MICE OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING ON GCC DOORS
Over 10 million business tourists arrive in the GCC every year; yet the region is not currently one of the world's prime destinations for the most lucrative part of tourism – meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions.
Over 10 million business tourists arrive in the GCC every year, yet the region is not currently one of the world's prime destinations for the most lucrative part of tourism – meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions.
These visitors come to meet colleagues based in the region, to make connections, or to prospect for business in a part of the world that has a strong economic base and that is diversifying into new industries. However, not enough of these business travellers come to attend large meetings, such as exhibitions and conventions – a state of affairs that GCC policymakers should be looking to change.
The meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions business – called the meetings industry for short – is small in numbers but high in economic reward. Although business people who travel to attend an exhibition or convention represent only around 5% of global tourist arrivals, they make up for their lack of volume with a disproportionate amount of spending.
Anyone who has ever travelled to attend an exhibition, such as Germany's CeBIT computer show or the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, has seen firsthand how the money flows. Meetings' visitors account for roughly QR40.04 ($11) of every QR364 ($100) spent annually by all tourists. They tend to stay at more expensive hotels and dine at better restaurants than the average tourists. At the same time, they also take advantage of local leisure and cultural activities.
To date, countries in Europe and North America have dominated the meetings business. Together, they host about 80% of the world's exhibitions. However, that imbalance is likely to change as developing countries increasingly account for a larger share of world trade. GCC countries in particular have a great opportunity to pick up
a share in the exhibition industry, of which they account at present for only a very small proportion.
The GCC has a “crossroads of the world” location and is of increasing to business travelers generally. To do so requires three steps.
The first step is to gain an understanding of what must be put in place to have an effective meetings industry ecosystem. Countries and cities that successfully host many conventions and exhibitions focus on topics that fit their trade activity. In Thailand, it could be agriculture; in Taiwan, electronic components; and in San Francisco it could the be digital apps. GCC can take advantage of their leading positions in energy. They can also strengthen their moves into newer areas of economic activity, such as health care. Meetings locations also have services that support their events, including destination management companies and exhibition organisers – all of which are part of the meetings-industry ecosystem.
Another part of the ecosystem is government organisations that play an enabling role. For instance, these government organizations produce research to show which conventions and exhibitions would have the best chance of succeeding. Or they promote the destination. Singapore and Glasgow both have convention bureaux that play major roles in attracting new exhibitions and large-scale meetings. Indeed, GCC countries benefit from studying the ecosystems of countries that already have a thriving meetings industry. The ecosystem elements that are in place elsewhere will play a vital role in the GCC as well.
The second step is for the country to come up with a strategy to win more meetings business. This is not unlike the analysis that a company would do in deciding whether to enter a new geographic market or introduce a new product.
GCC countries need to look at the attractiveness of hosting conventions or exhibitions around a certain field, considering the number of business tourists who may attend and their likely spending. They need to look at their readiness to host such an event, as measured by their strength in that area of economic activity.
They also need to look at the competitive intensity of the space, meaning the likelihood of competition from other Gulf countries. As part of this step, countries should also figure out whether their best bet is to host smaller events or large conventions, whether they should aspire to be a regional or international player. These countries also need to consider whether they should build events organically or seek to have existing licence-holders move their events to the GCC.
The third step is building a governance model. In many developed countries, the meetings industry is in the hands of the private sector. In the GCC, where the meetings industry is nascent, policymakers and the government have a larger role to play.
There are four main organisational options. A meetings bureau could be part of a country's tourism promotion agency, as is the case in Madrid and Vienna. It could be part of a central tourism planning entity, as occurs in Abu Dhabi and Singapore.
It could also be a body managed by the Ministry of Tourism or Trade. Or it could be handled as a public-private partnership. The particular circumstances and long-term of the destination country will determine the best structure.
Of course, as they seek to grow their share of the meetings industry market, the GCC countries will have to overcome some challenges. They have not yet built high-quality public transportation systems, which makes it harder for people attending conventions to get to and from locations. GCC countries also tend to have restrictive visa policies, which can discourage travelers from outside the region. They also often lack the ancillary leisure products that can sway a business traveler to make a journey abroad, although these are now being developed.
None of these challenges is beyond the reach of policy or is insurmountable because of resource constraints. Quite the contrary, the GCC has much to offer as a meetings and conventions destination. If policymakers turn their attention to developing the industry, the number of meetings these countries host can rise substantially