Dubai: When boom is bated

by Sam Harrington-Low
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Dubai MICE hotels and services

Browse MICE and corporate hotels in Dubai on the Great Hotels of the World website - including detailed meeting information, photos, reviews and more.

For great MICE offers and to request a proposal for your next event please visit the Great Hotels of the World MICE page.

For more information on MICE events in Dubai contact Jerad Bachar at the Dubai Convention Bureau: Tel: + 971 4 2010 220 / Fax: +971 4 2010 414 /


Love it or loathe it, Dubai is arguably the world’s most lavish meetings and incentive destination. Those planning luxury meetings will discover an embarrassment of riches in the five-star hotel sector – or perhaps a richesse d’embarras if you are one of those sensitive souls who find the unabashed opulence just a little jarring.

Dubai can no longer rely on its oil and gas reserves, and to address this shortfall it has embraced globalisation, expanding and developing to encompass alternative sectors, such as tourism, the MICE industry, real estate and financial services. Dubai’s leaders have encouraged investment which has seen development at a breakneck pace. Now the economy is slowing; financiers have slammed the brakes on. How will this affect the meetings market?

The party line from the Dubai Convention Bureau is predictable but it rings true. Dubai must work harder to attract business from Europe – and when it comes to meetings and events it’s a buyers’ market.

“Event planners are making decisions with a much shorter lead time,” says Jerad Bachar, director at the Dubai Convention Bureau. “The global economic climate has meant that clients are keeping lead times very short and, for this reason, availability at the hotels and venues across the city is at an all-time high. The meeting planner has a freedom and flexibility not seen before, and some viable and budget-friendly opportunities exist that haven’t been available before.”

Bachar argues that economic difficulties seem to be restricted to the more outlandish residential developments.

“Yes, there is some slowing in the market,” he says, “but it’s not the practical developments that are being hit. Venues such as hotels with meeting and conference space with excellent leisure facilities are still going ahead without any issues, because there is a clear, viable need for these. It’s the larger, less practical developments and buildings that are slowing down in production.”

Dubai is still an exciting and vibrant location for events, particularly taking into consideration the current opportunity for availability and negotiation. The sleek, modern Dubai International Airport offers connections to over 140 destinations and the city offers a superior quality lifestyle which is perfect for creating vibrant social programmes for visiting delegates.

Big it up

Dubai currently offers around 320 hotels and 110 hotel apartments in the city, although the numbers are ever-increasing. The city is planning an extraordinary amount of new development. Hotels make up a large percentage of that growth, focusing on the tourist and MICE trade to replace the gap that oil depletion will create. Most of the existing - and all of the planned - hotel venues offer business and meeting facilities and cater for groups from 10 to 25,000 people.

The emirate is a meeting point for destinations around the world with an average flying time of seven hours or less from Europe, Asia, India and many parts of Africa. Direct flights are now available from every continent.

The destination boasts one of the finest airports in the world, recognised not only as one of the fastest-growing, but also as the aviation hub of the Middle East, and it’s only 15 minutes from the city centre. Over 110 airlines operate serve over 200 destinations. With an expansion project underway, Dubai International Airport is set to handle 60 million passengers by 2010.

Dubai has a proven track record of staging high profile and high security global events such as the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 2003 and the World and Travel Tourism Council in 2008. The staging of these types of events requires involvement from many different disciplines throughout Dubai, including the government and private sector working together to ensure a safe and secure environment is available at all times for both visitors and residents.

High calibre events this year included the Rugby World Cup Sevens in March and the Arabian Travel Market in May, both held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC), as well as numerous sporting events such as the Dubai Golf World Championship at the Jumeriah Golf Estates and the Dubai Airshow at Jebel Ali.

Away from the luxury hotels, there are stimulating programmes to be experienced, ranging from Arabian Nights in the desert, taking in camels, 4x4 rides on the dunes and belly dancers, through Michelin star-level dining (there is currently no Michelin Guide for Dubai, but there is some incredible food) and elegant cocktail bars, to skiing in the Dubai Snowdome. Not to mention watersports, diving, flying and, of course, shopping!

Notable exhibition spaces include the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, which is part of the Dubai World Trade Center. As you’d expect, this venue offers a solution to most briefs, offering vast exhibition space, smaller spaces for conferences or dining and a well-equipped business centre. The Dubai World Trade Center Tower is an exclusive club, offering great views. It can seat up to 2,000 people.

For a property featuring white sands and wonderful views, the 138-room Ritz-Carlton Dubai is a safe bet, with its sea-facing rooms and air of old-fashioned excellence. For more active programs, the Jebel Ali Hotel and Golf Resort has undergone a fair bit of upgrading and can offer, of course, golf, alongside clay shooting, watersports and scuba diving.

Into the city and the vast 674 bedroom Grand Hyatt is always a pleasure. Standing on the edge of the famous creek, this is a very well-appointed hotel with great meeting space offering a total of around 4340 sqm and state-of-the-art digital technology. And its sister hotel, the Hyatt Regency, is home to the Crystal Ballroom, which boasts a banqueting department renowned as one of the hospitality leaders in the UAE.

For the ‘wow!’ factor you’d be hard pressed to beat Burj Al Arab, the famous and oft-photographed tower, designed to look like a ship’s sail. At 321 metres it’s the second tallest building used exclusively as a hotel, smaller only than the Rose Tower. The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 metres (919 ft) out from Jumeirah Beach, connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. Burj Al Arab has 202 luxury suites.

Then of course there’s Atlantis the Palm Dubai, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Jumeriah Beach Hotel, Le Meridien – the cornucopia overflows.

