Business and beyond: the value of business events


Business and beyond: the value of business events

Mahir Julfar, Senior Vice President, Commercial Venue Management, throws a spotlight on Dubai World Trade Centre’s latest Economic Impact Assessment and reveals which sectors benefit the most and why

When it opened in 1979, Sheikh Rashid Tower, part of Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), was the tallest building in the Arab world and marked the point at which Sheikh Zayed Road turned from a thin ribbon of tarmac into a dusty track for the remainder of the journey to Abu Dhabi. It gained instant, iconic status as a symbol of innovation and development – a concrete-and-steel signifier of the vision of Dubai’s leadership, and the future potential of the emirate.

In the four decades since, that future has arrived. Sheikh Zayed Road is now an eight-lane highway running for more than 550km across the country. And hundreds more skyscrapers have bloomed from the desert, as Dubai has emerged as a preferred destination to live, work and play, as a leading hub for global trade, and as a gateway to established and emerging markets in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Amid all this change, DWTC has played a constant and central role in underpinning the emirate’s economic growth. As we have hosted more and larger events, we have enticed greater numbers of international visitors to these shores, and supported myriad industry-adjacent businesses, providing jobs and opportunities in Dubai.
Every two years we conduct a rigorous Economic Impact Assessment and our most recent study, released last month, reveals encouraging progress. DWTC contributed AED12.7bn ($3.5bn) towards Dubai’s economy in 2017 [Watch video] – equivalent to 3.3 per cent of the emirate’s GDP, and a solid 6 per cent increase on 2015.
So how does this manifest itself? How are we making a positive difference to the Dubai economy – and who is benefiting from our efforts?

Staying power

International visitors – who make up nearly half the number of total attendees at DWTC events – generate significant foreign spend within the local economy. Last year, 103 large-scale events – defined as shows hosting more than 2,000 attendees – attracted 2.6m visitors of which 42 per cent were from overseas. This represents 1.1m people in need of accommodation.
While our exhibitors and delegates stay all over the emirate, a cluster of 20 hotels near to DWTC are the major beneficiaries of this overseas attendance, and are close to or at capacity for the duration of our eight-month events calendar.
Our three on-site properties, the Ibis DWTC & One Central, Novotel DWTC and The Apartments (DWTC) welcomed a combined 18 per cent of the total number of international attendees in 2017. The most popular off-site property was the Conrad Dubai, which – just 10 minutes on foot from the venue – attracted 4 per cent of overseas visitors.
The Fairmont Sheikh Zayed Road and Crowne Plaza Dubai each attracted 3 per cent, while Four Points Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road, Nassima Royal Hotel, formerly the Radisson Royal Hotel, and the Sheraton Grand Hotel each attracted 2 per cent. So, too, did the H Hotel Dubai.
These and others within the group of four- and five-star properties – located in Downtown Dubai, Dubai International Financial Centre and along Sheikh Zayed Road – welcomed hundreds of thousands of event participants and benefited hugely from the AED7.7bn accommodation spend by overseas participants in 2017.

Restaurant & retail

In total, international attendees spent AED8.6bn on personal expenses. This includes both lodging and, to a lesser extent, restaurants & retail, which accounts for almost AED1bn of direct economic output. Contributing less than other sectors, the category remains significant and, in the same way as accommodation, hones in on set geographical areas.
The Dubai Mall, for example, a seven-minute Metro ride from DWTC and one of the world’s largest shopping centres, is one of the two most popular dining and shopping destinations among attendees. The other, Mall of the Emirates, is a 17-minute ride away. This close proximity and ease of access makes both shopping malls attractive options for attendees.
But there’s more to it than mere convenience. Mall of the Emirates is home to 630 international brands and one of the world’s largest indoor ski slopes and snow resorts – no mean feat in the middle of the Arabian Desert. The Dubai Mall offers even more diversions, with the world’s tallest dancing fountain, an Olympic-sized ice rink, aquarium, indoor theme parks and access to an observation deck in the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
International attendees drive the retail sector almost exclusively because they are bound by time. Unlike local participants, who live in Dubai, overseas visitors must board a plane and leave, sometimes within a day or less of the show’s finish, meaning the timeframe in which to buy that memento or enjoy a once in a lifetime experience is incredibly tight.
Like retail spend, restaurant spend is almost exclusive to international attendees with very little contribution from local participants. Overseas visitors, whether they consume lunch, dinner or dine at a satellite event such as an awards ceremony, eat out to a much greater extent than resident visitors, simply because they don’t have a Dubai home to go to.

