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.