Dubai Business Events is Dubai’s official convention bureau. As a division of the Dubai Department for Economy and Tourism, its primary goal is to establish Dubai as a premier business event destination by promoting it and attracting international meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions to help Dubai grow its economic development and knowledge creation.

The UAE Centennial 2071 sets a course for the United Arab Emirates to be the world’s leading country by 2071. It will invest in and build around the four core aspects of education, economy, government development, and community cohesion to foster an environment for exponential growth. It is a highly ambitious plan, but Dubai is conscientiously working towards achieving it. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He said the project is a seed that the UAE has planted so that future generations will reap the benefits.

Dubai has grown significantly since 1971, when the seven emirates formed the United Arab Emirates. Today, Dubai is a metropolis of almost four million inhabitants, and the last two years, in particular, have seen significant growth. The goal for 2040 is to approach six million inhabitants and develop the infrastructure to cater to the increased population and continued tourism growth.

“The number of visitors to Dubai grew by 92 per cent between 2021 and 2022, perhaps not surprisingly after the worst of Covid was over and people wanted to travel again. But 92 per cent is still a dramatic increase,” says Karina Lance, Associate Vice President of Dubai Business Events.

In 2003, Dubai joined the Best Cities Global Alliance, along with Cape Town and Singapore. However, Dubai’s significant development as a convention city began in 2008, with Karina Lance starting the following year. Then, they developed the whole division. In November 2021, the merger of what was known as the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, DTCM, with the Department of Economic Development was announced.

“When the announcement was made in November 2022, several forward-looking key points were linked to why we were merging. One of those points was that we would secure 400 events annually by 2025. So, we already had an ambitious strategy and planned what needed to be done to achieve that goal. And then, in early 2023, the D33 strategy was released by the government.”

A key goal of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 is to double the size of Dubai’s economy over the next decade and to consolidate its position among the top three global cities. The agenda includes 100 transformational projects.

“With D33, which aims to double the economy’s economic impact, business events are a key part of that strategy”

The first package of transformational projects for the next decade includes doubling the size of Dubai’s foreign trade, adding 400 cities to its foreign trade map, and launching Dubai’s green and sustainable manufacturing plan. Additional projects include launching Dubai’s Future Economic Corridors 2033 with Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia and a scale-up programme for 30 companies to become global unicorns in new economic sectors. They are also integrating 65,000 young Emiratis into the job market and launching the Dubai Traders project to empower the new generation of traders in critical sectors.

Other projects to be implemented include launching Dubai’s unified licence as a unique commercial identity for all companies all over Dubai, launching ‘Sandbox Dubai’ to allow testing and commercialisation of new technologies, making the emirate a central innovation hub and launching a programme to attract the world’s best universities. In addition, the plan is to make Dubai a global pioneering hub for higher education, developing a Small and Medium Enterprises scale-up programme by identifying 400 high-potential companies, supporting their capacity building, and supporting them to grow globally.

“With D33, which aims to double the economy’s economic impact, business events are a key part of that strategy. Hence, we developed the new strategy we finalised early last year. As part of the new strategy, there are a lot of different things that we’re looking at, different pillars, and one of them was how we’re restructuring the department to address the different segments and how we want to reach the goal of doubling the economy within ten years.”

As part of the strategy, Dubai Business Events, DBE, had an obvious target for the number of events. The first milestone was set at 400 events by 2025. Then, the convention bureau had an equally clear target for the number of delegates.

“When we present any goal, our ambition is always to do it even faster. We are on the right track. We developed ideas on how to structure the agency in the future, and it is now divided into two pillars. The first one is called the International Sales and Bid Factory, which is basically the team that will deliver the bids in all three segments. This includes incentive trips for companies and associations. The same team is responsible for our international sales because they depend greatly on their global network. That is the proactive sales aspect of the business. The second pillar is the Capacity Development and Association Legacy Development.

“When I look at the challenges ahead, as long as the economy is booming, we are doing very well. We are close to markets that are doing extremely well. We have future markets like Africa and Asia right next to us. Today, we have more than 150,000 hotel rooms and very high-class meeting facilities in many facilities, and Dubai is easy to fly to because Emirates is a huge airline. We also have about 300 ambassadors and local hosts whom planners can meet to talk about their opportunities. We have a growing and trained pool of ambassadors.

“The other challenge is our neighbouring destinations that also have a lot of money to invest but don’t necessarily have the same level of infrastructure and know-how. We are also seen as a convention agency leading the development in our region.

“The other challenge is our neighbouring destinations that also have a lot of money to invest but don’t necessarily have the same level of infrastructure and know-how”

“Our recruitment plan until 2026 is confirmed, and we will strengthen both our Capacity Building/Association Reach and International Sales & Bid Factory divisions by an additional eleven positions. It includes building our Dubai Association Centre team and developing two new subdivisions, one focusing on Association Impact Development and the other on corporate event incubator development. In terms of operating budget, it has increased by 15 per cent for 2024.”

Karina Lance says Dubai Business Events has the resources to do what it wants to continue to develop its work and, therefore, Dubai. The only challenge is finding the right people. Otherwise, it will be complicated to handle everything that needs to be done and not to overburden the people already working at the convention bureau.

There is also a comprehensive plan to develop the Dubai Association Centre, DAC, in two ways. The first is that the DAC currently has over 70 registered associations. The convention bureau wants to increase this number. Still, they want to ensure that these 70+ members are given opportunities to develop, either with their regional congress or with help to organise a world congress in Dubai. They need to go further.

To recruit more associations, Karina Lance and DBE want to organise a series of ‘going global roadshows’, which are also planned for this year. One of the meetings will be organised in the US. It will be in Washington and Montreal, Canada. Today, there is a direct flight with Emirates to Montreal. Emirates had only one direct route to Toronto in Canada for a very long time, which was not even daily. Now, Emirates has a partnership with Air Canada and a direct flight to Montreal, where several international associations exist.

Dubai Business Events also focuses on Europe, and in the second week of June, DBE will be in London and Brussels. Moreover, DBE plans to grow in the Asian market, starting with Singapore in the first week of November and possibly followed by Hong Kong and Indonesia. Indonesia is currently a booming market for incentive travel for Dubai.

So, what is the strategy for working with the most crucial meeting organisations in the world? Karina Lance talks about the partnership with the American Society of Association Executives, ASAE, in the US market. Dubai Business Events attend ASAE’s annual trade show, and the collaboration includes identifying potential organisations to target.

“As part of that, we have the Global Association Hubs Partnership, an alliance different from the Best Cities Global Cities, with Washington, Brussels and Singapore. Then, when we go to Europe, we partner with ESAE, the European version of ASAE. We also rely a lot on Brussels for any advice they might have. And, of course, we have our partnership with ICCA, although it is more on the event side.

“We haven’t yet identified who our best partner in Asia would be. We have an ongoing conversation with the Singapore Tourism Board, as they are also part of the Best Cities Global Alliance. When you start working on a new partnership, the fruit of that partnership will not come the next day. These are relationships that you cultivate over the years. We are also considering approaching a developed cooperation with PCMA and Destinations International. We are beginning a good continued development.”