bring together panel members from across the Mena meetings and events industry to debate the significant cultural factors influencing how businesses communicate, cooperate and succeed in the Mena region.

In the second session, association and convention bureau panellists will explore international perceptions of the Middle East and investigate how companies and destinations in the region can be client focussed in our ever-changing business environment.

Senthil Gopinath, ICCA Middle East, commented: “ICCA’s business philosophy is built on the foundation of sharing knowledge about international association meetings, something our members have been doing for over 50 years. We extend this thinking into every type of business and knowledge exchange we’re involved in and IBTM Arabia is one of those events.”

Senthil adds: “The panel discussions are designed to raise awareness of the value of international meetings for destinations, venues, PCO/DMCs and other suppliers across the region, and to explore how to increase competitiveness and win more meetings business. We’re looking forward to some lively debate and interesting discussion on some of our industry’s important topics.”