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Property-related shows such as Cityscape have struggled this year, but new trade shows are filling the gap.
Delores Johnson Staff Photographer
Property-related shows such as Cityscape have struggled this year, but new trade shows are filling the gap.

UAE proves a popular exhibition centre

New trade shows covering such diverse subjects as paper supplies and the human genome are popping up in the UAE on the back of a recovery in the global conferences industry.

New trade shows covering such diverse subjects as paper supplies and the human genome are popping up in the UAE on the back of a recovery in the global conferences industry.

Property-related shows, such as Cityscape, have struggled this year but organisers say exhibitors' appetites are starting to return as prospects begin to improve.

The sector is particularly important for the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC), which is developing an Dh8 billion (US$2.17bn) "micro-city" called Capital Centre around the exhibition centre in the capital.

ADNEC acquired ExCeL London for Dh2.3bn in 2008 and this year launched a 165 million (Dh957.5m) extension of the UK building. It is also developing the Dh3.5bn Al Ain Convention Centre district and has indicated it is weighing further global acquisitions.

Simon Mellor, the senior vice president of DMG World Media, said trade shows were a "global barometer" for the wider economy.

"I'm not hailing the end of the recession," he said. "[But] exhibitions are starting to move forward again."

The global trade shows, events and conferences industry is worth about $300bn a year, and showed growth in the three months that ended in September after nine quarters of declines, according to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events based in Texas.

Organisers in the UAE have seen positive numbers as well.

"In overall terms, there are signs now of an upturn in sector growth for trade shows," said Simon Horgan, the group chief executive of ADNEC.

"However, certain regions like North America, which was more severely affected by the slowdown than the Middle East, Africa and Asia, will take more time to recover."

Ahmed Pauwels, the chief executive of the event organiser Epoc Messe Frankfurt, said while the property sector was still recovering, its other shows, including Automechanika in Dubai for car parts and Intersec security, had a 10 per cent increase in exhibitors.

Some shows were cancelled this year due to lack of interest, including Playworld Middle East for toys, but new shows are being added to the roster for next year, such as Paperworld for the paper supplies industry, he said.

The UAE's status as an export hub helped to boost the trade show industry, Mr Pauwels said.

Matt Wallhead, the general manager for Terrapinn Middle East, a firm that hosted about 20 events in the UAE last year, said attendance figures and exhibitor numbers doubled during that period. The company's revenues and profit have experienced "triple-digit growth" in the past year compared with the previous year, he added.

"Coming off the back of a tough year in 2009, we approached 2010 in a very measured way. We concentrated our efforts on our core events and making the most of those. As the year went on, we were constantly surprised at how the market has been," Mr Wallhead said.

He pointed to the firm's Internet Show it hosted in September as an example of how the trade expo sector had evolved over the past year.

"We launched it in 2009 in a tough market and had a year to work on it," Mr Wallhead said. "It was a big success, with packed seminar theatres and sponsors such as Google, Yahoo and Etisalat on board. The biggest complaint we received was that there wasn't enough room for everyone, which is a pretty good complaint to have."

The Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, a regional industry group for downstream producers based in Dubai, received more requests for exhibition booths than it had capacity for at the Festival City Intercontinental in Dubai last week.

"Last year it was a recession year," said Mohanned al Alami, who manages promotions for the association. "This year it's back to normal."

This year, more than 1,300 industry specialists attended the event from around the globe. Next year the association hopes to have a larger venue for the 1,500 to 1,600 attendees it expects.

While the market in developed economies may be sluggish next year, there is likely to be huge growth in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, said Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of Fast Future, a consultancy based in London that tracks the exhibitions market.

"Dubai is well positioned to capitalise on these opportunities," he said.

Dubai is centrally located and its hotel rates are more attractive after the downturn - making the emirate more appealing to event organisers, he said.

Competition is hotting up as well, with more shows in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, alongside the soon to open Qatar National Convention Centre and facilities in Cape Town and Melbourne, Mr Talwar said.

"The competition to attract flagship events will intensify. The challenge will be to ensure exceptional levels of service, constant innovation and in-depth research on changing industry trends and client sector developments."



* with additional reporting by Ben Flanagan, David George-Cosh and April Yee

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