Steen Jacobsen, Dubai Convention and Events Bureau: about the Emirate`s innovations, Expo-2020 and business travel

Dubai has been a magnet for individual and business travellers from all over the world for the past few decades. The emirate can make a real surprise - whether it is the construction of skyscrapers, artificial islands or the organization of service of the highest level. In October 2020 business representatives will gather in Dubai at the world exhibition Expo-2020 in order to present the latest technical and technological achievements. Millions of tourists will join them - to see all this splendour.

Vice President of Dubai Convention and Events Bureau Steen Jacobsen speaks about the forthcoming world exhibition, global preparation for the event, as well as about the innovations that are about to appear in the Emirate in his interview to ABT-ACTE Russia


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- Steen, at the moment the eyes of the business community go to Dubai, because this year the emirate will host Expo-2020. Tell us what preparation for the exhibition has been done, how much Dubai has changed due to this global event.

Expo-2020 will be the largest event ever held in Dubai: according to our estimate, the total amount of visits to the exhibition for six months, starting from October 20, 2020, will amount to 25 million. Preparation for the event has been under way for several years already, both on its main venue and throughout the city. At the moment a completely new area of 4.38 km2 is being built in Dubai, which will expand the city. And since 80% of the facilities will remain after the exhibition, the venue will have a long-term effect. For example, after Expo-2020 is over, Dubai Exhibition Center with the area of 45,000 m2 will become another interesting venue for corporate event planners.

- How many guests do you expect at Expo-2020 and what will you surprise them with?

We expect about 25 million visitors at Expo-2020 in Dubai, the majority of guests coming from other countries. For six months there will be hundreds of events, including national holidays, concerts, conferences and exhibitions. In addition, there will be a lot of interesting things for all the visitors in three thematic pavilions "Opportunities", Mobility" and "Sustainable development", as well as in the pavilions of the participating countries.

- What changes have occurred and/or will occur in the operation of Dubai Airport? How do you plan to cope with such a great amount of business travellers in 2020?

For the past few years Dubai International Airport has undergone a number of changes, its capacity has exceeded 90 million passengers per year. This figure is expected to increase up to 118 million by 2023 due to modernization and introduction of new technologies. At the same time, the capacity of the second international airport of the city – Al Maktoum, which was opened in 2011, has also reached 26.5 million passengers per year. Therefore, Dubai is ready not only for a large flow of guests in 2020, but also for an increase in the number of visitors in the following years.

- We know that Dubai is one of the safest places in the Middle East. But such large-scale events always attract fanatics. What measures is the Emirates taking to ensure safety of Expo-2020 participants?

According to the latest tourism competitiveness rating Travel & Tourism Competitiveness, made by the World Economic Forum, the United Arab Emirates were one of ten safest countries of the world. In addition, Dubai is known as the fourth most visited city in the world, which proves its high safety level. Since 2013, when Dubai was chosen as the city that will host Expo-2020, the leading state and private companies have been taking numerous measures to ensure safety during the exhibition.

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- If we speak about the MICE industry, what countries are the key markets that hold events in Dubai the most often? What place does Russia hold on this list?

Due to easy accessibility and convenient geographical location (not more than a four hours' flight for one third of the world's population and not more than eight hours for the travellers from other countries) Dubai is a very attractive business event city for numerous organizations from various countries and regions. Western Europe is still one of our key markets as a customer with a strong conference and corporate event market, while America and Asia have lately been contemplating Dubai as an incentive destination. The main feature of events in Dubai for event organizers from all the regions is the opportunity to invite participants from all over the world, regardless of the location of the customer company.

The Russian corporate event market is certainly a target market for Dubai, especially in the context of incentive tours and business events. Since we have an office in Moscow, we regularly hold roadshows in major cities of Russia and invite event planners and sales representatives to Dubai, so that they could get acquainted with corporate event venues and the facilities of the city.

- How has the flow of Russian tourists changed over the past few years, after the visa rules were simplified for Russians in 2017?

After the visa on arrival was introduced for Russians in the beginning of 2017, Dubai has experienced a significant increase in travel traffic from Russia, both with business and leisure purposes. This was also facilitated by the development of direct air traffic between Dubai and the largest cities of Russia. Thus, the number of travellers from Russia increased from 240,000 in 2016 to 678,000 in 2018 – for two years only the growth was 182%.

