Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre's world-class facilities have a direct economic impact on the city, reports Loveday Morris.
Adnec: a stage for the world
Simon Horgan's message is clear: this is more than just an exhibition centre. At just three years old, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) is making its mark in a global conferencing industry worth US$56 billion (Dh205.66bn) a year. Since it opened in 2007 the range of events it has hosted has been steadily widening. But the organisation aims to be more than just be an events venue. Its role is to raise Abu Dhabi's international profile, develop commercial links and nurture UAE talent, explains Horgan, Adnec's chief executive.
The exhibition centre is part of the Dh8 billion Capital Centre development - a "micro city" that will provide for the needs of conference visitors and will eventually house seven hotels, including the Capital Gate building, designed to lean at a steeper gradient than the leaning tower of Pisa. Events at Adnec have included the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the largest arms fair in the region, concerts by artists including the Welsh singer Tom Jones and the World Future Energy Summit, at which the former British prime minister Tony Blair spoke.
In 2005 just 14 events were staged in the exhibition facilities that existed in Abu Dhabi at the time. "At the time of Adnec's inception, Abu Dhabi's exhibition and events industry was relatively small," says Horgan. "There was a pent-up demand for quality exhibitions and events in Abu Dhabi, across a huge range of industries, but this was being held back because of a lack of world-class venue facilities."
Last year Adnec hosted 119 events and welcomed more than 1.8 million visitors, a 20 per cent climb from the previous year, despite the economic downturn. "The number and range of events we host each year is expanding in line with the growing reputation of Abu Dhabi as a leading events destination," says Horgan. The Government has realised the potential of taking a slice of the global eventing pie. Not only do these events draw high-spending business tourists, but the conferences themselves have a positive impact on the city's knowledge base, and raise its global profile.
Gillian Taylor, Abu Dhabi Tourism Association's business tourism manager, gives the example of the World Opthamology Congress scheduled for 2012, which is expected to draw 12,000 experts. "Business tourism can, given the nature of some of its subjects - ophthalmology, for instance - lead to a spur in technology and knowledge transfer," said Ms Taylor. "Its socio-economic impact is considerable." The organisation estimates that the 2012 congress will have a "direct economic impact" of Dh160 million.
"They will be staying an average of five nights and while there will be the obvious economic impact on local hotels, we also anticipate they will explore the city, its restaurants, shops and attractions, so the direct spend will increase," said Ms Taylor, adding that business tourists spend as much as seven times as the average visitor. For international companies there are some drawbacks to staging events in the capital - one of the most significant being the price of hotel rooms in the city. Adnec is adding mid-range hotels such as the Aloft and Holiday Inn to address this problem and the government is giving incentives to event organisers who host events here.
The capital also still has to compete with more established conference destinations, from Dubai to London, and other cities in the region, such as Doha which are pumping money into the sector. ADTA last year launched the Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative that offers cash to business event organisers to lure them to the capital. Accounting for 80 per cent of the capital's hotel occupancy, the business tourism sector is a high priority. Only about 10 per cent of business tourists come for conferences or events.
In total Adnec claims to add Dh3.1 billion to the city's economy each year and the investment and business visitors such a venue draws can impact a city's development in a variety of ways. No where is a better example than in Birmingham. Suffering from a decline in manufacturing in the 1970s the City Council embarked on a policy of diversification with one of its major initiatives the National Exhibition Centre (NEC). Despite initial scepticism as to whether it would be able to draw the big shows away from London the NEC claims that in its first 30 years of operation it drew in over 20 billion pounds for the regional economy. The development is seen as a turning point for the city's economic history - and with it came better transport links and investment.
"A development like Adnec helps to showcase and give a city profile and prominence, particularly a city state like Abu Dhabi which is keen to demonstrate its economic reach isn't limited to hydrocarbon wealth," said Simon Williams, chief economist for HSBC. "Abu Dhabi has a clearly articulated strategy to build its service sector and running a successful events venue is part of that process."