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Tue 12 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Meeting expectations

This month, F&B insiders discuss the growth of the region's meetings market and the challenges and rewards of catering corporate events.

This month, F&B insiders discuss the growth of the region's meetings market and the challenges and rewards of catering corporate events.

Is the UAE a popular destination for meeting and conferences?

Manjunath Rajan:

The increased number of airlines coming into Dubai and its neighbouring countries, in addition to Emirates Airlines' fleet expansion, are indications of the economic and infrastructural boom that the country is undergoing.

Obviously this will have a direct impact on trade and tourism and it has resulted in increased business, both in terms of conferences and seminars and for leisure travel. This brings in greater opportunities.

Rakesh Sinha:

The UAE is extremely business-friendly and is seen as an ideal platform to reach markets in the Middle East and North Africa.

Karen Horkan:

The growth that Dubai will experience in the coming years makes this destination attractive and, as a result, the city is becoming more popular for meetings.

Louise Stephan:

The UAE is an upcoming investment and tourist destination that is receiving a lot of exposure abroad for both its leisure and business sectors.

How do you select a menu for a conference event?

Rajan:

There are several factors that must be taken into consideration. If it is multi-national gathering, it is advisable to offer an international menu with a mix of cuisines.

It's also good to know the client's preferences in advance.

Light snacks are perfect for coffee breaks. Lunch should not be very heavy or elaborate either.

Horkan:

The conferences and events team at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, along with the professional chefs from the hotel, are very experienced in organising events that cater to mixed nationalities.

Our team is available to guide the conference or event organiser through menu choices, giving advice as and when required.

Maria Ruane:

The decision is usually based on the different nationalities attending.

Stephan:

Our menu selections are sent to our clients based on their requirements and needs for that particular event.


The client then chooses the menu accordingly with assistance and guidance from the banqueting and sales team.

Are rising food costs affecting conference menu selection?

Rajan:

Despite the rise in food costs, we try to offer the best value for money to our clients.

Sinha:

Most of the large conferences are booked in advance with set prices, so few alterations can be made.

We do end up taking on the additional costs for smaller events, however, where food cost may impact the selection.

Horkan:

Although food costs have increased in Dubai, these do not affect the menu choice.

We take great pride in serving menus that are nothing but the best and maintain the highest standards and quality in F&B.

Ruane:

The rising food costs absolutely have an impact, as does the availability of supplies.

Stephan:

At this stage we haven't been affected by rising food costs.

How do you monitor and maintain hygiene and food safety regulations in a conference environment?

Rajan:

We have implemented a food safety management system based on the principles of HACCP in all our hotels. This enables us to monitor and maintain the hygiene and food safety in all our operations.

Sinha:

With the support of Dubai Municipality food control section and the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) management, our teams adhere strictly to HACCP food safety guidelines and conduct internal and external audits including surprise food samplings and frequent random inspections.

Horkan:

We are continuously training our employees and ensuring that we provide a safe and healthy environment for guests and our staff.

Ruane:

All staffs have to be trained and there are internal inspectors and additional government inspectors that carry out spot-checks.

Stephan:

Emirates Palace currently maintains a food and safety department consisting of the food and hygiene manager and a food safety officer.


They are in charge of maintaining food and safety standards and following the HACCP guidelines.

What market does most of your conference business come from?

Rajan:

The guests come from practically all over the world. We have plenty of business coming in from the local market as well.

Sinha:

Our major clients come from the corporate and government sectors.

Horkan:

The majority of our clients originate from the corporate market, although our weddings market is also a very strong component.

Stephan:

There is a diverse mix of conference business. It is mostly corporate and government clients.

What are the current challenges of catering to conferences, meetings and events?

Rajan:

One has to be extremely vigilant and alert. Every little detail counts. Service has to be extremely courteous.

Sinha:

With Dubai being a multicultural and multi-ethnic melting pot, it is a challenge for the chefs to cater to the vast variety of clients' tastes and service expectations.

The most important factor in providing service beyond the client's expectations is to be aware of their requirements in advance, which means maintaining clear and seamless communication between the client-facing and service teams.

Horkan:

Conferences, meetings and events are constantly evolving, technology is constantly being upgraded and therefore it is always important to follow the trends and guest preferences in order to remain ahead.

Each conference organiser would like their event to be better and more exciting than the last, and we aim to exceed our guests' expectations.

Ruane:

There are no challenges. We are fully equipped for conferences, although we could do with another ballroom!

How important are conferences as a revenue stream?

Rajan:

Nearly 25% of our total F&B revenue can be attributed to conference and seminars.

Sinha:

Twenty-five to 30% of our revenues come from the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment.

Horkan:

There is definitely more focus on conferences, meetings and events in hotels in general compared to some years ago.


To make sure that we get the right revenue, it is crucial to yield conference and events spaces correctly, ensuring we sell the space at the right time for the right event.

Stephan:

They are extremely important as our conference space is usually complemented with accommodation bookings that boost the revenue for both rooms and conferences.

Are the costs of conferences and events rising?

Sinha:

The rising prices of food, the current rate of inflation and rising costs of labour do impact the cost of conferences, not just in the UAE but globally.

Horkan:

In comparison to other parts of the world, Dubai is very reasonable in terms of the quality of food and the excellent level of service it provides for corporate clients.

Ruane:

It's better here than in other cities.

Stephan:

Each year the cost of holding a conference will rise by a small percentage.

How many conferences do you do a year?

Rajan:

400 to 450 conferences, seminars and workshops.

Sinha:

We cater for approximately 75-100 conferences a year.

Horkan:

Jumeirah Emirates Towers hosts approximately 3000 events per year.

Stephan:

We average approximately 1700 conferences per year and this figure has grown by around 35% per year.


What trends do you think we'll see in conference catering in the next 12 months?

Sinha:

I see a definite move towards more health-conscious banqueting food choices.

Horkan:

The demand for conferences and events facilities will continue to evolve and high levels of service, personalisation and technology will continue to play an integral part.

In addition, event organisers will have a wide choice of facilities available to suite their tastes and requirements.

Taking part in this roundtable

Manjunath Rajan, food and beverage manager, Coral Deira Hotel, Dubai.

Rakesh Sinha, corporate food and beverage manager, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

Maria Ruane, convention services manager, Le Meridien and The Westin Mina Seyahi Complex, Dubai.

Louise Stephan, sales manager, conference and banqueting, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi.

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