CIM 2019/6 Destination

Mega-events in the Gulf

// Katharina Brauer

The Gulf states are investing in new arenas, venues and attractions. They are ambitious and committed to sustainability and host associations and industry events.

Shared EXPO Pavillon of the United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Dubai Tourism)

The Oman Convention & exhibition Centre has won IGRC 2020. (Photo: OCEC)

Yas Arena is among the new developments on Yas Island. (Photo: Abu Dhabi Tourism)

World stage. The Gulf states are moving into the spotlight of global attention with international mega-events. Both EXPO 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are keenly anticipated. Abu Dhabi is hosting the World Energy Congress in 2019, and Oman is welcoming the 2020 World Cancer Congress.

Qatar has just staged the 2019 World Athletics Championships in its air-conditioned stadiums and thus completed its trial run for the World Cup in 2020. The World Men’s Handball Championship and international cycling and swimming events have made the world’s richest country a popular host of major events. The FIFA World Cup in 2022 will be followed by a bid for the Olympic Games. Doha already boasts a 300-metre skyscraper shaped like the Olympic torch.

The meetings industry benefits from the country’s outstanding infrastructure. One of the stations on the new Metro line, which opened in 2019, is at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (DECC). The complex offers 29,000 square metres of pillar-free exhibition space, is Qatar’s second largest convention centre after the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) and is hosting the first Silk Road Exhibition from 3 to 5 November 2019, with 50 participating countries. Well-targeted marketing and the slogan launched in 2018 for the national tourism strategy – “Qatar, Qurated for you” – have proved successful and resulted in a winning bid for the World Sym­posium for Choral Music in 2023. Up to 4,000 choristers from all over the world are expected.

In Dubai the preparations for EXPO 2020 are in full swing. The theme is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”. “EXPO 2020 is a long-term investment for Dubai. We have a legacy master plan and will leave behind an innovative, smart new mixed-use urban area, District 2020,” explained Dr Shaun Vorster, vice-president for programming at EXPO 2020 Dubai, at IMEX 2019. The centrepiece of District 2020 will be the Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), which will be opening on 20 October 2020. Offering 45,000 square metres, it will be managed by the Dubai World Trade Centre. During the EXPO there will be 60 live events a day. A spirit of volunteerism will be a “soft legacy” of the event, believes Dr Vorster. 25 million visitors are expected, 70 percent of them from abroad. The organisers of the Dubai Association Conference, which will be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre again from 9 to 10 December 2019, are advocates of attracting more business visitors. Over 60 associations are currently based in Dubai. Their representatives will be discussing community well-being, knowledge and research, business and opportunity and creativity and innovation.

The Coca-Cola Arena operated by AEG Ogden opened in June 2019. The fully air-conditioned hall can hold 17,000 people. By 2022 there will be 148,000 hotel rooms. Among the new hotels are the 350-room W Hotel, which offers 1,500 square metres of space for events, the Emerald Palace Kempinski and two hotels belonging to the Caesars chain, which also have their own conference centre.

For Abu Dhabi, EXPO 2020 is a lighthouse event. “As far as we are concerned, EXPO 2020 belongs to all the United Arab Emirates,” says Mubarak H. Al Shamsi, who runs the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau and is committed not only to preserving cultural authenticity and providing genuine Emirati experiences but also to sustainability. The regularly held Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and the sustainable Masdar City are a testament to that. The World Energy Congress, which takes place every three years, was held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) in September 2019, attracting 6,000 delegates. This was the first time the event had come to an OPEC country.

Saadiyat Island, just off the coast, offers the romance of the desert and luxury hotels, while on Yas Island, known for Ferrari World and the Warner Brothers theme park, the Yas Bay Waterfront development is taking shape. It will include the 18,000-seat Yas Arena, a media zone and a Hilton hotel. Projects implemented by planners between 1 April and 31 October 20 that exceed a certain minimum group size and -stay will qualify for the Advantage Abu Dhabi programme.

Oman has declared the first three years of the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC) to be a success. 530 events have been held in the 22,000 square metre venue, and the World Cancer Congress and International Gas Research Conference (IGRC) are among those coming to Muscat in 2020. With 27,000 square metres of outdoor space, the OCEC is much in demand for exhibitions and will also be hosting the 2020 UFI Congress.