Meet in Dubai 2011

29 Nov 2011 by BusinessTraveller

A budget-conscious approach to the downturn has ensured the emirate remains a winning option for events, says Mark Atkinson.

When the financial crisis hit, the international media reported with some glee on how mighty Dubai had fallen. Of course, this was the same media that had previously heralded its meteoric rise. It was forgotten that much of this was out of Dubai’s control – the same global forces that helped to build this remarkable city later caused its vulnerability.

In 2011, Dubai’s price/value offering became more compelling. As Ben Caddy, managing director of events company Extra Cake, points out, companies are able to take advantage of world-class infrastructure – in terms of both business and leisure – and the highest standard of hotels, for a fraction of the cost they may have done previously.

“It’s such a competitive market since the downturn that rates are significantly lower and suppliers are encouraged to deliver to the highest standards to ensure repeat business,” he says.

“Dubai has had plenty of bad press in recent years but it’s still years ahead of alternatives located within the region. There is also a wealth of talent in the meetings sector from across the world – both within venues and at the agency and supplier levels – that can’t be found in any other Middle East destination.”

Part of this infrastructure is the recently completed Dubai Metro, which has greatly enhanced ease of travel at a considerably lower cost than most other cities. The emirate’s second airport, Al Maktoum International, is now open to cargo. Its passenger terminal, projected to handle five to seven million passengers per year, was originally scheduled to open in 2011 but has been delayed, with the launch date yet to be confirmed. It will be part of a larger logistics hub called Dubai World Central that, when completed in the late 2020s, is planned to be the world’s largest airport.

“Dubai is dynamic, progressive and advanced,” says Fiona Swaffield, event director and managing partner at Siren Events. “Both a tax-free haven and a holiday resort, it appeals to business professionals and pleasure seekers alike. The world sees Dubai as safe, tolerant and cosmopolitan. The city also presents a kaleidoscope of past and present. Wind towers sit beside glittering skyscrapers, desert dunes roll into green golf courses, while luxury yachts sail beside traditional dhows.”

Another aspect, adds Cathy Mead, vice-president for business development at resort hotel Atlantis the Palm, is the climate: “The weather is always factored into the final decision on a destination. When a group has downtime during a conference, they like to do things outside – especially catering events.”

At the same time, hotels have needed to readjust their own offerings recently – both in terms of cost and other value aspects. “A more budget-conscious, diligent approach to annual planning has become the norm for companies,” Swaffield says. “This has resulted in smaller budgets and group sizes, a re-evaluation of meeting requirements and travel, and rescheduling of major events with less outsourcing.”

Hotels have responded to this by applying group rates to parties of ten and above (previously this might have been from 15 upwards, depending on the venue), and add-ons built into daily delegate rates – such as teambuilding activities or discounted spa treatments. Hotels are also offering in-house event planning support, she adds.

The pressure for Dubai hotels to maximise their value for meetings guests and business travellers in general is likely to continue. While there has been a real slowdown in the opening of new properties this year, tophotelprojects.com estimates that 97 hotels totalling more than 35,000 rooms are under development in the city. This compares with 43 hotels in New York and 17 in Las Vegas. One post-downturn development has been more four-star hotels emerging.

“In terms of pricing for MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions], room rates have been more dynamic based on seasonality,” says Leonard Theng, director of sales and marketing at Pullman Dubai Mall of the Emirates hotel. “For business guests, hotels are redefining their offers and services to meet their requirements, such as [providing] free wifi, an area in the executive lounge to be booked for meetings, printer/computer access and 24-hour gym facilities.”

Mead adds: “It really is about understanding the needs of the decision maker – what do they want to achieve, what experiences do they want to deliver and how can the venue support their goals? We recently had a group from Australia and our culinary vice-president delivered a presentation to them on how we operate from a food perspective behind the scenes. It was fascinating and ran over as there were so many questions.”

Finally, unrest in the region has inadvertently helped to strengthen “Brand Dubai”. Middle East countries considered to have more stable political systems are expected to gain substantially, and Dubai is likely to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

? Visit dubaitourism.ae, dcb.ae


Pullman Dubai Mall of the Emirates

Forming part of the Mall of the Emirates (which houses the indoor Ski Dubai resort) and centrally located near the Jebel Ali free zone and business districts, this was the first Pullman to open in the region, in September 2010. Featuring a glazed central dome and façade, the four-star, 24-floor property is prominent in the neighbouring area and consistent with the mall’s contemporary architectural style. The 481-room Pullman has 800 sqm of event space, including the Mosaic ballroom, accommodating up to 225 delegates, and smaller meeting rooms for between ten and 75 people. Interesting touches include Wii competitions and shoulder massages between meetings.