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- Dubai is constantly changing: new shopping malls and business venues, entertainment centers, new hotels and whole islands are emerging. What is the emirate in for in the near future, how else are you going to surprise the world?

The new projects that will be launched soon include: Ain Dubai big wheel which is 250 metres in height that is going to be the largest in the world, as well as the new Nakheel Mall shopping complex on Palm Jumeirah Island. If we speak about business events, Dubai Exhibition Center that will become one of Expo-2020 venues, will be a new important addition to the infrastructure that already exists. Besides, a large number of new hotels that will open in the coming years will ensure new accommodation options. We are also waiting for the launch of Dubai Creek Tower, the highest building on the planet that will be higher that the Burj Khalif skyscraper. The new Dubai Harbour seaside complex will also be a new attraction point. In addition, the new exciting Museum of the Future will open in 2020, it will combine the elements of an exhibition, an immersive theatre and an attraction and will invite visitors to look beyond the present and find themselves in the possible worlds of the future.

- What are the current business travel support programs in Dubai?

The organization named Dubai Business Events (DBE), the official congress bureau and the division of the Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing of Dubai offer companies and associations from all over the world independent and free consultations, recommendations and the aid in planning international corporate events in the emirate. We also connect event planners with DMCs, hotels, venues and points of attraction, in order to provide the most beneficial terms and support for partners across the whole city. Our business event support program provides a variety of services to ensure the success of a corporate event in Dubai.

- Do you personally have your favorite places in the city and in the emirate? If so, what do they attract you with?

As for Dubai, I am particularly fascinated with the territory around Dubai Creek, the oldest part of the city. Apart from gold, spices and fabrics markets that are located there, you can also visit historic quarters and museums, where you can get acquainted with Dubai`s rich heritage. This gives you an opportunity to plunge into the history and culture of the city, which is often missed when people visit the emirate. One of the ways to integrate this aspect into the business event program is to visit the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), where guests can have lunch in the traditional emirate`s style and learn about local traditions and customs.

- Nowadays event planners are looking for new, exotic venues for business events more and more often: top destinations include both Asian ones, as well as Arab countries. Experts of our Association held a survey of event planners` preferences not long ago, and one of the answers was even Mars, as a joke, of course. What development path do you think the MICE industry will follow in the future? Could you give your expert forecast?

Indeed, corporate event planners always look for new interesting venues for their events, in order to stand out of the pack and to arouse interest of prospective customers and participants and to make an unforgettable impression that will inspire and motivate. These need not necessarily be venues specially constructed for corporate events, they may also be other types of venues with unique features. I think that this trend will persist and cities, where major events are held, will be able to use their opportunities to the maximum, so that guests could feel the atmosphere of the city.

Dubai offers a wide choice of unique locations, including camp sites in the desert away from the city, where the group will be offered lunch and entertainment right under the sky of stars, the areas around the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalif, the highest building in the world, or venues on the shore of the Arab Bay against the background of the legendary Burj Al Arab Hotel.

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- In Russia incoming tourism is growing at the moment: the system of entry visas issue has been simplified, new event venues, hotels appear. What would you wish to our country as a traveller and as a MICE expert?

When I visit a new country, I expect to get fully-featured experience from my trip, when all the elements work closely together: from the travel planning process to returning home. In addition, I appreciate top service and professionalism at every stage, as well as the feeling that I am welcome here. If we speak about business events, I would like all local DMCs, hotels, venues and other participants to have strong offers that would meet my group's demands and could ensure unforgettable experience. This is what we have achieved working closely with our partners in Dubai.

- Have you been to Russia? If so, what stuck in your memory, what did you like, what were you surprised, upset with?

I was lucky to visit both Moscow and St. Petersburg, beautiful cities with rich history and culture. Russia is now developing as an international business event venue, and more and more Russian cities are building business venues and promoting them among the international event planners community.

- From the point of view of a foreign expert, what destinations, cities and regions of Russia would you consider to be the most interesting for business and individual travellers?

Russia is a huge country, with many destinations, both world famous Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Sochi and Yekaterinburg that are only gaining popularity. I think that in the near future the potential of Russia as a business event destination will increase significantly.