Middle Eastern rebound
EW spoke to some of the exhibition industry leaders instrumental in the recent UFI MEA Conference and shares their insights on prospects for future development in the region
aji El Haddad , regional director MEA for global association of the exhibition industry , UFI , was responsible for developing the themes for this year ’ s regional conference . He told EW that although there has been plenty of talk of cancelled events , dropped revenues , redundancies , and other challenges , now is the time to speak about an industry rebounding . “ Our determination to restart and thrive again , rethinking the future of our industry and its people and new strategies to manage this and any future disruption , helped form the theme of the conference ,” said El Haddad .
The programme ’ s main talking points included : economic outlook , Dubai Expo , best practices and lessons learned , skills of the future , research and data analysis , as well as innovation and technological advancement to support face-to-face .
El Haddad said the main goal of the conference had been to provide the audience with concrete , tangible solutions for them to take away and implement in their businesses .
Equally important was the forging of connections and partnerships among attendees to enable them to continue the conversation beyond the conference .
“ It wasn ’ t easy to organise but UFI is committed to supporting the exhibition community anywhere in the world in any way possible ,” El Haddad added . “ After seeing Dubai and the UAE reopening for large-scale events such as GITEX in December 2020 , it was a sound place to host the UFI MEA Regional Conference .”
Conference host venue Dubai World Trade Centre delivered the highest standards of safety and hygiene , mostly based on UFI ’ s Global Guidelines .
Swift response El Haddad said most countries in the region had responded swiftly and efficiently to the pandemic , with all six Gulf states implementing economic stimulus packages ( Oman $ 20bn , UAE $ 27bn ) to support businesses and individuals across many sectors .
“ The governments in the Gulf region , UAE and Qatar in particular ,”
Left : UFI MEA Conference said El Haddad , “ have shown resilience and agility in planning the restart of their economies , and very early identified business events as a key catalyst for economic rebound .”
In 2019 , a joint study between UFI and Oxford Economics illustrated the economic impact of exhibitions on the Middle East economies . The market size was put at 125,000 exhibiting companies and 3 milllion sqm of net space rented , with 6.25m visitors . That market produced $ 1.4bn in direct spending and $ 800m in direct GDP , as well as 14,000 jobs , according to the research .
The situation is tough , however , in terms of reskilling and training , with most companies in the region having had to let go a number of their people . El Haddad noted the greatest risk has been the uncertainty . “ If executives had known the crisis would last for a certain number of months , I am sure they could have managed it in a different way .
“ On a positive note , we are seeing quite a good number of companies slowly bringing back their ‘ former ’ people or recruiting new ones but , of course , not going back to their 2019 operational size .”
“ In terms of future skills needed in the rebounding phase , executives in the region will be looking at candidates combining both soft and technological skills ,” said El Haddad , who believes the power of data has never been more important for the industry , as well as demand for professionals with the skills of analysing that data and transforming it into a product / service .
In terms of the mood music , El Haddad believes a sense of risk will remain , be it of a new wave of Covid , or cyber , climate , political , or any other risk . “ The exhibition industry will need to learn from the current crisis to partially re-invent itself – and I am not talking here about virtual exhibitions ; I strongly disbelieve those are a solution – to become more resilient , more relevant and more needed . The general mood in the
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