Abu Dhabi: Preparing for tomorrow

31 Mar 2023 by Varun Godinho
Abu Dhabi (istock.com/EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER)

As Abu Dhabi aims to become a powerhouse in the region’s MICE sector, we look at how it’s building a holistic ecosystem that appeals to both domestic and international businesses.

Let’s examine the numbers. The 2022 edition of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) attracted 15,000 attendees and generated an estimated US$8.2 billion in business for the roughly 2,200 exhibiting companies.

Last year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair witnessed the participation of 1,130 publishers from 80 countries, with 650 cultural, educational and artistic events held during the week-long event.

And the 2023 edition of the International Defence Exhibition, held alongside the Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX 2023), attracted 132,507 visitors and 1,353 companies from around the world, with the UAE Armed Forces signing deals worth US$1.5 billion.

Based on these stats, it’s fair to say the MICE industry in Abu Dhabi is in rude health.

The decision to focus on the MICE industry is central to Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy beyond oil into a knowledge-based economy. The emirate is actively engaged in attracting businesses and events to the capital of the UAE.

After all, as Genevieve Leclerc, co-founder and CEO of global non-profit organisation Meet4Impact says: “Business events generate positive financial outcomes not just through the spending of visitors but also through the trade and foreign investment opportunities that follow the event. They also contribute to the skill and opportunity development, attracting talent to host cities, strengthening existing networks and collaborations, and forging new partnerships”.

Laying the groundwork

Mubarak Al Shamisi, director of Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau says: “Abu Dhabi sees MICE as a catalyst for the recovery of the tourism sector and the overall economy. We developed a ten-year strategy to grow and position the emirate as a global business events hub and our goal is to double the sector’s size by 2030.” To cope with an expected surge in events, Abu Dhabi has been busy developing a robust infrastructure across its exhibition spaces, hospitality and aviation offerings.

The ADNEC Group, whose portfolio includes the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the Al Ain Convention Centre and Excel London, has recently expanded its offerings with a waterfront venue. “The ADNEC Group has just finished a major infrastructure project with the opening of Marina Hall, the largest multipurpose hall in the Middle East, which was created in direct response to demand from the market for a large flexible space,” explains Graham Stephenson, director of sales at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

“Our tourism business, catering business and Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre all work together and attract international and local event organisers to host major forums and gatherings across a range of sectors. This one-stop-shop approach makes it easy for local, regional and international organisations to come to Abu Dhabi and run an event,” he says.

Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC)Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC)

To help facilitate the process of choosing a venue, the Visit Abu Dhabi website has an online Venue Finder tool that enables users to search through more than 120 listings based on the meeting room size, venue type or exhibition space requirements. It also has several destination management companies and professional conference organisers who can be contacted to organise the venue and facilitate the event itself in Abu Dhabi.

An increase in hospitality options also spans a wide range, from budget to ultra-luxury, as well as short- to long-term stays, and the MICE sector is heavily focused on building the emirate’s hospitality offering.

“The ADNEC Group has invested strategically in its hotel portfolio, particularly to support its venues in Abu Dhabi and London. We have two hotels onsite at ADNEC in Abu Dhabi – Aloft Abu Dhabi and Andaz Capital Gate,” says Stephenson.

“The other hotels in our portfolio – Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Abu Dhabi and Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara – enable us to showcase Abu Dhabi as a leading destination to international business travellers looking to either extend their work trip, or return to Abu Dhabi in the future for leisure,” he adds.

Abu Dhabi’s aviation industry, meanwhile, comprises a mix of full-service (Etihad) and budget airlines (Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and Air Arabia Abu Dhabi) and is supported by the Abu Dhabi International airport, which was recently fitted with facial recognition and biometric technology to help expedite the movement of passengers.

The UAE’s national airline, Etihad Airways, plays a pivotal role in building the local MICE sector. “As the UAE’s national airline, we’re actively engaged in growing Abu Dhabi as both a business and leisure destination.

To showcase the strength of Abu Dhabi as a destination for business meetings, conferences and events, we work closely with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi to organise trade familiarisation trips from emerging MICE-focused markets,” says Martin Drew, senior vice president of global sales and cargo at Etihad, which was awarded the World’s Best MICE Airline at the World MICE Awards 2022.

“Etihad also has a partnership with the Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau (ADCEB) to support the Advantage Abu Dhabi initiative which incentivises MICE business,” adds Drew.

This initiative is one of the emirate’s most important programmes to support the MICE sector and all its stakeholders. The programme was revamped last year, and has seen ADCEB collaborate with Etihad to incentivise corporate clients. For example, when 30 airline tickets are booked, one complimentary economy class ticket is provided.

