Congresses and conventions: how to secure the winning bid


Congresses and conventions: how to secure the winning bid

Bringing an international convention or congress to Dubai is a lengthy process, as Mahir Julfar, Senior Vice President - Venue Services Management at DWTC, explains

​Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) is a major contributor to the local economy, accounting for more than three per cent of Dubai’s gross domestic product. In 2017, DWTC attracted 2.63 million delegates to 103 large-scale shows, and a further 670,000 people to 250 conferences and smaller business events.

Aside from large-scale trade fairs and exhibitions, DWTC also hosts a range of congresses and conventions for international governmental and non-governmental associations. These draw visitors from across the globe, helping to fill Dubai’s hotel rooms and make a major contribution to the emirate’s economy. This aspect of our work is less well known.

How to compete on the global stage

Considerable effort goes into attracting such international congresses and conventions. It is no easy task, and some events take almost a decade to bring here.

Their organising associations, which are not-for-profit, select host cities through a competitive bidding process. Our main competitors typically include Cape Town, Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver and Barcelona. Just like Dubai, these cities have established themselves as attractive destinations for global meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. Such events are a key aspect of each city’s overall business tourism strategy, as they are for us, and together we form a premier group that competes to host the leading global events.

I joined DWTC in 2005 and since then, the way we bid for events has changed enormously. Today, Dubai Business Events (DBE), the official convention bureau for Dubai, conducts the bulk of the screening and research, proactively building Dubai’s relationship across the globe with professional associations and conference organisers alike. DBE submits city bids to host events, and the bigger events – those with more than 2,500 delegates – usually view DWTC as the preferred venue: not only do we have a large physical space, but a central location in the heart of city, with supporting transport and accommodation infrastructure, as well as all the in-house services to meet the needs of bigger events. We work in partnership and close collaboration with DBE to align our needs and – on a very frequent basis – to review bid deadlines and discuss which events we wish to target in the future.

Detail driven: the importance of research

The process of bringing international congresses and conventions to a city begins with research. The bidding often takes place two or three years before the event, and for the biggest congresses it can be five to ten years in advance. For this reason, it’s important to know exactly when the bid windows are.Our membership of the International Congress & Convention Association, and the market intelligence and database this affords us, is a valuable research tool. It contains details of past and future events, host venues, space requirements, bid windows and other vital information. It is also useful to attend the associations’ other events and to get to know people within each organisation in order to understand their requirements better.

The official city bid document, which can be as much as 60 pages long, is our one chance at success. It is never rushed. The key is to tailor the proposal to meet the individual needs of each event. Getting strong letters of support from local government entities, as well as agreeing the attendance of senior government officials and endorsements, usually increases our chances of success. And then it is about selling our city as an event destination. We try to think from the perspective of an international delegate, and what it is they see as important when travelling and staying in Dubai.

Converting annual bids into major wins

In a busy year, DBE submits about 60 to 70 bids to host conventions and congresses. In line with other cities, just over a third of those are successful. The number of biddable events varies from year to year, depending on the cycle of the meetings, which might be as infrequent as once every five years.

The World Heart Federation, for example, holds its flagship global congress every other year. Dubai staged the World Congress of Cardiology & Cardiovascular Health in 2012. The event then went to Melbourne and Mexico City, and I am pleased to say we hosted it again in December 2018, after beating rival bids from Cape Town, Singapore and South Korea.

We have also won the bids to host 10 new international congresses from 2019 to 2022. These high-profile events, which include two space-themed congresses hosted by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, will attract approximately 37,000 delegates from around the world. They will also generate an estimated AED 700m (US$ 190m) economic boost for the emirate.

Other key events include the 6th Global Symposiums on Health Systems Research, ACTE Society of Petroleum Engineers and the World Congress of Gastroenterology.

Looking further ahead, we are keen to win the Lions Annual Conference, which attracts more than 25,000 delegates. Host cities have already been selected up to 2025, but we have our fingers crossed for 2026!

The number of annual bids has increased steadily over the years. In the past, we focused mainly on the biggest congresses, which operated on 10 or 20-year rotations throughout the Middle East. Now, Dubai has firmly established its reputation as a destination and venue, enabling us to target the whole spectrum, including smaller events.

The relatively recent change in Dubai’s laws that allowed and facilitated the formation of local associations and societies has greatly helped us to win more events. Often it is these local branches that must lobby for the global conventions, endorse and actually submit Dubai’s bid. Emirates Medical Association and its subsidiary societies, for instance, have helped us hugely to bring multiple major international medical congresses to Dubai. Healthcare, medical and science are now some of the strongest representational sectors in terms of international attendees. We hosted 26 events in this field in 2017 alone, including seven held for the first time in the region.

With the establishment of Dubai Association Centre by Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry, it is easier than ever to set up a local branch of a global association in Dubai. There are now 60 registered local chapters of not-for-profit, apolitical and non-religious professional associations based in the emirate. They all increase our chances of attracting more international events, and contribute to the local economy by holding their own local meetings and conventions in the city.

Destination Dubai: why the emirate is so appealing

There are many factors that draw attendees to Dubai and make the city an outstanding event destination. Foremost is our location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, which has helped transform the emirate into a central meeting point for people from across the world.

This strategic advantage is complemented by world-class transport infrastructure. Emirates airline’s extensive route network, for example, offers non-stop flights to Dubai from destinations that many other airlines simply don’t serve. We have excellent low-cost public transport, too, in the form of Dubai Metro, which directly connects DWTC to Dubai International airport.

In addition, there are more than 5,700 hotel rooms across the three, four and five-star categories in our immediate vicinity. Following the adjustment of average daily rates over recent years, the improved affordability of such high standard hotel accommodation is now a very attractive proposition for organisers.

Another key selling point, often overlooked, is Dubai’s safety and security. This offers high levels of assurance and comfort for many international event organisers, and it’s hard to put a price on that.

Moreover the traditional conference season of September to May coincides with the best months to visit Dubai, in terms of temperature and climate.

Working hand-in-hand with key government entities

In my view, there’s one extra ingredient that makes Dubai so successful as an event destination: the way all the various entities across the city work together to produce the best experience for the organisers and attendees.

The government has established a relaxed visa system to make it easier for people to come here. Emirates is able to block-book and discount flight tickets. DBE can organise activities around the event, such as desert safaris, shows and excursions. And here at DWTC, we take care of all the needs associated with the conference and exhibition spaces.

Because each entity understands how the MICE sector plays an important role in the economy, we all come together to deliver an unforgettable experience – one that ensures conventions and congresses return here time and again. That is the secret to our success.


  • DWTC
  • Event Management
  • Venue Operations