By Alan Kelly
Ahead of the Middle East Special Event and Exhibition Show next week, new thinking is needed in the MICE space, writes Alan Kelly, Commercial and Strategy Director, Informa Middle East
The rapid advancement of new technologies has rich promise for the global events industry, and those who are best able to take advantage stand to race ahead of the competition.
In fact, the potential of being able to offer increasingly engaging and immersive experiences to audiences and delegates cannot come soon enough. It will provide the perfect opportunity to survive in a crowded market, where “event fatigue” is perhaps our most pressing challenge.
The days of simply turning up to an event and remaining on the sidelines, watching and listening, are long gone. There will be huge investment in technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and computer-generated environments, which are and will continue to be at the forefront of shaping the event space.
Such technologies will in turn increase the quality of metrics you can gain from an event and in real time. As such, events will become increasingly tailored and customised for the delegate, delivering intimate and unique experiences.
I believe, however, that the true secret to successfully adopting new technologies will be in retaining the human connection – this is, after all, what events are all about. The desire to meet face-to-face has never been stronger and this has resulted in continued growth within the MICE sector [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] globally. Events are still considered crucial when trying to form stronger client relationships, test new markets, launch new products, facilitate team-building opportunities and provide incentives.
Knowledge, and its transfer, is now at the heart of every successful event, conference and exhibition. For example, the provision of learning experiences at the recent Association for Talent Development Middle East Forum helped it to double in size this year.
More than ever, delegates now expect a solid return on their time, whether in the form of gaining strong leads, a great learning opportunity, or an understanding of a new industry or market. Without this, they just won’t return.
A key benefit of exhibitions is that you can measure this “return on investment” quite effectively. It is tangible and this is why the sector, especially exhibitions and key industry events, remained robust throughout the downturn of 2009/2010. While networking is equally as important – sometimes more important, depending on the industry – if companies get the balance right, they have hit the “sweet spot” for hosting a highly successful event.
Despite increasingly stiff competition from both European and US cities, Dubai has made remarkable strides in growing its MICE industry – although it has some way to go to close the gap on, say, London or Paris.
The importance of MICE can easily be seen when cities go to great lengths to compete to host events for major associations because the knock-on economic impact can be significant – flights, hotels, restaurants and so on. Of course, there are major events that call Dubai “home” year after year, such as Arab Health and Middle East Electricity, and they play a key role in driving business tourism.
The continued growth of the MICE sector will demand innovative offerings from event companies, as well as hotels and venues. Pricing structure is key, and a big issue in Dubai. Hotels remain too focused and inflexible when it comes to day delegate rate (DDR), minimum spend and minimum bedroom guarantees. For local event companies this can be especially challenging, but with new competition hotels are starting to be more original in their offerings.
New hotels would also benefit by involving event companies at a much earlier stage in the design of their venues. There is nothing more frustrating than arriving at a new hotel conference centre to discover the lay-out is wrong, access is difficult, parking is limited and natural light is non-existent. Mixed-use spaces, such as design studios, art galleries, innovation centres and public spaces, are now giving hotels a run for their money. Being able to hire a unique and flexible space enables the event organiser to be far more creative and not forced to work within four bland walls.
With Expo 2020 fast approaching, I believe the UAE can position itself at the forefront of the event industry. Dubai has already reached tremendous heights in terms of delivery and has developed a thriving event ecosystem – and Expo 2020 will obviously increase the revenue lines for many companies operating in the space. The true opportunity it presents, however, is to push the boundaries, to be creative and to adopt new cutting-edge technologies. This will enable them, and Dubai, to become global MICE leaders.