Onward And Upward: A Look Into The Evolution Of The Meeting And Events Market In The Middle East

Our forecast shows at least a 45% increase in this market as new hotel inventory arrives in the market, and that the path to normalcy continues, with further spaces being repurposed to meet the demand.

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A lot of people have been asking us as to what has happened to the meeting and events industry in the past two years, and where this sector is now going. As such, in this article, I'll walk you through a timeline of how this sector is evolving.

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Two years ago, there weren't any physical meetings or events at all. We were living through the COVID-19 pandemic, and we were still pretty much in the thick of things. For instance, this time last year, if you wanted to host a physical event, you had to make sure all your attendees were vaccinated, and that verification was conducted through health regulatory apps like Al Hosn in the UAE. You can only imagine the challenge this caused for everyone who wanted to host any sort of social or corporate event- think of calling each attendee and asking them if they're vaccinated, make sure that they have downloaded the app, and ensure that it's also up-to-date, or that they keep their vaccination cards handy when they arrive at the event. Many event hosts had to turn away attendees, and that was a bitter pill for many to swallow.

During the pandemic and in its aftermath, we witnessed a plethora of meeting and event space sector innovations like virtual conferences and even online weddings conducted through videotelephony software programs like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. While some ideas stuck, others have gone back to the original way. For corporate meetings, going virtual has become the norm for many multinational clients, and we foresee that pattern to continue, if not accelerate, as they look to reduce their environmental footprints from traveling. However, for small- and medium-sized enterprises, virtual meetings have transitioned back to face-to-face encounters.

We have also seen many trainings and conferences that were previously online shift back to physical meetings, as that has been perceived to induce positive interaction and impact both the quality of engagement and comprehension of topics. Meanwhile, when it comes to industry and association conferences, we've witnessed many events move away from hybrid virtual and physical set-ups, with many discontinuing hosting the virtual part of it. For instance, we saw group incentive trips with a large inventory of hotel rooms and ballrooms come back with aggression, with a large multinational confirming its 7000-employee cycle meeting for December 2022.

As for social events, they too have reverted to their previous behaviors and booking patterns. Engaged couples looking for their wedding venues have begun their searches six months in advance with the process including visits, food tasting, accommodation setting, negotiations, and selections. Graduations for universities and high schools packed the hotels in May and June this year, which was a stark reversal from 2021 online graduations. Physical private birthday parties and special events have also increased by over 300% in the past six months, and a preference for outdoor event spaces has been driving this trend.

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The latest entrant to the event space market that has come out strongly has been restaurants. While they have been conducting meetups and family-and-friends gatherings for quite some time, lately, they have extended their services to host weddings, engagements, anniversaries, and various other social events as well. They have leveraged the power of their F&B, interior design, and entertainment allure for a combination of privacy and heightened attendee satisfaction. For those struggling during lunch or dinner timings, they have been quick to convert their underutilized spaces for private meetings and events, ready with projectors, microphones, and even stationery. This new trend continues to challenge typical hotel properties to improve and differentiate their services.

For many of the hotels in the network of my company,fluidmeet, the demand for meeting and event spaces went through the roof in the high season of 2021-2022. Indeed, there was pent-up demand for social events, and not enough event spaces to conduct them. Sometimes, events were happening back-to-back at the same property. This influx of bookings was a positive omen for the industry hardest hit during the pandemic. Five-star hotels led the pack in both production and occupancy. They, on average, performed 30% better than their four-star peers. They were able to offer quality professional services, more variety in F&B, and more flexibility in final prices to close event bookings at a faster pace. Four-star properties had to adapt to intensified competition from their five-star peers, and that drove the continued innovation in F&B offers and salesforce persistency. Furthermore, branded chains like Marriott and Accor recorded the most meeting and event space bookings across fluidmeet's 5-star category. If you manage a hotel and you're not optimizing your production, it's never too late to start looking at ways to improve production in that line item.

The fluidmeet website has been visited over a million times over the past few years, and this analysis has contributed to the continued competitiveness of the UAE and greater GCC hospitality market. As such, fluidmeet has bolstered its thought leadership in providing invaluable feedback and insights to its beneficiaries to enhance their hotel products and services. Over the next 1-2 years, we, at fluidmeet, forecast strong demand as Dubai continues to reinforce its position as a leading hub for meetings, incentives, conferences, and events. We are also aware that Saudi Arabia, especially Riyadh, is emulating the Dubai model in their quest to become a new kind of travel and tourism hub. That ripple effect from both players strengthens the strong case for meetings and events to continue growing at unparalleled rates. Our forecast shows at least a 45% increase in this market as new hotel inventory arrives in the market, and that the path to normalcy continues, with further spaces being repurposed to meet the demand.

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