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Tue 5 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Event professionals in short supply

For most Middle East firms, planning an event is usually an extra task for mid-management staff rather than dedicated events professional.

For most Middle East firms, planning an event is usually an extra task for mid-management staff rather than dedicated events professional.

Meetings professionals in Europe enjoy the benefits of being part of a recognised industry with its own voice and a number of trade associations to support it, but the situation is very different in the Middle East.

The challenge that we had and continue to have is researching and identifying buyers from the Middle East.

Since the region's meetings industry is still in its infancy, there are few people that can call themselves true events professionals, whose core job it is to plan and book events for their corporation.

So the question is who is booking meeting and events from within the region? Who are the buyers?

"That is exactly what we want to find out," says Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE) exhibition director, GIBTM and CIBTM, meetings and incentives, Graeme Barnett.

"If we were to launch a new EIBM in Europe it would be east to identify who the buyers are through the trade associations and the publishers because it is a known community, but here it is very different."

Sandra Boutonnet, PR manager for Cut Communications, which represents RTE, concurs: "In Europe you belong to an industry and you are happy being identified as being a meeting professional, whereas here people don't seem to want to be classified in a way that would ultimately benefit their own job and in such a way that means they could benefit from attending events of an educational value that would be of relevance to them."

According to Barnett, people like sales and marketing managers, PR executives, HR managers and PAs find themselves doing the job of events professional in addition to their core duties, depending on the specific requirements of the event or the department of the company that is booking it.

"The challenge that we had and continue to have is researching and identifying buyers from the Middle East," says Barnett.

"We know that there aren't that many professional conference organisers in the Middle East region - we always knew it was going to be our most critical area of development for the show and long term it will always be that way."

Arabian Adventures and Congress Solutions International (CSI) senior vice president Frédéric Bardin said that the absence of dedicated meetings professionals within corporations in the region can make life harder for the destination management company (DMC), professional congress organiser (PCO) or event management company to organise their event: "Locally it is usually one of the departments of that company depending what the event is that contact us," he told MIME.

"It could be sales and marketing or HR or finance. They are not meetings professionals so we need to go into more details; ask more questions and explain more than you do with someone whose job it is to plan events."

While some major corporations like Emirates have their own events-planning teams, very few regional corporations have a member of staff who is dedicated to the job and is aware of exactly what they want from the event, he adds.

"In the first meeting we will spend an hour or two asking questions about what they want. The reaction from non-professionals is often ‘I didn't think about that'," says Bardin.

According to RTE's Barnett, the problem is two-fold: as well as a lack of self-awareness from events professionals as to their own position as part of a global industry, the UAE could be a victim of its own success: "Occupancy rates among the hotel community within Abu Dhabi (and I suspect Dubai) are so high, that demand vastly exceeds supply, therefore sales teams are not selling as hard as they might be," he says.
Even a lot of hotels don't have a database of target prospects because they don't need it. Hopefully that will change as more hotel rooms come on stream and the dynamic between demand and supply changes, however for the moment it is very hard to get any database for prospective buyers.

International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) CEO Martin Sirk also acknowledges the problem but says that is to be expected given the infancy of the industry in the Middle East: "There is a lack of trade meeting professionals, but partly that is because the industry has grown so fast that you haven't been able to get people trained up," he says.

That is why GIBTM and the second GIBTM Industry Research survey are vital to the development of the meetings industry in the Middle East, Barnett adds.

Barnett says that professional development is another crucial area in which people involved in planning events can benefit from attending GIBTM.

"One of the corner stones for launching GIBTM was to assist in the development of the meetings community within the Gulf and Middle East region," he says.

Meetings Professionals International (MPI) has also proved its commitment to the region and the event purchasers within it with the launch of the first Gulf Meetings and Events Conference, which has been organised in association with RTE to take place in Dubai from April 5-6.

"The partnership creates a strong value proposition that is aimed at local meeting professionals throughout the Middle East, many of whom we understand do not really see themselves as part of the meetings industry," says Didier Scaillet, vice-president of global development, MPI.

"It is also open to international meeting professionals already doing business in the region or those who are looking to do so."

The conference will deliver a programme of education, professional development and networking to the region, and mark the beginning of a week-long focus on the sector, culminating in GIBTM.

MPI’s membership categories

Corporate meeting professional: a person who is solely employed by a corporation to plan and/or oversee the strategic and financial management and/or logistics of that corporation's meetings.

Association/non-profit meeting professional: a person who is solely employed by an association or not-for profit organization to plan and/or oversee the strategic and financial management and/or logistics of that organization's meetings.

Government meeting professional: a person who is employed by a government agency or public university to plan and/or oversee the strategic and financial management and/or logistics of that government's meetings.

Supplier meeting professional: a person who provides and/or sells products and services to the meetings industry, such as a destination management, hotelier, audio-visual, florist, transportation, production or convention and visitors bureau company.

This classification of membership is not limited to the groups listed.

Meeting management professional: a person who is a sole proprietor of, or is employed or engaged by, a meeting management company.

They provide meeting services including strategic and financial management and/or professional meetings management services to multiple clients.

The applicant must specify whether their job responsibilities are primarily planning or supplying, based on where they spend 51% or more of their time.

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