Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in

This file photo shows the venue where the Quality of Life Program 2020 conference was held in Riyadh on May 3. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2018
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Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in

  • Saudi Arabia, as a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), is working relentlessly for the growth of this industry
  • KSA is very keen to create unique and sustainable business events based on its strengths, competitive advantage: SECB chief

RIYADH: With the announcement of Vision 2030, the public and private sectors in the Kingdom have swung into action to achieve the ultimate goal of diversifying the economy of the country, which until now heavily relies on oil revenues.
The Saudi Vision 2030 has set in motion a massive plan for socioeconomic reforms. All the sectors in the Kingdom are following a three-step strategy to achieve their shared goals: Reforms, increased productivity and finally enhanced competitiveness. 

An important sector that is growing by leaps and bounds in the Kingdom is the meetings and event industry. Since the announcement of the reforms, the importance of this industry has increased manifold, as the country is experiencing a boom in the number of conferences and exhibitions. 

Saudi Arabia, as a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), is working relentlessly for the growth of this industry.

The Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB) has also initiated “the Envoy Program” to recruit envoys in government agencies, associations, chambers and federations to help these bodies engage with international organizations, discuss partnership opportunities and to attract business events to the Kingdom. The aim of this program and many other initiatives is to transform Saudi Arabia into a regional and global meeting hub.

Commenting on the growth of the Saudi meetings industry, ICCA Regional Director Senthil Gopinath said:

“The meetings industry does not grow in a vacuum. It is linked to business activities, especially international, and the development of the local association, scientific and health care communities. It also depends on the importance of a country as a market. Sometimes growth in meetings industry infrastructure and capacity follows these wider trends, sometimes, thanks to strong government leadership or visionary companies, it can work as a catalyst. Anyone paying attention to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia will be aware that there is a huge amount of change taking place. Saudi Arabia is really getting serious about meetings industry developments. 

SECB CEO Tariq Al-Essa told Arab News: “We cannot compare the UAE or Dubai with Saudi Arabia in terms of numbers of business events or the size of the industry; Saudi demand and supply on the meetings industry is much bigger and stable with high potential powered by Saudi Vision 2030.” 

Al-Essa said four Saudi cities — Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah and the Eastern Province — have huge potential, as they are almost 15 times bigger than the UAE in size and much more populated than the Gulf emirate.

“Moreover, these four provinces combined are way bigger in terms of economy, infrastructure, number of professionals, number of international airports, hotels, international visitors as well as heritage and antiquities,” he said. 

In 2017, the SECB chief said, more than 10,000 business events were held in these provinces in more than 400 different venues like hotels, conference and convention centers.

Al-Essa said currently, the demand in the Saudi meetings industry is organic; and it is growing organically because of the demand to conduct business events organized by official associations, federations, chambers, public and private corporations, universities and event management companies. 

“Therefore, the demand for business events is a reaction to the Saudi economy supported by infrastructure expansions, incentives and facilitation to the meetings industry. In contrast, other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council tend to interfere by buying and biding for events; thus the demand is not driven by economy, but more likely driven by tourism,” he added.

However, he said, many GCC countries are doing well in this area and increasingly progressing faster than Saudi Arabia.

“Although Saudi Arabia is starting to bid for international business events, the Kingdom is also very keen to create unique and sustainable business events based on its strengths, competitive advantage. There are plenty of opportunities to create or attract all types of business events in many economic sectors in Saudi Arabia including water desalination, oil production, power, petrochemicals, mining, logistics, sports, tourism, Hajj and Umrah services, Islamic finance, countering terrorism and of course, dates production.”

The Saudi meetings industry faces many obstacles and challenges. When the SECB was launched in September 2013, it identified the major obstacles to the Saudi meetings industry growth, including regulatory, accessibility, competency, sustainability, non-availability of information and marketing.

The SECB, he said, worked hard to remove those obstacles and has achieved great results. 


UAE body lauds Saudi Arabia’s efforts at enhancing security

Updated 17 January 2019
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UAE body lauds Saudi Arabia’s efforts at enhancing security

  • “The Kingdom acts as a safety net for the Arab and Islamic worlds,” says Federal National Council chair

JEDDAH: A prominent member of the UAE Federal National Council (FNC) has praised the Kingdom’s efforts at enhancing security and development.

Amal Al-Qubaisi, FNC chairperson and speaker, met with members of the Saudi Shoura Council during a delegation visit to the UAE headed by Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, deputy chairman of the Saudi-Emirati Parliamentary Friendship Committee.

Al-Qubaisi reiterated that unity on various regional and international issues enhances security and stability.

“The Kingdom acts as a safety net for the Arab and Islamic worlds,” she said during a meeting at the FNC headquarters in Abu Dhabi. “King Salman is a father figure to both the Saudi and Emirati people.”

Al-Qubaisi said Saudi-Emirati strategic relations are reflected in coordination efforts between the Shoura Council and the FNC and commended the work of Shoura Council Chairman Abdullah Al-Asheikh.

Al-Ghamdi said strong fraternal relations between the two countries would strengthen regional unity and counter foreign actors attempting to sow the seeds of discord.

He also reiterated that the two nations share a common history, lineage and culture.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed ways that the council and FNC could enhance parliamentary relations.

The delegation also met with the Gulf Cooperation Council Parliamentary Friendship Group, which was headed by Mohammed Al-Ameri, chairman of the FNC Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs Committee. FNC Secretary-General Ahmed Al-Dhaheri was also present at the meeting.

Delegation members also partially attended a regular FNC session, in which they got a glimpse into the council’s day-to-day operations.