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Sat 10 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Head to head

Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings exhibition director Graeme Barnett and Net Group executive chairman Ali Abu Monassar go head-to-head in an exclusive interview.

Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings exhibition director Graeme Barnett and Net Group executive chairman Ali Abu Monassar go head-to-head in an exclusive interview..

What are your first impressions of GIBTM 2008?

Barnett:As a team we are really pleased with the outcome. Day one was especially pleasing - we have certainly grown the show and the feedback that I have had from hosted buyers and exhibitors is that those that were here last year have noticed that the show feels bigger and there are more people doing business, which from our point of view is fantastic. That is what it is all about.

People are starting to understand what we are trying to do with this event and that it is not a general leisure show, it has got a specific niche and it is specifically designed for business tourism and the meetings industry; it is a driver and a shaper of an industry.

People are starting to understand what we are trying to do with this event and that it is not a general leisure show.

Monassar:I am less optimistic than Graeme, but not because I don't have the results. If I were completely satisfied I would not move forward, and that is my driver; I am never satisfied, in order to obtain better results in the future.

Less than two years ago the biggest challenge was making people understand the difference between GIBTM and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) - today we have not reached that result but we are in a very good position to make people understand.

The growth of 20%, for a show like this is a huge result. People have to understand that it is not the volume of people but the quality of business.

Barnett:I agree and that is one of the challenges. We as a company would view a launch exhibition to still be a launch exhibition for three years. What we had to do was clearly distinguish between ATM and GIBTM - it is not really until people see the exhibition and participate in the show that they can understand the true differences.

One thing that people immediately see when they consider GIBTM versus ATM is the difference in the density of the visitors. At ATM the aisles are crowded and full, but here it is a much more pleasant environment to do business.

Once they understand the dynamic of the hosted buyers and the pre-scheduled appointments they start to understand what this industry is all about and the way the show is set up i.e. to provide the right environment to do business.

What would you like to see in the next instalment of GIBTM?

Monassar:We still have a long way to go - we have to attract other destinations like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Arab countries. We have Oman and Egypt but we also need the likes of Lebanon, Syria and Morocco on board.

You have other exhibitions such as EIBTM in Europe, CIBTM in China and GIBTM in the Middle East, and we want GIBTM to be on the same level as the others.

From an organiser's point of view, Reed is investing a lot of money and I am sure that they too are looking for return on investment on the event.

Barnett:One of the fascinating things about this show is that not only are we able to provide a business generating opportunity, we are helping to shift people's views on the Middle East as a whole.

If you look at some of the hosted buyers from Europe and America, for many of them this is the first time they have set foot in the Middle East. They are now going back home with a completely different view of the region; the culture, the differences between each of the UAE emirates and the other GCC countries. We are helping change people's perceptions.

What did you make of the results of the second GIBTM Industry Research survey?

Barnett: I am delighted to see that the region is seen very positively by the international meetings community and delighted to see that more and more meetings planners are looking at the Gulf region and the wider Middle East as a destination. I think there are some challenges that need to be addressed and overcome but if I was an operator in the Middle East - boy would I be excited.

Monassar:I am always confident because I know the region and the potential - you can not promote something unless you believe in it - but the research has confirmed this. Last year I was hesitant to believe whether the figures we saw were accurate. What has come out [from the second batch of results] is a confirmation of that.

In the one year since the launch of the show we have seen the differences in trends - the way suppliers start to think differently from a local perspective and also how much international planners believe in this destination.

Monassar: Did you expect these results when you planned GIBTM?

Barnett:Personally I am a very positive person - the glass is always half full and not half empty - and if I am asked to do something and I believe in it I will make it happen. I think we still have quite a long way to go, but I am extremely pleased with the results and we will definitely be back next year to make it bigger and better.

Could we have done more to make the show slightly bigger in year two? Yes I think we could, but I think that as a company we are really delighted with what we have achieved.

We are here for a minimum of five years and we have committed a lot of resource to an event that we believe can help to shape the meetings industry in the Middle East.

Part of that is a commitment to defining the buyer population here and that will grow as the number of hospitality businesses and the supply chain grows, so the audience will grow.

It really is about trying to work out the best strategy to understand who is part of this industry that they don't know they are part of - there are so many people out there doing the job that makes them part of this meetings industry, but they haven't got a clue that they are part of it.

That is one of the messages that we need to reappraise ourselves of and we are working with the industry here to make people aware that they are part of a global industry.

Not only can an understanding of that help with the current roles that they have but it can help them with their own professional development. We are totally committed to working on that.

Barnett: If there is one thing about your industry or the region that you could change overnight, what would it be?

Monassar:The promotional message is not yet the right message to make people understand that this show is different from shows like ATM. Many participants ask why they have to come to GIBTM when ATM is coming in a couple of weeks; to me, that means people didn't understand the difference.

We are also helping build a database for event organisers - they might be part of our society, but they don't know it. It is our obligation to deliver that message and to make them understand that they have to participate because they are the people to whom this show is targeted.

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