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A clear trend defining 2020 is the transition from events to experiences. Yet according to EventMB, 67 percent of event professionals still struggle to clearly define “event experiences.”
The experience design requirement has landed on the industry with little preparation or support available. And the truth is, some events start with the handicap of poor destination selection — a vital component in the experience mix. It can be close to impossible to impress today’s attendees with a destination that does not do its part in delivering on the overall event experience. We sat down with Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, acting executive director, tourism sector, of
the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, to explore how Abu Dhabi, on track for a new launch of its meeting offering, is looking to increase the overall value of meetings and events by elevating the experience.
SkiftX: Attendees want more than flat business events; they want event experiences. What does Abu Dhabi offer to planners designing event experiences in the year 2020?
Ali Hassan Al Shaiba: Authentic local experiences combine entertainment and education. As such, we always involve a local committee in co-creating content and experiences (i.e., panel discussions, delegate hospitality experiences). For example, pearling is intertwined with Abu Dhabi’s history and heritage, and business delegates can enjoy a pre- or post-event tour. Another is Falcon Hospital, which educates delegates on the local history and culture of falconry.
Abu Dhabi also offers visitors a chance to unwind after business events by experiencing extraordinary destinations and activities. The Empty Quarter is the largest and least explored sand desert on earth, a passage between old Arabia and the modern United Arab Emirates, and features glamping festivals with an astronomer.
SkiftX: One of the biggest event trends in 2020 is a shift toward data-driven events and decision-making. As a leader in technology, what can Abu Dhabi offer to planners trying to collect more data for improving their events and event experiences?
Al Shaiba: As data and analytics are essential to businesses achieving their ambitions, Abu Dhabi has invested significantly in data integration by developing advanced data warehousing capabilities to allow a centralized daily view from more than
80 tourism-related data sources. Moreover, we’re in the process of further integrating unstructured marketing data sets to inform strategies that engage visitors in Abu Dhabi’s authentic experience journey.
SkiftX: Sustainability is probably the single most important issue of our generation. What makes Abu Dhabi a global leader for sustainability in events?
Al Shaiba: Sustainability is an important glo-bal issue and Abu Dhabi supports planners in creating sustainable events. Delegates are increasingly looking to contribute — from planting trees to offsetting their carbon footprint to raising funds for local charities through an auction.
Masdar City is one of the world’s most sustainable urban communities. This low-carbon development is made up of a rapidly growing clean-tech cluster. It is the perfect venue for sustainable events.
Also, in April 2019, our national carrier, Etihad Airways, became the first airline in the
world to operate an ultra-long-haul flight without single-use plastics. In an aim to be more sustainable, Etihad Airways will reduce its consumption of single-use plastics by
80 percent by the end of 2022.
SkiftX: The United Arab Emirates is famed for some pretty impressive architectural feats. How has this impacted events, and what does Abu Dhabi’s modern architecture offer planners looking to create event experiences in unique venues?
Al Shaiba: Abu Dhabi is home to some of the most beautifully designed venues, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and the award-winning, state-ofthe- art exhibition center, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), which hosts more than 327 events per year and welcomes over 1.6 million visitors to the venue. We have witnessed an increase in interest from guests, including business tourists, to visit these landmarks, which leave visitors in awe due to their appealing architecture.
Future architectural developments also receive our input to ensure they are flexible enough to accommodate different event needs. These projects are also equipped with technology to enhance the delegate experience, which is a value-add to organizers looking to curate a more immersive experience.
SkiftX: Planners venturing into new territory often have to orchestrate events while getting used to a whole new support network. How is Abu Dhabi preparing for incoming international business and supporting planners who are in — or coming to — the region?
Al Shaiba: The Convention Bureau connects organizers with local communities such as startups, academia, corporate meeting planners, and conference organizers to
explore content co-creation and enable knowledge sharing and transfer for various projects. We also encourage event organizers to leverage technology to enable ease of networking. Our financial grant toward business events qualifies such expenses.
The bureau takes a “team Abu Dhabi” approach, acting as a one-stop shop for event organizers. Along with destination information like hotel room inventory, venue specifications, etc., we provide information on each industry sector to give organizers — especially new entrants — a quick overview of the destination and our economic drivers. This allows them to focus on themes and content verticals that differentiate their events. We also contribute to feasibility studies before they decide to launch any event and strategically market the event locally and internationally to drive awareness and build attendance. As a partner, we understand that an event is often far bigger than the “show day.” Events are an opportunity to communicate with attendees long before and long after the event has taken place.