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Why global coronavirus recovery is key to UAE's MICE industry

Simon Mellor, CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, said a global travel passport would give people the confidence to travel again.

Dubai’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry can only fully recover once the rest of the world catches up with the city, according to a leading events expert.

The sector is in the process of rebuilding after being decimated by the global coronavirus pandemic and limited by strict Covid-19-related health and safety guidelines and restrictions.

Dubai hosted its first in-person event post-lockdown as early as July last year in the shape of the AI Everything conference in Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). And more recently the DWTC has played host to GITEX and Gulfood, with Arabian Travel Market scheduled to take place in May and a series of events pencilled in for the rest of the year.

Simon Mellor, CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, told Arabian Business that while exhibitors and attendees can have confidence in visiting Dubai and the wider UAE, strict guidelines and potential restrictions on returning home may deter people from travelling.

He said: “At the moment we’ve done the hard part, which is showcased that Dubai is ready to welcome people. We now need the rest of the world, to use the expression, to catch up.

“When I look at Asia, China particularly, which is a big part of all the major trade shows, the Chinese at the moment are blessed with a massive domestic market, which satisfies a huge amount of their local needs. They have a local exhibitor base that are quite happy to engage with their local audience and local market, [which is] a little bit similar to the United States in that regard.

“We want the Chinese businesses to come here, but at the moment it’s very difficult for them to get back without spending 14 days in quarantine.”

Both Emirates and Etihad are exploring the launch of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel pass.

The pass enables passengers to create a digital passport to verify their pre-travel test or vaccination meets the requirements of the destination. They will be able to share the test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel. The new app will also enable travellers to manage all travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout the travel experience.

Mellor admitted it would give the MICE industry a boost. “We need a global travel passport that will enable people to travel with confidence and ease, so that all of those exhibitors and visitors can come back to the city,” he said. “I don’t think necessarily it’s a right to travel but it would certainly make it a lot easier for the business traveller which is, in essence, our audience as a MICE industry.

“We’re currently on a red list for the UK which makes it impossible for us to bring UK businesses to events. We see Europe is a little bit behind, Italy is going back into a lockdown situation; Germany is probably more challenged than they were a year ago. These are the issues that we need to see healed in order to be able to have the vibrancy of the events sector back.”

Mellor applauded the recent announcement of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, which includes ambitions to increase the emirate’s population from 3.3 million today to 5.8 million in the next two decades, as another potential positive step for the MICE industry.

He said: “What that means is we have an even bigger urban centre in which to promote as a source of MICE industry.”

A raft of other proposals within the plan include increasing the land area used for hotels and tourist activities by 134 percent, while the land used for commercial activities will increase to 168 square kilometres.

The land area allocated to education and health facilities is anticipated to rise by 25 percent, and the length of public beaches will increase by as much as 400 percent in 2040.

Easily accessible integrated service centres will be established across Dubai while the plan also seeks to raise the quality of life of the city while increasing population densities around key mass transit stations.

Mellor added: “I think post-Covid our industry is going to find it, I wouldn’t say more challenging, but different in terms of attracting both exhibitors and visitors, and if we are given a tapestry of a city that is aspiring to be one of the happiest and most progressive cities in the world, that is really going to be a benefit to us in promoting events in the future.”

The announcement also coincides with news that Messe Frankfurt is scheduled to bring the Hypermotion exhibition to the new Dubai Exhibition Centre in November this year. The multimodal innovation platform looks at future mobility and logistics in green cities and smart regions.

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