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IBTM exhibition director predicts seven destinations as MICE hubs

Danielle Curtis, exhibition director of The Middle East, Arabian Travel Market and IBTM Arabia, has revealed seven destinations set to become prominent in the meetings and events industry.

Curtis listed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprised of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, among the most promising hotspots for meetings and events travel in the future.

Unsurprising perhaps, is the UAE, given that Dubai is a well-established brand in the business events world, boasting more than 650,000 sqm of event space and 96,000 bedrooms across 501 hotels. Neighbouring states such as Abu Dhabi, known in the events sphere for its involvement in Formula 1, has also gained traction in the wider business events world by setting a goal to attract three million business visitors by 2021.

While some GCC states such as Qatar are already recognised as world-class events destinations, the conservative nation of Saudi Arabia has only recently widened its visa offerings to include non-religious tourists. However, Curtis predicted the entire GCC is poised to develop as a global event hub through “Huge investments in infrastructure, relaxing regulations and creating tourism resort areas that will be governed by laws on par with international standards.”

The United Nations World Tourism Organization expects the GCC will attract 195 million visitors per year by 2013, higher than the global average of any region. Curtis also stated that the integration of social media, augmented reality and digitisation, along with a focus on personalisation, will help the GCC become a centre for events.

Georgia, in the Caucasus region, was also listed by Curtis as an “Up and coming” meeting hub thanks to its visa-free agreement with 98 countries. Curtis said: “Located at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, Georgia has integrated aspects of several cultures, while retaining its own cultural identity.”

Once only popular among Russians and Ukrainians, Georgia set a new tourism record in 2018, hosting more than eight million international travellers which increased its tourism revenue to more than £2 billion. Destination management companies (DMC), such as Tbilisi-based Grata, are also putting Georgia on the global meetings and events map by joining the International Congress and Conference Association (ICCA).

Georgia’s neighbour, Azerbaijan, also made it onto the list. The World Travel and Tourism Council revealed that tourism accounted for 4.2 per cent of the country’s total GDP in 2017. Azerbaijan, which is famous for Yanar Dag, the eternally burning flame, already has an established MICE tourism infrastructure comprised of well-equipped hotels, business centres and purpose-built meetings and convention spaces.

Curtis said: “The country’s ascent as a business destination should come as no surprise. In the past decade, Azerbaijanian cities, including its capital Baku, have hosted dozens of major international forums for government and businesses.

“Azerbaijan has caught the tourism bug and realised the potential in its amazing natural attractions and favourable weather. Tourism has already become one of the leading and most dynamic sectors of the country’s economy, so you can expect to hear much more from Azerbaijan in the months ahead.”

Curtis also mentions the Czech Republic and Cyprus, two well-established destinations for both leisure and business.

Prague, Czech Republic’s capital city, has recently climbed ICCA rankings to eighth position, based on the number of meetings held in 2017. The city hosts around a third of all conferences in the Czech Republic and receives continued investment for congress and convention facilities, such as the O2 Universum, set to open this summer.

Rwanda was the only African nation to be featured in Curtis’s predictions, but a worthy mention all the same, given that just 29 years ago the country was embroiled in one of the worst genocides in modern history.

However, Rwanda is working hard to position itself as a meetings and events destination of choice and has taken the decision to prioritise MICE as a key driver of economic growth, with a focus on investment in business events infrastructure, the national airline and hotels.

Rwanda’s efforts are already paying off as it was named among Africa’s most popular conference and events destinations by ICCA in May last year.

IBTM Arabia will bring together meetings and event planners from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) including Georgia, Azerbaijan, UAE, and the GCC states.

IBTM also hosts regional events for Africa, America and China as well as the annual IBTM World event which will be held in Barcelona this November.