How Dubai became a global destination for trade shows

March 29, 2017

According to the Mastercard 2016 Global Destination Cities Index, Dubai was the fourth most visited destination in the world last year. With 15.27 million international visitors, it came in above such iconic international destinations as New York, Rome and Istanbul. And a sizeable chunk of that figure was down to one thing: events.

Dubai’s events scene is thriving. The emirate offers a comprehensive range of venues, from boutique hotels to vast exhibition halls, and it has become the established host of a broad range of events, from niche trade shows like The Windows, Doors and Facades Show with a few thousand visitors to major international events like Gulfood, which this year attracted over 95,000 attendees.

And it’s a truly global audience that’s arriving at Dubai International Airport each year.

According to statistics gathered by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, 29% of 2016’s international visitors came from Asia and Australasia, 21% from Western Europe, 6% from the US, 5% from Russia and 5% from Africa. Clearly the world’s markets have come to regard Dubai as a prime location for getting together, sharing ideas and knowledge and enjoying the local life while they’re there. 

How big is Dubai’s events business?

The Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) hosted 112 events in 2016, slightly up on the previous year when 1.2 million international visitors passed through its doors, generating a reported AED 12bn for the Dubai economy – more than 3% of total GDP. A scroll through DWTC’s events calendar reveals the vast range of sectors that held trade shows there last year. In March, for instance, Middle East Rail, Global Education Supplies and Solutions, and the Dubai International Horse Fair were all exhibiting within days of each other. Other events included food festivals, medical clinics, technology shows and car wash expos.

The Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) hosted 112 events in 2016, slightly up on the previous year when 1.2 million international visitors passed through its doors, generating a reported AED 12bn for the Dubai economy – more than 3% of total GDP.

The hundreds of other venues across Dubai each offer their own particular event experience, with new venues being added all the time. Dubai opened 25 new hotels in 2016 alone, second only to New York. The likes of the JW Marriott Hotel hold a number of important trade shows, as does Dusit Thani Dubai and the Crowne Plaza Dubai. Jumeirah Beach Hotel is a popular event venue, as is the Meydan Racecourse, Madinat Arena and The Address Dubai Marina. The choice is exceptional. Huge venues, luxurious venues, waterside venues, intimate venues; there’s a venue to meet every event need.

At the top end of the scale are events like Gulfood Exhibition, the world’s largest annual food and hospitality event, which takes place over five days in February at DWTC. Of the 95,000 attendees at Gulfood 2017, 60% were international. There were more than 120 trading countries involved and over 4,000 exhibitors, including powerhouses like Unilever and Nestlé.

Automechanika Dubai is a leading international trade fair for the automotive industry. Over 2,000 exhibitors from 58 countries attended in 2016, including all the big industry names, such as Daewoo, Hitachi, Toyota, BMW and Nissan. Over 30,000 visitors from 138 countries were in attendance, ready to network and trade.

Numerous other industries have made Dubai the venue for their major get-togethers, including events like Arab Health for healthcare and pharmaceuticals and GITEX Technology Week for digital and tech. But Dubai also has the facilities to cater to niche industries. The Windows, Doors and Facades Show 2016, for example, had 111 exhibitors and attracted just over 5,000 visitors, but they came from all over the world – 64 countries, in fact. For professionals in the construction industry, this event was business-critical.

The same is true of Clean Middle East Pulire (CMEP). For the 4,500 cleaning and hygiene professionals who attended in 2016, CMEP is a key date in the industry calendar. If you’re a tissue paper product supplier or matting solutions specialist, Dubai will be the place to be this November.

So Dubai has made itself an important events destination for professionals in almost every industry all across the world. The calibre of attendees is high – often key decision makers and buyers – and such shows play an important role in business success.

So how has Dubai managed to establish such a strong identity on the international events map?

What Dubai offers for the events industry

Fifty years ago Dubai was barely on the map but today it is one of the most prosperous and popular cities in the world. Its growth has been swift and continues to climb, but while the assumption is that the emirate’s renowned wealth and prestige is founded on the region’s vast oil and gas reserves, there is much more to the story than that. Indeed, if there is one resource with which Dubai has been blessed it’s foresight.

Dubai’s leadership has always been aware of the need to reduce oil dependence and diversify revenue. By funnelling the revenue from oil and gas into infrastructure and expansion into other industries, they have succeeded in establishing the emirate as a hub for industry and tourism alike. Port Rashid, one of the first such infrastructure development projects, established Dubai as a major modern trading hub and Dubai International Airport has become the world’s busiest airport for international traffic, with 77.5 million international travellers passing through in 2015.

Dubai’s geographical location is certainly favourable. Significantly closer to major European cities than most of the US, South Africa and Asia, it’s also handy for India and China and one stop from Sydney and just about every other major world city. Culturally too it is a relatively easy place to visit. There are customs and conventions that need to be understood and respected, but overall it is a relaxed and very welcoming place. If you had to pick a convenient location for the whole world to meet, you could do a lot worse than stick your pin in the map at Dubai.

Dubai’s geographical location is certainly favourable. Significantly closer to major European cities than most of the US, South Africa and Asia, it’s also handy for India and China and one stop from Sydney and just about every other major world city.

Attractive business conditions are another important piece of the puzzle. Dubai boasts over 30 free zones – designated economic zones that offer foreign-owned businesses some juicy incentives. Free zones make trade more feasible by simplifying administrative processes, lifting trade barriers and awarding tax exemptions. The Dubai International Finance Centre and Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre are examples of popular free zones.

Free zones took on further significance in 2002, when legislative change allowed foreign investors to purchase property with freehold rights in designated areas. The real estate market exploded and Dubai established itself as one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world. At which point, the story becomes somewhat cyclical: there is money and important trade in Dubai, which attracts more money and more important trade. Dubai has become the place to be, in international trading terms, and the events landscape reflects that.

The emirate works hard to maintain its status as a preeminent events destination. Dubai Business Events, the official convention bureau, has built close relationships with industry associations, which helps cement Dubai’s reputation as a leader in the space. For instance, late last year Dubai Business Events partnered with the Professional Convention Management Association to host the BestCities Global Forum – essentially a thought leadership forum for global events professionals.

Dubai Business Events, the official convention bureau, has built close relationships with industry associations, which helps cement Dubai’s reputation as a leader in the space.

Dubai clearly understands that reputation is everything, for the real feather in its cap has been a steadfast determination to build credibility. That determination has paid off in spades, with Dubai winning the right to host the lauded Expo 2020.

Welcome to Dubai

Through foresight and shrewd investment, Dubai has established itself as one of the most important destinations for trade and investment in the world. A thriving business population and convenient geographical location make it a natural hub for trade shows and exhibitions, and the city caters to this with incredible facilities, robust infrastructure and a proud, friendly culture.

Smart decisions to diversify the emirate’s initial oil wealth have paid off mightily. Dubai thrives on its own terms, distinct from the whimsy of barrel prices, as evidenced by the astronomical growth in international visitor figures – up by 1.7 million in only two years.

Yet Dubai’s real strength is a deep understanding of the importance of prestige and, crucially, the emirate actively courts international events attention. It seizes every opportunity to dance on the world stage and, with Expo 2020 on the horizon, that approach is clearly paying off.

We look forward to welcoming you here soon.