Skift Take

Despite the significant benefits, not all destinations are able to develop successful global event strategies. Those that do demonstrate a relentless focus on supporting business.

Global business events are critical drivers of financial gain for destinations. They impact regional development in the short and long term, and their influence has profound political impacts. In addition, they generate predictable revenue and attract desirable business tourism. However, despite all the benefits, not all destinations can develop successful global event strategies. 

“Business events are very underrated in any tourism travel discussions,” said Dubai World Trade Centre’s executive vice president Trixie LohMirmand speaking Thursday at the inaugural Skift Global Forum East event in Dubai.

The Success of GITEX Is a Success for the Region

GITEX, the global tech show organized and hosted annually by the Dubai World Trade Centre, reported that the 2022 edition generated a record $698 million in economic output, with an estimated $394 million retained in the Dubai economy.

GITEX was one of the few global tech shows to open in 2020 while the Covid pandemic had shut down most of the world. Dubai took a bullish approach to get back to international business by announcing its plans for reopening in the Spring of 2020. However, LohMirmand revealed that the months leading up to the show took a giant leap of faith. Just thirty days before the show opened in December, only 50 percent of exhibitors had confirmed. At the same time pre-registration was only at 10 to 20 percent of average years. “People were calling us every day to ask, are you sure you’re gonna run?” she recalled. 

Ultimately the show was a success, running at around 60 percent attendance of the 2019 edition and attracting over 70,000 attendees, with over half being international visitors.

The GITEX brand also recently announced its expansion into Africa with the inaugural edition of GITEX AFRICA to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2023. 

But global events like GITEX drive more than money makers; they are development drivers. “Nobody’s asking us how big the show is? Everyone is asking, are you going to do for us in Africa the same that you’re doing for Dubai and the region, creating the jobs, helping us build the ecosystem in tech, exporting our talent, bringing in investors?” said LohMirmand.

The Crucial Focus on Business

“Dubai is small but plays big,” said Michael Dominguez – president & CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI), comparing the city’s success to that of Las Vegas. “There’s only a couple places in the world that everybody in the community is focused on the same thing,” said Dominguez. He noted the similarities in purpose and mission of developing these two iconic destinations.

For LohMirmand, the success of Dubai’s global events is not about the frills of entertainment. Instead, it relies on operational excellence and actively supporting the business objectives of attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. “It [comes] down to who are they meeting, what are the outcomes from the contacts, the diversity of choices of the products, [and] what do they learn?” she said. 

Supporting the fulfillment of business objectives is crucial for everyone, from the largest companies in the world to small startups. This is something that requires a personalized approach, something that LohMirmand believes is very important. Her teams have 40 or 50 KPIs for GITEX. One KPI is to attract at least 35 to 40% of companies without representation in Dubai.

Dealing with Challenges

Dubai’s success brings challenges with the pent-up demand of recent months pushing capacity limits and revealing congestion issues. Dominguez noted the similarities between Dubai and Las Vegas as two compact cities with a high-quality convention offerings. He urged organizers to use the entire city as an event’s footprint, not just that of the main venue. This approach helps manage congestion better which leads to improving the attendee experience.

Regarding innovating global events, both LohMirmand and Dominguez agree that business events can learn from festivals but should look to something other than becoming festivals. Dominguez gave the example of hotels in Vegas that constantly use things like music to create a comforting environment. 

LohMirmand sees technology as an enabler rather than replacing in-person events in any way. She cited Dubai’s metaverse strategy and experiments with creating large metaverse events. However, developing a solid business plan for metaverse events is out of reach while there are no successful case studies.

What About Sustainability?

With COP28 taking place in Dubai in late 2023, LohMirmand sees it as a great learning experience. However, for her, the challenges of genuinely incorporating sustainable approaches into global events are still present, especially with significant concerns of a worldwide economic downturn.

“We talk about sustainability as physical assets, and we sometimes forget about the human capital and the human condition,” said Dominguez. Acknowledging sustainability challenges for global events, he emphasized that wellness and wellbeing are also important parts of sustainability. In addition, Dominguez highlighted the often overlooked value of meetings and events as “the largest educator to an adult population.”

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Tags: business travel, dubai, events, events and conferences, meetings and events, SGFE, sgfe2022, skift live, sustainability

Photo credit: Trixie LohMirmand, executive vice president of Dubai World Trade Centre and Michael Dominguez, president & CEO, ALHI Dubai World Trade Centre's executive vice president Trixie LohMirmand and ALHI president and CEO Michael Dominguez on stage of Skift Global Forum East 2022 in Dubai on December 15, 2022

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