Flying high

Of course, these international visitors need to get to Dubai in the first place. In 2017, airfares accounted for 11 per cent or AED1.7bn of the venue’s total direct economic output with 43% per cent of international attendees flying with Dubai-based carrier, Emirates.
Considering the airline’s premium price point, we can assume its appeal among international attendees comes down to reach – Emirates serves more than 140 destinations globally – and number of flights offered. Visitors appear to select Emirates based on convenience, even if that means paying a little extra. And this doesn’t mean that low-cost carriers are missing out – some 9 per cent of overseas attendees arrived via local low-cost operator flydubai.
Ultimately, overseas participants spend almost nine times as much as local participants due to additional expenses such as flights, accommodation, transport and food. Last year international participants spent on average AED6,705 each per event, compared to AED727 per local participant.

New versus repeat visitors

In 2011, DWTC hosted 106 large-scale events that attracted a total of 1.3m participants, of which 413,120 were from outside the UAE. Compare this to 1.1m international visitors in 2017, staying an average of five days and spending on average AED1,341 per day during their visit.
Delegates from Europe accounted for the highest number of international visitors (24 per cent), followed by the GCC with 22 per cent and the MENA region with 18 per cent. All top 10 source markets, which include Saudi Arabia, India, Oman and the United Kingdom, reported an increase in the average stay per event.
Although there is no breakdown of repeat versus new overseas visitors, we believe a significant number are visiting our shores for the first time.
This is based partly on shows in certain sectors – for example services, technology, broadcasting, communications and electronics – which reinvent themselves year after year. Last year, cloud computing was the theme at GITEX, our flagship IT event. This year it was artificial intelligence – a new angle, and a new potential audience.
By changing whole sub sectors, the shows generate a new community and attract not just new visitors to Dubai, but a new generation, too. The average age of GITEX participants is getting younger, a result of the show’s endless innovation, which includes an investor’s summit for entrepreneurs and the GITEX Future Stars programme, to name just two popular initiatives.
Demand from new markets is also driving growth. Indian participants rank second among our top 10 attendee nationalities with more than 83,000 visitors. Likewise, Chinese participants rank fifth, with more than 46,000 visitors. 

MICE expenses

Of course, the surrounding industry has grown hugely and much of it is due to DWTC. Dubai’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) supply chain has flourished as a direct result of the venue. From stand builders and contractors to experiential agencies and speakers’ bureaus, these companies, of which there are more than 100 based in Dubai alone, are heavily reliant on DWTC for business.
Event stands are typically produced and delivered by the local business community and, as a result, the whole supply chain network has evolved to become both sophisticated and scalable.
In 2017, total MICE expenses were AED5.5bn, 34 per cent of total direct economic output. Of this, nearly AED5.3bn fell under MICE business services and AED238m within business entertainment.
These figures show that footfall, the industry’s underlying driver, has grown dramatically since 2011, the year of our first Economic Impact Assessment, when total MICE expenses were just AED3.0bn.
Our latest report also highlights the importance of large-scale events in the MICE sector, which drove four times its value in overall non-trade related business activity across Dubai’s economy. To put that into perspective, every AED1 spent at a DWTC event generates AED4.3 in value for the wider Dubai economy.
But that’s not all. DWTC supported a total of 84,226 jobs in 2017, generating disposable household income of AED4.1bn. Of this, MICE and adjacent sectors contributed 70 per cent of jobs created, while 30 per cent were the result of indirect and induced employment impact across the wider domestic economy.

The home run

This shows that DWTC’s biggest beneficiaries are right here in Dubai. By supporting tens of thousands of jobs, an entire supply chain and multiple industries locally, we play a pivotal role in the emirate’s economic growth.
And that’s not going to change any time soon. Since 1979 when Sheikh Rashid Tower was the city’s solitary high-rise, we have contributed increasingly to GDP, helping to transform Dubai into a world-class destination in which businesses can flourish and top talent can truly excel.
As we continue unabated on this upward trajectory, we look forward to reinforcing our status as the region’s leading events hub and as a key gateway into emerging markets, in turn driving Dubai’s economic growth to ever new heights. 


  • DWTC
  • Events