Regional trade shows defy downturn

Published February 21st, 2010 - 09:41 GMT

Defying economic pessimists, the Middle East’s biggest trade and consumer event company, The Institute for International Research (IIR), a part of Informa plc is upbeat for 2010 and is predicting continued growth for its exhibitions’ business.

“This year will no doubt prove challenging in terms of trading for virtually all sectors of the economy,” said John Hassett, Managing Director, IIR Middle East, Exhibitions. “But the vast majority of our exhibitions are in important infrastructure sectors such as health, education, power generation, agriculture and transport – all of which continue to show strong positive growth in the Middle East.

“Our portfolio extends to more than 40 large scale events across a variety of industry sectors and all of our shows are well poised to absorb the pressure and take advantage of a recovering world and the growing regional economy.

“Most are held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi but all the shows are regionally important and international in outlook and participation, both in terms of exhibitors and visitors. The Middle East, along with the wider hinterland our shows cater for, is still a beacon of growth and a region the rest of the world cannot afford to ignore.”

The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) expects global economic growth of 3.2% for 2010. But for the Middle East and North African economies, including oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Algeria as well as non-oil countries like Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt, the EIU is forecasting higher growth of 4.7%.

Many Middle Eastern economies are buoyed by infrastructure-based public spending programmes. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a $400 billion fiscal stimulus package through to 2013. “But even if the global economic recovery falters somewhat, oil exporting nations still have more than sufficient reserves to sustain public spending,” said Hassett.

According to many estimates, oil prices are expected to grow moderately reaching an average $75 to $85 in 2010. “A revival in oil revenues during 2010 will encourage oil exporters to continue their diversification by investing in infrastructure, manufacturing, financial services and tourism – driving the region’s wider economy,” Hassett added.

IIR Middle East’s flagship Arab Health event, which took place last month (January), is a prime example of the growth of the region’s infrastructure in this vital sector with per capita healthcare spending in the Gulf Co-operation Council countries growing faster than the global average.

This year’s Arab Health Exhibition was 20% larger than the 2009 event. With a gross area of 80,000 square metres it was the largest event to have been held at the Dubai World Trade Centre to date. “We had over 58,000 attendees from all over the world to the exhibition. An additional 5,300 delegates attended the 16 conferences which ran alongside the event, constituting the largest multi-track medical congress not only in the Middle East but in the world,” said Hassett.

Microsoft Health Solutions Group explained why Arab Health is so important for the region. “Anyone who is anyone in the world of healthcare will be there and anyone, in our opinion, not at this event is not serious about business in the Middle East,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Similarly Middle East Electricity, which took place last week, remains the region’s most important event for the sector with 35,000 square metres of space. The 2010 event was sold out with the world’s leading energy powerhouses attending the show. The largest group of German companies ever at an energy event outside Germany was among those taking part among the 18 national pavilions at the show.

“Middle East Electricity is the hub for the electro-technical industry in the UAE and the leading event for this sector in the whole region,” said a spokesperson for the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association.

The Middle East’s construction and real estate market may have declined from the heady days of 2008 – particularly for Dubai - but even this sector is expected to continue growing for most of the region, according to Rohan Marwaha, Managing Director of Cityscape, a division of IIR Middle East.

“Certainly, as predicted, we saw a decline in Cityscape Dubai last year which was around 30% smaller than 2008. This was however to be expected given the fall in real estate globally, not just Dubai, and looking at established international real estate events in Europe and the US, they have experienced similar and in some cases larger declines. However outside of Dubai, our other Cityscape events continue to grow, for example in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia”.

As a business Hassett said that in spite of last year’s downturn, IIR Middle East’s exhibitions hit their forecasts for 2009, due to high client satisfaction rates from previous years. “We also began to see overall growth returning at the end of the year and we remain upbeat about growth in 2010,” he said.

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