As 12,000 ophthalmologists descend on Abu Dhabi this week for the 33rd World Ophthalmology Congress, they came to learn about the latest developments in the functions, pathology and treatment of disorders of the human eye. But they are also playing a catalytic role in Abu Dhabi's long-term economic vision.
The event marks the first time that a congress of such scale has been staged in Abu Dhabi. It is a milestone on the city's journey to becoming a premier destination for conferences and exhibitions. The delegates will each spend an average of five nights in Abu Dhabi, staying in its five-star hotels, eating in its restaurants, visiting the city's attractions, playing on its golf courses and shopping in its malls.
Add the flights on Etihad Airways into the equation and it becomes clear that the event is a considerable revenue generator for the capital's economy, not even including the impact on future tourist traffic to the emirate. Business events of this magnitude deliver destination exposure and generate a buzz around Abu Dhabi. Once people see what the emirate has to offer, they could return with families and friends for holidays.
Little wonder that the global meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry - which exceeded 30,000 events attracting more than 260 million visitors in 2010 - is worth many billions of dollars annually.
It is an important sector for Abu Dhabi to target, one that brings together tourism, one of the 2030 vision's key sectors, with any number of other economic sectors.
In 2010, of the 1.8 million guests who stayed in Abu Dhabi's hotels - more than 214,000, or nearly 12 per cent - fell into the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions category. As a city, we have taken important measures to develop our infrastructure for this market, with Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) at the centre of this effort. Five years of focused investment has delivered new halls, the Aloft and the new Hyatt Capital Gate hotels, the waterfront space and other amenities, which all contribute to creating one of the region's most advanced integrated spaces for conferences, exhibitions and other events.
In 2010, the economic impact of the events business on Abu Dhabi was assessed at Dh2.3 billion (US$626 million). And the yield is growing as more events come to the emirate.
But Abu Dhabi's investment goes far beyond Adnec. Look beyond our environs and you see that development matched across the city - in hotels, in roads, in the airport and in Etihad, and in other venues for meetings and events.
In the past 12 months alone, many hotels have opened in the city, adding hundreds of rooms - and many restaurants - to its stock.
There has been investment in the "soft" factors, too: leisure facilities such as Abu Dhabi's new golf courses, Ferrari World and Manarat Al Saadiyat. It is important for business visitors to have time-off options, too. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the saying goes.
Many of the building blocks of Abu Dhabi's vision are in place. But those alone are not enough. Attempting to stage events of the scale of the ophthalmology conference requires the ability to rally stakeholders towards a common goal.
Abu Dhabi attracted this week's congress by displaying a "one destination" approach right from initial discussions with the organisers. Under the guidance of Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the other relevant key stakeholders - Adnec and the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi - came together to form an Abu Dhabi Host City Steering Committee.
This has delivered real successes; free visas for delegates, for example, and free shuttles from hotels to the venue. In addition, the golf courses - Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links - came together to offer delegates discounted rounds of golf, an amenity that has been incredibly popular with conference participants.
Looking ahead, now it is down to organisations such as Adnec and partners to identify and target more of this congress and conference business. The sectors identified in Abu Dhabi's 2030 Vision give us a starting point. If Abu Dhabi can attract one or two major conferences for each of these sectors every year, the impact on the nation's economy will be significant.
Humaid Al Dhaheri is the chief sales and marketing officer at Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company