Sector moving full steam ahead

Simon Mellor, CEO at Messe Frankfurt Middle East

From Messe Frankfurt Middle East’s perspective, we returned to the live events landscape at Dubai World Trade Centre in September 2021, and have since hosted nine face-to-face exhibitions in the Emirate over the 2021-2022 event season.

The guidance and responsible actions of our leaders allowed the country to open its borders again for international travel earlier than most other countries, and subsequently paved the way for the return of large-scale events.



None more-so than a certain global expo – the Arab world’s first, and one that has already welcomed more than 20 million visitors from across the globe since the mega event opened in October 2021.

The introduction of a dedicated exhibition space at Expo 2020, the Dubai Exhibition Centre, allowed event organisers to run shows which aligned with the Expo’s messages and themes but also allow global organisations the opportunity to take part in the largest show on earth.

One such event for us was Hypermotion Dubai, a pioneering conference and exhibition for an open discussion on disruptive transport and logistics technologies, as well as a forum for local, regional and international change-makers within the industry to tackle challenges and opportunities that will directly impact our day-to-day lives.

Expo 2020 also promoted innovation in the construction and design practices. This was displayed in the pavilions’ design quality and accuracy which re-established the concept of innovation and art. Moreover, the local business community benefited from the event as a design inspiration for upcoming events.



An important trend we’re seeing is a significant increase of senior executives to our shows over the last few months compared to pre-pandemic years.

Across all our nine exhibitions in the 2021-2022 season, senior management visitor registration, including CEOs, Managing Directors, and business owners, increased by 80 per cent versus pre-Covid years.

This growth is mirrored by the number of individuals from the procurement or purchasing function which has increased by an average of 14 per cent in real terms compared to 2019.

This indicates that those that attend trade fairs are high-level decision makers with a clear intent and purpose, and there is a latent demand by visitors to network and find new suppliers that has been largely unfulfilled by alternatives such as digital or online events.

This is consistent with our own research we’ve carried out since August 2020, where we’ve conducted three surveys of more than 13,000 stakeholders from 130 countries to explore the impact of Covid-19 on the exhibitions industry, delving into key areas such as travel, budgets, and the importance of trade fairs in a post-pandemic world.

Dubai’s prominence in this research is phenomenal, with 77 per cent of respondents during this period viewing the Emirate as the safest destination globally to attend exhibitions.

It’s easily seen as one of the safest cities in the world, and I think that’s a reflection of how people have seen Dubai handle the pandemic.

Initially, some respondents viewed online, digital events as a viable alternative to physical trade shows, which we anticipated given at the time much of the world was still in some form of lock-down.

In 2020, in the absence of physical trade fairs, Messe Frankfurt Middle East hosted close to 100 webinars, attracting 37,000 online attendees, ensuring we remained connected to our markets.

That viewpoint has changed over time, as the limitations of online events become more evident, coinciding with the return of physical trade shows, particularly in Dubai, where there is a clear shift towards a back-to-business mentality. Now we’ve seen that C-level executives, business owners and key decision makers are the most likely to get on a plane and travel.

More positive news for the MICE industry is that 75 per cent of our respondents believe exhibitions will be just as, or more important than they were pre-Covid, with the majority of respondents citing a lack of alternatives to the face-to-face business opportunities offered by sector-specific trade shows.

When asked if they believed the Covid-19 situation is either stabilised or improving – a promising 73 per cent of respondents pointed to the latter, while a further 83 per cent insisted they are comfortable with traveling to Dubai to attend exhibitions.

Another nod of appreciation to the UAE government here for its ongoing efforts to keep the country open to international travel, for both MICE and leisure, all while keeping residents, citizens, and visitors as safe as possible.



All this is not to say that digital, or online events, do not have their place. Indeed, I believe hybrid events are the future, combining the best of the physical and digital world.

The augmentation of technology into the traditional exhibition environment has already been underway for some time now, but Covid-19 has no doubt advanced this progress.

There is a wealth of data waiting to be collected and analysed, both in the physical and virtual event environment, that organisers can leverage to provide their customers with more meaningful business exchanges, not only during an event, but in the days, weeks, and months, that precede and follow.

* Simon Mellor is CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East