New on the block

The Palm Islands are artificial islands – Palm Jumeirah, the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Deira – on which major commercial and residential infrastructures are being constructed by Nakheel Properties.

Each development is in the shape of a palm tree, topped with a crescent, and has a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment centres planned.

The three islands will offer more than 100 luxury hotels between them, plus residential beachside villas and apartments, marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities and health spas. Palm Jumeirah began in June 2001, followed shortly by Palm Jebel Ali. The Palm Deira will have a surface area of 46.35 sqkm and completion is planned over the next 10–15 years.

Burj Dubai, meaning ‘Dubai Tower,’ is a skyscraper under construction in the Business Bay district of Dubai. It’s arguably the tallest man-made building in the world, even though it’s still unfinished. It will include apartments, restaurants, library and even a cigar club. Completion is due this year, and is part of the new ‘Downtown Dubai’ development.

Designed to represent a flower, the Burj Al Alam, meaning ‘World Tower’, is a 108-storey, 510 meter skyscraper under construction in the Business Bay. As well as the inevitable residential and office space it will also house the highest hotel in the world, plus a six-storey ‘crown’ holding gardens, a Turkish bath and upmarket club facilities. Completion is expected next year.

Hydropolis is an underwater hotel. Yes you read it right, an underwater hotel... It will be the world’s first, covering about 260 hectares and will include three elements: the land station where guests are welcomed; a connecting tunnel which offers a train ride to the main area of the hotel; and the hotel itself, which will have 220 suites within the submarine complex. It is due to open next year, if the marketing blurb is to be believed. Jules Verne, eat your heart out.

Case study - Speed trip

Artaaj, the UAE events and promotions specialist, was asked by Zinc Management, an events agency in the UK, to organise the ultimate luxury incentive trip to award 54 BMW salespeople for good performance. What better place to offer a luxury trip than Dubai, the playground of the rich and famous?

The five-day trip was a mix of adrenaline, glamour and indulgence and packed with luxury excursions to ensure the visitors had a truly special trip. Activities included a desert day at a specially chosen spot away from the usual day trippers, where 30 minutes of dune bashing was followed by sand-skiing, dune-buggy rides and a GPS orientation race; arriving in style at Dubai’s gold and spice souks via speed boats from their hotel in Jumeriah, and golf. Perhaps the most exclusive element of the trip was the private yacht charter, complete with a full range of watersports, including parasailing, wakeboarding and waterskiing, to name but a few.

To balance the exhilaration the group dined in some of Dubai’s most exclusive restaurants, including Buddha Bar at Grosvenor House and Vu’s at Emirates Towers. On the third evening Artaaj organized a fantastic firework display after dinner and drinks at the Bab al Shams desert resort.

Biju Jayaraj, chief executive officer at Artaaj, said: "This tailormade five-day package was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As Dubai residents we were able to provide BMW with a unique insight into the many premium lifestyle activities on offer, from the excitement of desert and water activities, to the glamour of evening entertaining and luxury shopping.”

A brief word...

We asked a leading Dubai destination management company to recommend venues and ideas for a hypothetical brief: A well-known electronics company has introduced an amazing incentive programme for employees who amaze. The final reward is a four-day lavish trip to Dubai for 25 achievers and their partners.

Rami Asaad, Emirates Oasis Tourism

Our tour takes you on a journey that shows you the old and new Dubai, through the spice market, fish, fruit and vegetable market and the gold souk. Then it’s on to the Bastakia area to view the traditional wind towers and the old Fahidi Fort, which is today the Dubai History Museum. We also stop for a photo shoot at the Jumeirah mosque, an architectural landmark in Dubai.

Next is lunch at Al Dawaar, Dubai’s only revolving restaurant. This unique dining venue is located on the rooftop of Hyatt Regency Dubai and offers spectacular views. This will be followed by a team-building activity, the Big Picture. Teams draw and paint sections of a picture (could be the company logo) on canvasses. Communication and co-ordination is critical as not all the information is immediately available. When all teams have finished, the canvasses are joined together to create the Big Picture, highlighting the successes and challenges of working together.

On the second day, the group will enjoy a gala dinner or theme evening. This is often the highlight of any incentive package so we would choose a memorable venue such as Burj Al Arab or the Grand Hyatt.

The third day includes a desert safari with a barbecue dinner including four-wheel driving on the dunes to a Bedouin campsite in the heart of the desert, where henna design, local dresses, soft drinks, water, tea or coffee are available. Try a camel ride and watch the enchanting belly dancer.

A shopping tour at malls like Mall of the Emirates, BurJuman, Al Ghurair City and Deira City Center is the focus of the final day followed by a buffet lunch at the hotel and transfer to airport.

Vital indicators

Value for money - 3
Dubai has never seen itself as a bargain basement offer – that said, hone your negotiating skills and in this climate you should be able be nudge the verdict from ‘adequate’ to ‘fair’ and beyond.

Infrastructure - 4
Words like plenitude, plethora and profusion were coined with this destination’s hotel stock in mind. The destination management companies (the best of them, at any rate) have taken the trouble to ask the market what it wants and then taken the steps to provide it.

The X-factor - 3
Dubai scores high on soft adventure and retail therapy but low on historic highlights. The powers-that-be are keen to increase Dubai’s cultural clout and seem willing to use what needs to be used to achieve this -- filthy lucre.

Access - 4
The city is well served by international hubs and well-connected to the airport.

Luxury investment - 3
Halted by the global recession, Dubai’s construction boom will still see a steady supply of upscale venues come on-stream this year.

Dubai has been the prodigy of the last decade. Can it sustain that status in a more parsimonious atmosphere?

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