x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

DIFC loses its appetite for the lavish gathering

Organisers push the gathering back to May and shorten it from a week-long investment fest to a two-day get-together called the MENASA Forum.

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is scaling back its annual conference this year because of a dwindling appetite for lengthy, lavish gatherings. The DIFC Week, which in past years brought to Dubai the likes of Il Divo, the singing group, Maria Bartiromo, the CNBC television anchor, and Steven Levitt, the co-author of two Freakonomics best-sellers, was delayed from last year to the first quarter of this year.

With markets still in a state of uncertainty, however, organisers decided to push the gathering back to May and shorten it from a week-long investment fest to a two-day get-together called the MENASA Forum. "We have tweaked it," a DIFC spokeswoman said. "Obviously there is a crisis and we cannot have an event that takes place over a week. The market is not as upscale as it was, so we're scaling down the event."

The conference will focus on the wider Middle East region. Jake Brown, the head of sponsorship at IIR Middle East, a major events organiser, said sponsors and those attending were more cautious because of the economic downturn. "It's a mix, as it always has been," he said. "But people are getting choosier about how they spend their money." Still, he said, "there are events that are doing very well".

For the moment, the future of DIFC Week is uncertain. But there will probably be no golf tournament, concert, best-selling author or television personality this year. Lining up speakers has also been a challenge. While high-ranking officials at the DIFC and some of the UAE's largest companies have attended in the past, some are thought to be more reluctant to come to large, public events in the current climate.

DIFC Week may return, a spokeswoman said, depending on conditions in the market for financial conferences, some of which have taken a hit because of a lack of sponsors and attendees during the downturn. Many sponsors are finding it harder to justify spending money on conferences, while the traditional pool of attendees - executives at large financial companies - work for companies that are cutting costs.

Omar bin Sulaiman, the former governor of the DIFC, was recently arrested on suspicion of embezzling Dh50 million (US$13.6m) disguised as annual bonuses. He had presided over previous DIFC Week conferences. afitch@thenational.ae