Similarly, hospitality partners on the programme have schemes specifically for the MICE sector, with complimentary rooms, upgrades and spa discounts available. Intermediaries who step in to further the MICE industry in Abu Dhabi are also suitably rewarded. ADCEB launched the MICE Agency Reward Scheme to incentivise both international and local intermediaries for bringing business to the UAE’s capital, with air tickets, hotel nights, and shopping vouchers up for grabs.

Authentic cultural experiences

Against a global backdrop that includes the pressure points of international conflict in Eastern Europe, inflationary worries and cost-cutting measures, the MICE industry is compelled to rethink its value proposition. It has had to go beyond just the business aspect, and appeal to the leisure market too – hence the rise of “bleisure” offerings – to convince corporates to book destinations outside of their resident countries.

Mindful of these evolving needs, in November, the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi created a list of seven authentic Emirati cultural experiences that visitors are recommended to sample. The experiences have been created in collaboration with Emirati tour guides and include the likes of visiting the local fish and date markets, sampling a homemade Emirati breakfast and visiting a local ranch.

There are also a host of venues in Abu Dhabi that are well-suited for MICE meetings with a definitive bleisure component, such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Marina Circuit, which feature well-equipped business centres alongside entertainment options. Other unconventional offerings for business events include the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, Manarat Al Saadiyat art studio and the Qasr Al Watan presidential palace. For high-end gatherings where privacy is vital, there are venues such as the private resort of Zaya Nurai Island too.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Under development

Here we look at key projects across Abu Dhabi’s retail, transport, cultural and hospitality landscapes.


The stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017, remains one of the emirate’s cultural highlights, but there are several other high-profile museums currently being built in Abu Dhabi. These include the Natural History Museum, due to open in 2025, with highlights including Stan, an 11.7-metre-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Murchison meteorite, which contains particles dating back seven billion years; and the Zayed National Museum, which will illustrate the human and natural history of the UAE and the story of its founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

A particularly exciting opening is the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which will be dedicated to modern and contemporary art and is also expected to open in 2025. The US$1 billion museum has been designed by Frank Gehry and will reportedly consist of 28 galleries spread over 11,600 sqm. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will also feature an additional 23,000 sqm of exhibition space within the cones and terraces that make up the structure of the building.


The eagerly anticipated extension of the Etihad Rail project will serve as a national cargo and passenger rail network connecting the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. Operating at a speed of 200kph, the train will, in theory, be able to travel from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in 50 minutes, and from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah in 100 minutes. By 2030, more than 36.5 million passengers are expected to use this railway network annually.

In September last year, Etihad Rail and Oman Rail also signed an agreement to build a US$3 billion passenger and freight railway line that connects Abu Dhabi with Sohar located to the north of Muscat.

Reem Mall, Abu Dhabi


In a country that has constructed some of the world’s largest and most architecturally impressive malls, it’s a tough ask to build a retail space that still amazes. But that’s the brief for the upcoming Reem Mall. Located on Reem Island, the US$1.2 billion mall will feature 85 dining options and over 450 stores spread across 185,806 sqm of retail space.

The highlight of the mall though will be the Snow Abu Dhabi attraction, which is being touted as one of the world’s largest snow parks. Expect 12 rides and 17 attractions spread across 929 sqm. The temperature will be maintained at 2ºC, and the slopes will be covered in 50cm of thick snow.


There are several hotels in Abu Dhabi that cater to a wide variety of tastes, from island resorts to those located amid wildlife, themed hotels and properties built next to some of the emirate’s most popular attractions.

An exciting new entrant scheduled to open on Abu Dhabi’s Al Nawras island this year will be the debut property from Hilton’s LXR Hotels and Resorts brand. The forthcoming all-villa resort will offer 80 beach and water villas, as well as a 450 sqm, two-bedroom Royal Villa, dotted around a golf course.

Further down the line, in 2026, the Robert De Niro-backed Nobu Hospitality will be bringing its famous restaurant, beach club, branded residences and a 165-key hotel to the emirate. Aldar Properties has partnered with Nobu Hospitality to open this project on Mamsha beach on Saadiyat island, which is a part of Saadiyat Grove.

Key events to look forward to in 2023


  • EVIS – Electric vehicle innovation summit
  • IATA Ground Handling Symposium
  • World Utilities Congress


  • Sigma Theta Tau International 31st International Nursing Research Congress


  • Middle East Design and Build Week (MEDBW)
  • Future Hospitality Summit 2023


  • Abu Dhabi Sport and Fitness Expo
  • Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition& Conference (ADIPEC)


  • Abu Dhabi Air Expo
  • Abu Dhabi International Boat Show
  • Abu Dhabi International Food Exhibition


  • Abu Dhabi International Mental Health Conference
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