Dubai is expected to draw thousands of business travellers this month as several big exhibitions get under way.
The Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) will host 22 trade events this month covering technology, healthcare and maritime activity. They are expected to draw more than a quarter of a million visitors. In March last year, DWTC hosted 20 events.
The Dubai International Boat Show, which is being held at the Dubai International Marine Club until Saturday, has 800 exhibitors and expects to attract 28,000 visitors from 120 countries.
In the latest figures available, DWTC reported a 10 per cent year-on-year growth in visitor numbers to events hosted there in 2014, with 2.4 million visitors and 435 trade events.
“In the exhibitions, meetings and conference segment, Dubai has taken over from the [other areas in the Arabian] Gulf and even India with its infrastructure,” said Asim Arshad, the chief executive of Orient Travel.
“What is challenging is the currency issue as the euro, rouble and rupee weaken, everything gets expensive [for visitors].”
He was speaking on the sidelines of Mice Arabia Congress – about the meetings, incentive, conference and exhibitions (Mice) segment of the travel business – in Dubai, which finishes today.
The peak season for the Mice market in the UAE is between September and March.
While exhibitions draw more visitors to the city, corporate travel is facing headwinds as companies reduce spending, said Daniel Ponzo, the general manager of Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays.
“We also feel that the companies are struggling to pay us.”
Companies in the UAE have reduced their spending on corporate travel by 5 to 8 per cent compared with two years ago, said Praveen Gandhi, the executive general manager for Kanoo Travel’s global operations.
For outbound Mice travel, agencies insist the number of people travelling will not decrease, but they are more likely to visit cheaper destinations.
Popular destinations for corporate travel traditionally include Europe, North America and India.
But emerging destinations include Turkey, Croatia, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, said Karthik Ramamurhy, the head of Middle East, Africa and India at Ipsos Business Consulting.
“There is opportunity to grow the Mice business here now because the room capacity is high and the average room rate in Dubai is down by US$100 year-on-year, so the destination is competitive,” Mr Ponzo said.
Dubai has been adding hotels, and the room count at the end of November was 78,184, a 5.5 per cent increase year-on-year, according to STR Global research. In January, the average room rate in Dubai was Dh914.09, a 10 per cent decline year-on-year, while occupancy fell by 0.8 per cent year-on-year to 85 per cent, it said.
Incentive travel forms the smallest proportion of the Mice business in the UAE, at 6 per cent, while meetings and exhibitions form 80 per cent of the business, said Mr Ponzo.
The UAE Mice sector business is worth about $653 million a year, according to Euromonitor International’s figures from last year.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter