x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Leadership conference goes regional

The organiser of the Leaders in Dubai conference plans to boost its activities in other regional markets amid greater competition from "copycat" events in the UAE.

Al Gore, the former vice president of the US, at last year's Leaders in Dubai conference.
Al Gore, the former vice president of the US, at last year's Leaders in Dubai conference.

The organiser of the Leaders in Dubai conference - which has featured speakers such as the former US president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore - plans to boost its activities in other regional markets amid greater competition from "copycat" events in the UAE.

The conference producer IIR Middle East said last week it had cancelled this year's Leaders in Dubai, which will now run every two years. The company says it plans to hold a similar event in a different city in the MENA region every other year, and to boost the number of other conferences it holds outside the UAE. The next Leaders in Dubai will be held in the fourth quarter of next year. "We are currently rolling out our coveted business events in Cairo as a base for our north African expansion, and are enhancing our activities in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to meet growing demand. We would be getting more active in Qatar and Bahrain, too," said Alan Kelly, the divisional director and head of business development at IIR Middle East.

The company would also be opening regional offices, Mr Kelly said. "New markets are opening up. There's a significant need for training at an executive level in other regional countries." Established conference producers have criticised the rise of what Mr Kelly has called "cowboy" events companies in the UAE market. A discussion posting on the social networking site LinkedIn accused one company "copying and pasting agendas straight from competitors".

An industry executive based in the UAE said the copying of conference agendas was common. "This is definitely a problem for us, especially in Saudi Arabia, where some players literally copy and paste events schedules," said the executive, who asked not to be named. "It's obviously frustrating when we do research and someone just goes and copies it." Mr Kelly confirmed the existence of the problem. "A lot of companies look at events like Leaders in Dubai and say 'this looks easy'," he said. "But it isn't. A lot of research goes into such events."

Symon Rubens, the managing director for the Middle East at the events company IQPC, said a number of "lower-quality" events and conference companies had entered the market during the boom. "The low barriers to entry in this industry means individuals can start conference companies literally out of their bedroom or garage, and try to replicate successful events run by established, reputable players," Mr Rubens said.

A few companies in the region were "creating problems for the overall market", he said. Some even advertised speakers as confirmed when they were not, he said. However, Mr Rubens said the problem of "copycat" conference schedules was not unique to the local market. "It happens in every established conference market … and it's something that established conference companies such as IQPC, IIR and Clarion deal with," he said. "At the end of the day, it makes us more committed to running quality events."

IQPC ran 60 conferences in the Middle East, Africa and India last year, expects to have 110 events this year and has 200 planned for next year, Mr Rubens said. "The market is responding well to targeted conferences. That way, delegates know they're going to get specific information," he said. Mr Kelly said some less-established conference organisers had been "weeded out" during the recession. He said that IIR Middle East had organised more than 400 public events and 20 exhibitions this year, a rise on last year. "Dubai will be, for a long time, a centre for conferences, because people like coming here," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae