Business of business travel picks up in Abu Dhabi

GIBTM opens in Abu Dhabi Monday as the emirate tries to tap into the growing sector of business travel with increased air connectivity.

By 2020 the business travel sector is expected to contribute $1.39 billion to the emirate, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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The business travel segment is getting busier in Abu Dhabi as the capital emerges as an important hub for connecting flights.

Etihad Airways is expanding its flight map to cities such as Rome, Jaipur, the Armenian capital Yerevan, Los Angeles, Dallas, Phuket, Zurich, Perth and Medina this year.

The development of new internationally branded hotels and the Tourism and Culture Authority’s promotion of the emirate as a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) destination are contributing to the growth of the sector, said Filippo Sona, the head of the hotels division in the Middle East and North Africa at Colliers International.

“Abu Dhabi has a solid corporate, government and Mice business, and hotels near the Corniche, Saadiyat Island and Yas Island [cater to this segment],” Mr Sona said.

By 2020 the business travel sector is expected to contribute US$1.39 billion to the emirate, according to TCA. It generated $653 million in 2010.

Globally, the sector is worth $5.6bn a year, according to the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, which held its last council meting in Abu Dhabi in September.

The four-day eighth Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM), which opens at Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre (Adnec) on March 24, would look to expand the revenues for the emirate.

“We are looking to showcase Al Ain and the Western Region as well as the city of Abu Dhabi and its infrastructure at GIBTM this year,” said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, the promotions and overseas offices director at TCA. “Many of the buyers are here for the first time and we will give them a tour of the airport, Adnec, hotels, Yas Island and other infrastructure.”

He expects 2,400 industry experts to visit the show.

This year, there will be 350 exhibitors from 36 countries, including the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, France, Poland, Ukraine, China and Australia.

Last year, about 59 per cent of Middle East buyers forecast increased budgets for the next 12 months and 68.5 per cent planned an increase in events this year, according to the 2013 IBTM Meetings Industry Research Report.

In the latest figures from the report, the UAE is already the Middle East’s top destination for the Mice sector. The country hosted 108 international association meetings in 2011, with 79 in Dubai, 27 in Abu Dhabi and one each in Sharjah and Ajman.

Last year, GIBTM registered 302 buyers with 67 per cent placing orders worth more than $650,000.

In the MICE sector, a buyer is a meeting planner, who organises or influences budgetary decisions for conferences, business travel or product launches.

In Abu Dhabi as well as in Dubai, hotels are doing a brisk business.

“We have seen an increase of approximately 13 per cent in business travellers compared to the same period in the previous year,” said Alexander Schneider, the manager of The Emirates Palace hotel.

“In particular, we have seen an upwards trend in Mice business, as more and more global corporations are discovering Abu Dhabi as the ideal destination for meetings and conferences in the region.”

This year, it has hosted luxury car launches and global airline conferences, with business travellers making up 38 per cent of its guests.

This year, the key meetings scheduled in Abu Dhabi include the three-day International Exhibition for Security and National Resilience from April 1 and the three-day Cityscape Abu Dhabi from April 22. In June, the three-day International Airport Transport Association’s slot conference for IATA and non-IATA airlines is expected to attract 1,000 delegates. All the events are expected to take place at Adnec.

In 2012, Abu Dhabi improved its world rankings by 134 places to reach the 100th position in the International Congress and Convention Association’s list.

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