? Sheikh Zayed Road; tel +971 4377 2000; pullmanhotels.com


A prime example of a meetings venue outside of a hotel is Meydan. Home to the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup, it was transformed in early 2010 from its previous incarnation, the Dubai Racing Club. Based in the Nad Al Sheba area, it is about 20 minutes’ drive from some of the main business areas. With the horseracing season restricted to a short part of the year, Meydan was designed from the outset to accommodate other events and functions year-round, and has already hosted a back-to-back schedule of meetings, exhibitions, conferences and other events. A feature that begs to be mentioned is the Sky Bubble, an amazing structure underneath the grandstand’s crescent roof that not only provides superb racecourse views but also caters for 800 delegates and dinners for 2,500.

? Al Meydan Road, Nad Al Sheba; tel +971 4327 0000; meydan.ae

Byblos Hotel

In the four-star bracket is the Byblos, in the Tecom area of Dubai, where a number of the city’s free zones are also located, such as Dubai Internet City, Media City and Knowledge Village. The Byblos, which opened in 2010, comprises 152 rooms, all with workdesks, wired or wireless internet and voice/text messaging services. It has restaurants and bars, an outdoor pool and a spa offering a range of massage treatments. It is also conveniently near a Dubai Metro station. Modern in design, it contains various Lebanese artefacts and decorations, including mosaics in the lobby and Venetian coins embedded in the guestroom doors and bed posts. The main meeting room seats up to 85 people, and is equipped with an LCD projector. The wifi-equipped business centre can also be used for meetings of up to eight people. Its sister property, the four-star Marina Byblos hotel, is situated in the Dubai Marina area.

? Al Barsha Tecom area; tel +971 4448 8000; bybloshoteldubai.com

Ramada Jumeirah

A main advantage of the four-star Ramada Jumeirah is that it is a five-minute drive from Dubai World Trade Centre and Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (traffic permitting). Open since August 2011, the hotel’s leisure facilities include a pool, spa, two restaurants and a nightclub, while its 252 modern guestrooms are equipped with wired and wireless internet access. It has four meeting spaces – two boardrooms with a capacity of ten and 14 people respectively, and two seminar rooms accommodating 80 and 90 delegates theatre-style.

? Al Mina Road; tel +971 4702 7000; ramadajumeirah.ae

Jumeirah Zabeel Saray

Open since January 2011 and located on Palm Jumeirah, the interior design of the beachside 405-room Jumeirah Zabeel Saray takes as its theme the lavish style of the Ottoman period, with Turkish artworks and murals dotted throughout the building. The property offers superb sea views and its event facilities include a 300-seat theatre, a private screening room for up to 29 people, meeting venues for between 30 and 70 delegates, and outdoor spaces for gatherings of 250-350. It also has a wide range of dining options and a spa with 42 treatment rooms.

? Crescent Road; tel +971 4453 0000; jumeirah.com

Ritz-Carlton DIFC

Also opened in January 2011 and well located within the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the 14-floor Ritz-Carlton has 341 guestrooms (all with wired and wifi internet access) and is much less traditional in design than you might expect from some of the brand’s other properties. It is just as illustrious, however, with a courtyard waterfall and contemporary artwork from DIFC’s Opera Gallery. Meeting space capacity ranges from 24-99 delegates U-shape to 25-1,500 guests for a reception.

? Gate Village, DIFC; tel +971 4372 2222; ritzcarlton.com


What new incentive options are available to groups? We asked some local experts:

Candida Lobo, Ovation Arabia

“A new angle to teambuilding events is the ‘amazing race’ concept, where participants are given clues to cover sights of the city. They could use public transport such as the Dubai Metro, jump in a taxi or even catch an abra [water taxi] on Dubai Creek. It helps delegates to get to know the city in a far better way than a normal tour. They remember more about the destination.

“For larger groups, we have organised a conference on a dhow [traditional Arab boat] for 100 people. We’ve also done a three-day conference in tents in the desert. Smaller groups enjoy the chef’s table, where guests enjoy a specially prepared meal.”

Fiona Swaffield, Siren Events

“More out-of-the-ordinary incentives include learning a skill – from an Arabic cooking class to belly dancing or a desert driving course. Tailor-made programmes for smaller groups include a ‘desert experience’, where rally drivers share their experiences while driving the guests through the desert.

“Another approach is themed activities, where day one might consist of water-based activities, day two might take place in the desert and day three could be golf. Another option is dragon boating.”

Leonard Theng, Pullman dubai Mall of the Emirates

“The traditional desert safari, dune bashing and camel riding are still the key highlights for incentive groups. We also have Ski Dubai offering sessions for groups, and DUCTAC [Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre] offering a wide range of activities. There are also more adventure-based programmes such as trekking in the wadis [huge dry river beds], obstacle courses, sailing, snorkelling and scuba diving.”

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