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Conference wins show Dubai is ready to walk the walk

It’s fair to say Dubai’s standing in the international meetings industry has, until now, owed as much to the power of marketing as the number of bums it attaches to conference hall seats. That’s okay. When you’re trying to break into a long-established market you have to sell an idea, convince people of its plausibility. But I can’t have been the only observer wondering when the facts were going to start matching the hype.

According to ICCA’s annual statistics the emirate has remained static in the international association market for the last decade – hosting 37 events in 2008 and exactly the same number in 2017. That’s despite a huge hotel building programme, which has seen the city’s room stock almost quadruple, and a surge – from around eight million to 15 million – in the number of people visiting the city

So the latest numbers from Dubai Business Events look significant.

They show that the bureau won 261 bids for meetings and conferences in 2018 – a 24 per cent increase on 2017. This notable success also marks a whopping 62 per cent increase from the previous year in the number of delegates set to visit Dubai – signifying a shift towards larger-scale events in the emirate.

Key bid wins include the World Congress of Gastroenterology in 2021 (6,000 delegates), the World Nut and Dried Fruit Congress in 2020 (1,000 delegates), the World Chambers Congress in 2021 (1,500 delegates) and the Congress of the International Urology Society in 2021 (2,000 delegates).

Much has been made of Dubai’s hosting of the ICCA Congress last year – and in terms of prestige, it can’t have done any harm. But it speaks to the meetings industry’s rather inflated sense of self that anyone would think this supplier-to-supplier jamboree influences the wider market. After all, notwithstanding a handful of association executives, it’s basically destinations talking to destinations.

No, it seems as though Dubai’s successes in 2018 were down to good old-fashioned hard work! The city submitted 557 business event bids in 2018 – up from 354 in 2017. That’s a real signal of intent and a sign perhaps that the emirate, so good at talking up its ambitions in the meetings space, is finally ready to walk the walk.