ABU DHABI: investing in international association meetings

Looking to the future

From the towering desert dunes to the glitzy skyscrapers, Abu Dhabi embodies the evolving economy of the UAE. Despite the Expo 2020 Dubai – which would have boosted Abu Dhabi’s economy – being postponed until 2021, the UAE’s capital emirate is still perusing plans to bolster its association meetings appeal, Holly Patrick reports.

While the hardships at the start of 2020 were felt the world over, the UAE had a doubly difficult time as the price of oil plummeted. With the added strain from coronavirus closing borders, improving on 2019, a record-breaking year for Abu Dhabi in terms of visitor numbers, might prove tricky for the emirate. But  it’s looking ahead with investments and infrastructure to further secure its legacy as an international association meetings destination.

Overcoming a global crisis

“COVID-19 has definitely had a significant impact on all industries, especially the MICE industry, which relies on international events that bring together experts and organisations from all around the world,” explains Mubarak Al Shamsi, director of the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau.

Since the beginning of March, all of Abu Dhabi’s meetings partners suspended their events based on advice from government entities. However, the Abu Dhabi convention bureau, along with the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company (ADNEC) is finding the silver linings in an uncertain world, beginning with the rise of virtual events.

“We can predict that virtual experiences will emerge as an area of business to be explored. This presents a new medium of for us to explore, and an opportunity to engaged wider audiences at less cost,” added Mubarak Al Shamsi.

According to the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, the UAE is ranked 12th globally for technological advancement and well positioned to host virtual and hybrid events.

Investing in the future

Event spaces are constantly being developed in Abu Dhabi and new for 2020 is the Etihad Arena on Yas Island. Etihad Arena is a brand new, multi-purpose indoor arena set on the waterfront of Yas Bay. The modern arena features award-winning design details inspired by traditional Arabic Lanterns. The 16,000 standing capacity venue offers a flexible event space that can be transformed to host a variety of events.

Abu Dhabi is also set to unveil the largest aquarium in the Middle East, The National Aquarium at Al Qana in Abu Dhabi, in late 2020. The aquarium will form one of the key anchor features at Al Qana, a waterfront destination which is close to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC).

ADNEC has also been working hard to deploy a series of initiatives aimed at assisting planners. These include updating its ADNEC Services Division which now offers full event management. ADNEC has also developed The Hive as an imaginative meeting space to encourage creativity and collaboration.

“ADNEC is pursuing a strategy that focuses on diversifying its event portfolio,” explains Khalifa Al Qubaisi, CCO Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC). “Planners can expect additional support from ADNEC, unlocking opportunities for them with relevant partners and government entities through our protocol team as well as amplification of their marketing messages to a local audience.”

Developing a budding ambassador programme

Founded in 2017, the ambassadors of Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau’s (ADCEB) Al Nukhba programme are key to the success of further developing Abu Dhabi as an association events destination. ADCEB works closely with local and regional societies, healthcare professionals and institutions, university professors, and government departments to bid for, and win international association conferences.

“In partnership with the ambassadors, ADCEB is able to leverage the strengths of the partners to attract these international events, which subsequently boosts Abu Dhabi’s reputation as an international leader in the sector,” adds Mubarak H. Al Shamisi.

A helping hand

Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau offer the ‘Advantage Abu Dhabi Programme’, which is an incentive designed to increase Abu Dhabi’s value proposition whilst providing support right through the event planning cycle.

The programme aims to enhance the emirate’s social and economic development by hosting viable, innovative business events aligned to the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic Vision.

Getting there

Abu Dhabi’s connectivity to the world is a selling point for association planners with five airports including the award-winning Abu Dhabi International Airport. It’s often considered the midpoint across the globe between the Americas and Asia.

Case study: with Mireille Swakhoven


  • The event: FIP’s 79th annual congress
  • The Venue: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre
  • Delegates: 2,800

“The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and the Emirates Pharmacy Society (EPS) were excited and honoured to host FIP’s 79th annual congress, the World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from 23-26 September 2019.

The FIP world congress in Abu Dhabi in 2019 offered a collaborative platform for almost 2,800 scientists, researchers, practitioners, educators and students of pharmacy to be inspired and prepared for new achievements in a world of change. Plenary sessions, panel discussions, interactive workshops and networking provide delegates with an up-to-date overview of new concepts and tools to advance the field of pharmacy.

FIP had not yet organised a congress in this region, and upon request of many of our members, and thanks to the excellent collaboration with and the great efforts of the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, the venue ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre) and our Member Organisation the Emirates Pharmacy Society, this was the perfect opportunity to host our delegates in a new and exciting destination.

The first highlight was the Opening Ceremony because the official opening of the congress was performed by His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Al Hamed – Chairman of the Department of Health of Abu Dhabi, Dr Mariam Galadari, President of the Emirates Pharmacy Society, and our President Dominique Jordan.

Furthermore, a historical meeting took place between our President and representatives of North and South Korea; this was unique in the history of FIP and a great achievement in intensifying collaboration with our member organisations.

FIP also organised a Policy Conference for Member Organisations and stakeholders: “Recharting the way forward in primary healthcare: Maximising the roles of pharmacists”.

This conference was successful, including very powerful support messages from WHO, EMRO and OECD with regards to the roles of pharmacists in primary healthcare.

Our Vaccination advocacy session and launch of FIP vaccination advocacy toolkit were very well received and there was a lot of support from member organisations and partners for pharmacists’ role in vaccination.

The Section dinners all took place at the Yas Marina Formula 1 Racing Circuit, which was a very spectacular venue, and the Closing Dinner was held at the Emirates Palace, located in the heart of Abu Dhabi, and truly one of the most inspiring hotels for a 1001 night Arabian experience.

The perception of the destination of our international audience was challenging, but we put a lot of effort in providing and promoting a correct image of Abu Dhabi in our marketing newsletters and social media posts and offered a special page on Abu Dhabi on our website.

Abu Dhabi is very accessible from all over the world, and it was a new and exotic destination for many of our delegates. ADNEC was an excellent venue for our congress and very conveniently surrounded by a great number of high-quality hotels.”



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