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Destination organizations around the world are grappling with the reality that the events business has changed. While some are pushing back and wishing for pre-2020 normalcy to return, the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi is leaning in, rethinking its meetings offering and experimenting with new tools and solutions to empower event planners to level up their knowledge and skillsets.

On December 24, 2020, Abu Dhabi reopened to international travelers and continues to implement rigorous health and safety measures, including a quarantine period of 10 days.

SkiftX spoke with Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing, to learn how DCT Abu Dhabi is strategically adapting during these times and how it is working to create the conditions needed for success in the next five years.

SkiftX: What is Abu Dhabi doing to create a foundation for safety and wellbeing that can restore traveler confidence? 

Ali Hassan Al Shaiba: Abu Dhabi has received global recognition for its highly successful efforts in containing the spread of Covid-19, and the emirate continues to achieve positive outcomes as a result of the combined initiatives and regulations introduced to minimize the spread of the virus amongst residents and visitors.

>The Go Safe Certification program was developed to standardize the level of health and safety across all tourism and hospitality establishments in Abu Dhabi through a set of rigorous measures, such as temperature checkpoints, regular sanitization of public spaces, and social distancing courses. This has helped uplift the confidence of consumers and enliven the tourism sector. Within Abu Dhabi, 100 percent of hotels and most major tourist attractions and shopping centers are now certified.

Additionally, to ease payments for travelers from China, a key source market for Abu Dhabi, card company UnionPay International recently partnered with Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank to implement contactless payment transactions on the bank’s 15,000 near-field communications terminals in the UAE.

SkiftX: What role does technology play in helping Abu Dhabi boost audience engagement for virtual and hybrid events? 

Al Shaiba: Naturally, the pandemic has transformed the way events are delivered. Our partners and stakeholders are increasingly using digital and contactless solutions to create innovative virtual and hybrid events that connect both on-ground and online attendees.

For example, this year’s Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference was held completely virtually. The organizer, , deployed AI-based matchmaking services to allow delegates to network with their peers before and during the event. Delegates were also able to access the live and video-on-demand stream on their device of choice. With Q&As and industry polls during the live sessions, delegates and attendees were able to interact seamlessly.

SkiftX: What steps can event planners take to succeed in the virtual and hybrid event space?

Al Shaiba: The first step toward successfully delivering a virtual event is ensuring we have the right knowledge and insights to understand how the event can be brought to life with the same – or a higher level of – quality as an on-site event experience.

The next step is making sure we have the proper tools and skillsets to make the event as engaging as possible. And then, most importantly, we need the right support so we can organize and deliver these events. We’re seeing a bigger appetite for innovative solutions and advanced technology that engages attendees in various ways, whether they’re attending in-person or virtually.

SkiftX: How is Abu Dhabi rethinking incentives, training, and segment marketing for 2021 and beyond? 

Al Shaiba: Our strategies for successfully delivering events revolve around having multifaceted venues and skilled manpower. In line with the Abu Dhabi government’s digital transformation vision, DCT Abu Dhabi is fulfilling its role as regulator and industry champion by reviewing incentive schemes to assist venues, including hotels, to upgrade their technological infrastructures and service offerings to remain competitive and support different event formats.

We encourage those working within the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) sector to retrain their teams to manage new event requirements. One of DCT Abu Dhabi’s functions is to support upskilling for MICE sector teams by reviewing incentives and co-funding the necessary training. In addition, with venues being underutilized, DCT Abu Dhabi works with venue owners to attract additional segments, such as sporting events and destination weddings, to fill the gaps.

As this year has so vividly shown, predicting future trends or shifts can be difficult, so adaptability and agility are key to success in the events space.

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This content was created collaboratively by DCT Abu Dhabi and Skift’s branded content studio SkiftX.