As economic growth in emerging markets reframes the map of the meetings industry, new research shows that US planners are increasingly interested in tapping into new opportunities in the Middle East. A new report from Development Counsellors International, a New York-based destination marketing consultant firm, reveals that 74 percent of US planners say they will consider the Middle East as a location for their future conferences.
With continued media attention on instability in the Middle East, the numbers may seem a bit surprising. From continued terror cell activity to challenges in the Iran nuclear talks, media coverage can offer a one-sided negative perspective of the entire region. However, it’s important to recognize that there are destinations in the Middle East with strong economies and stable governments that are committed to travel and tourism. For example, consider Oman where a new LEED-certified convention and exhibition centre is slated to open in 2016. With the AEG Ogden team overseeing operations, the centre has some leading planners from the US and Europe excited about the potential to bring attendees to Muscat. Elsewhere, in Doha, the Qatar National Convention Centre opened its doors in 2011, and in Israel, there are expansion plans in the works for the ICC Jerusalem.
More Than A Consideration
Planners aren’t just thinking about hosting meetings in the Middle East; plenty of them are already producing conventions and events in the region. According to the International Congress and Convention Association, the number of meetings in the Middle East has tripled in the past decade. Not surprisingly, the biggest growth is happening in arguably the most Westernized sections of the region: 50 percent of respondents in the DCI research have hosted meetings in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Help From Hotels
For planners who worry about navigating challenges in an unfamiliar business environment, there is help on the way from trusted hotel partners. From Hyatt’s expansion plans in Saudi Arabia to Starwood’s recent announcement that it will double its Middle Eastern portfolio over the next five years, hotel development across the region will give planners local expertise and resources.
“For many US organizations, global growth comes with all sorts of uncertainties,” Michelle Crowley, Director, Global Development, PCMA, says. “The continuing influx of major US hotel brands into the Middle East will help to eliminate some of those concerns.
Crowley adds that planners should take small steps toward tapping into the potential in the Middle East.
“Your organization doesn’t have to immediately start exploring where to host its first meeting in the Middle East,” Crowley adds. “It’s important to do plenty of research first. Which countries have professionals who are searching for the educational opportunities your organization can deliver? Are there local associations and societies that can offer an existing infrastructure to help you connect with prospective attendees? Do certain destinations offer more friendly regulatory environments for your industry? Asking the right questions will greatly increase your chances of success.”
Has your organization discussed a strategy for expanding its reach to the Middle East?Share your perspectives on how US-based planners can approach doing business in a new environment in the comments below.