The Middle East aims to compete with the top conference destinations in the world - MIME takes a look at some of the most significant conference centre developments in the GCC.
The combined bid of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to host the 50th International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) World Congress in 2011 recently lost out to Leipzig at the eleventh hour, with one main reason cited as being influential in the bid going against them.
ICCA CEO Martin Sirk says that too much of the UAE bid was based on what is going to be built, rather than what is already there, unlike the tried and tested venues in Leipzig.
Despite this, ICCA is keen to stress the impressive nature of what is happening in the region and has encouraged another bid in the future.
In the meantime, ICCA has proved its commitment to the region by launching the first ICCA Middle East research, sales and marketing programme, which is set to take place in Dubai from August 27-29.
With the future in mind, MIME takes a look at the major conference and exhibition centres currently being developed in the Middle East.
The Bahrain Exhibition and Convention Authority (BECA) is currently studying projects that would address the increased demand for meetings and conference facilities.
BECA originally planned a new exhibition centre with 30,000m2 of exhibition space to be up and running within the next five years, but it recently became apparent that a far larger facility was needed to meet the demand for conference space in Bahrain, according to BECA MICE director Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen.
"We now plan to build a 150,000m2 conference centre, which will be able to hold international congresses with up to 10,000 delegates," she explains.
The centre will be developed on a plot of land adjacent to the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC).
"This will be the first exhibition centre that's positioned next to a Formula One track and it will house a five-star and a four-star hotel as well as retail outlets; it will almost be like a city," she explains.
BECA also plans to develop the growing incentives sector, which has emerged since the opening of BIC.
"We have a lot of evening functions out at the circuit to try and offer something completely unique for delegates," says Stanford-Kristiansen.
"They can request to have have a gala dinner set up in the paddock club area or they can go up in the tower - it's a very unique experience."And with the proactive development of the meetings and conference industry, it is hoped that there will be a positive influence on Bahrain's tourism figures.
"Developing MICE is one of the key strategies for the future growth of tourism in Bahrain, so the two will go hand in hand," she adds.
"It is estimated that more than 21,000 international exhibitors and delegates will be attending international events held at BIEC in 2008 and more than 27,000 in 2009, which shows a substantial growth of more than double figures from those of 2007," she adds.
Set to be completed by 2011, the design of the US $664million facility, which Stanford-Kristiansen assures will be iconic, is still being finalised.
Saudi Arabia has also identified the need to provide a new venue for major events and to boost international business.
With this in mind, the Riyadh Exhibitions Company (REC) is currently developing the new Riyadh National Exhibition Centre, a state-of-the-art facility to drive more business into the capital, according to media and marketing manager Hani Habib.
"Everybody in Saudi Arabia has insisted on embracing the meeting and conference market," he explains.
"With the economy driving this sector along, there were a lot of people, especially the locals, who wanted to know about and be involved with the new centre."
REC identified the need to improve on the design of the old exhibition centre and create a modern facility that would be suitable for the 21st century, he adds.
The centre is expected to be complete by September, but delays could set completion back until January 2009 "at the latest", Habib explains.
"We have already moved our offices to the new location. The old centre is still there and might be used in emergencies in case the new one has not opened by September, but that's just an option - nothing is confirmed yet," he concludes.
Ras Al Khaimah
UAE developer Rakeen has revealed plans for an iconic convention and exhibition centre in Ras al Khaimah, as the emirate pushes forward in its dramatic expansion plans.
The RAK Convention and Exhibition Centre (RAKCEC) will feature 50,000m2 of rentable exhibition space spread out across five exhibition halls; seating for congresses of up to 4,000 delegates; four hotels; a three-storey shopping complex; and three levels of parking.
Accommodation will be provided by three 750-room hotels - The Tower (five-star plus), The Oasis (four-star) and The Expo (three-star) - and a fourth hotel, bringing the total number of rooms available within the project well above 2250.
"The complex integrates all the essential components of a successful exhibition, which includes, first of all, the environment, the facility and the services," says Dr. Imad Haffar, COO of Rakeen.
"As an exhibitor, I want to come to an environment that facilitates the movement of people into the exhibition centre; I want a first class facility in terms of integration."
The convention centre has been designed with green initiatives in mind and will be built around natural contours of the land and, like Rakeen's other projects in the emirates, will follow a zero tree-cutting policy.
Gardens within the development already exist on the site of the project and will become an integral part of the overall design upon completion.
The design of the centre allows for the maximum amount of natural light to come into the building to cut down on the amount of electricity required to illuminate the venue.
Haffar says the entire project will be complete by 2012: "The first phase which includes that central iconic tower plus the convention and exhibition centre will be done in two and a half to three years," he assures.
Following the successful completion of phase one of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) last year, phase two is well underway, and the company recently revealed plans to build a second new centre in Abu Dhabu in Al Ain.
ADNEC sales and marketing director Paul Vincent explains why an exhibition centre is integral to helping Abu Dhabi become a tourist and business destination of choice.
"Abu Dhabi is positioning the whole emirate as a world-renowned destination and ADNEC and Al Ain are very much a part of that strategy," he says.
"A conference brings thousands of people from all over the world to this destination - high quality visitors who then go back to their home countries as ambassadors. So we are not just marketing and promoting ADNEC; we are part of that ‘team Abu Dhabi' that is marketing the emirate to the rest of the world."
The AED 387 million ($ 105 million) Al Ain Conference Centre will be the centrepiece of a proposed AED 3.5 billion ($1 billion) business and residential micro-city - Al Ain Convention Centre and District.
The conference centre will become the hub of what ADNEC hopes will be a vibrant cultural and business orientated community in Al Ain.
The fundamental aim of ADNEC is to provide top quality events, at a top quality venue with the highest of professional standards, Vincent adds.
"Basically the strategy is quite simple; we want to create a family of venues. Think of it as the hardware and the reason for this is the fact that there is significant globalisation taking place in the exhibitions industry," he explains.
Phase two of ADNEC is on schedule and one of the first events to fully-let the completed project will be ADIPEC in November 2008.
Phase two will see the completion of a 27,000m2 exhibition space, including an 8000m2 multi-purpose hall, providing a total of 55,000m2 of hall space when combined with the phase one development.
Although the plans are still very much in the formative stages, Oman has also joined in the clamour to provide world-class conference facilities.
According to Salim Al Mamari, director of general promotions for the Oman Ministry of Tourism, the conference and meetings industry sector is a priority to the overall development and profitability of Oman.
"The MICE segment is high-yielding and is a powerful driver for wider tourism activity," he says.
"International case studies have shown that business-class travellers underpin air service increases and that many business travellers are ‘repeat' visitors to Oman. This segment is a priority for our industry."
Planned to be an iconic development with an international profile, the development is viewed by Omani tourism officials as the first significant venture for Oman into the conferences and exhibition market.
"The Ministry is delighted with the Government's commitment to proceed with the design and construction of a state-of-the-art, 6,000-seat convention facility," adds Al Mamari.
"Construction of the nationally significant facility will be managed by OMRAN, and the Ministry will now consider facility management options, including the establishment of a dedicated convention bureau," he concludes.
For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.