Placing Oman in international spotlight

Since opening its doors in October 2016, Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC) has hosted over 200 local, regional and international events. Excerpts from an interview with General Manager, Trevor McCartney

Placing Oman in international spotlight

Can you talk about the operations and major milestones of OCEC since opening its doors in October 2016?

Since opening its doors in October 2016, Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC) has hosted over 200 local, regional and international events. Last year alone, we hosted 143 events including the first international event, ACI Airport Exchange 2017, which brought the world’s airport community to the Gulf for the largest event in the Airport Council International’s calendar, and just ahead of the anticipated opening of the new Muscat International Airport. The Second UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture closely followed, placing Oman’s rich heritage in the world’s spotlight with over 45 ministers from around the globe in attendance. This year, we anticipate 270 events which comprise a variety of exhibitions, weddings, meetings, conferences and live events.

A key purpose of OCEC is job creation and in addition to having 65 permanent staff members of which 78 per cent are Omani, many of our activities create opportunities for a myriad of other organisations and stakeholders in Oman.

In addition to attracting regional and international events OCEC has a role to cultivate events for the local community and a major event was introduced in December last year, when the creation of a festive themed “Winter Village” was implemented in conjunction with Omran. The entire outdoor garden was transformed into a festive scene complete with wooden chalets supporting local vendors, realistic looking “snow” on all the landscaping, children’s activities of snowball fights and games, an ice rink, musical shows, and winter specialities to eat.

Layali Ramadan, “The Place to Eat, Shop and Rejoice this Ramadan” is another example of a home grown event that returned for its second edition this year. Several vibrant activities attracted visitors such as: an indoor football field, table tennis and PlayStation championships for Sports Layali; a dedicated area for kids with a fun zone and “Food Layali” with OCEC transformed into a food festival in partnership with local restauranteurs.

How are you growing your exhibition portfolio to attract more regional and international conventions? What were the major international events OCEC hosted since its opening?

We have a very strong working relationship with the Ministry of Tourism and in particular, the Oman Convention Bureau and we work closely with them to implement a range of collaborative initiatives specifically targeting the regional and global conventions, exhibitions and the meetings industry.

We make face-to-face sales visits to a targeted and qualified database – locally, regionally (GCC) and internationally; attend Business Events Trade Shows around the world e.g. IMEX and IBTM World and undertake industry partnership activities with key international bodies such as ICCA, PCMA and UFI.

We work in close association with local, international and regional associations and develop local counterparts in preparation for bidding to host these prestigious events. In addition, we work with and nurture relationships with local, international and regional exhibition organisers and Live Event Companies to grow existing business and secure future exhibitions and live events for the centre.

When will the final stage of OCEC be completed? What is the current status of the project?

Oman’s business tourism product has just been enhanced with the recent opening of The Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC)’s convention facilities. Part of the new Madinat Al Irfan urban development in Muscat, the purpose built centre now offers two ballrooms (including the largest ballroom in Oman), a 456 tiered-seat theatre and 22 meeting rooms in addition to the already opened Exhibition Centre.

The Junior Ballroom can accommodate 540 guests for a banquet or 1,000 guests theatre style while the Grand Ballroom can seat 1,200 people for a sumptuous dinner or be split into seven breakout areas for a convention. Both ballrooms feature a column-free space with subtle Omani design details as well as the very latest in audio-visual support. These new areas complement the existing five exhibition halls that feature 22,396 square metres of column-free exhibition space and 10 hospitality suites as well a multi-storey car park with a capacity for 4,000 vehicles. These new multi-purpose spaces are ideal for plenary sessions, conferences, concerts, performances and gala dinners. With the new areas spanning 4,576 square metres, the total current event space has now reached 48,632 square metres.

In a few months’ time, the final part of the jigsaw; the stunning 3,200-seat theatre will open its doors for the first performance.

The Precinct provides the entire infrastructure necessary to host successful international, regional and local events and includes a JW Marriott Hotel (five star) linked directly to OCEC and the newly opened Crowne Plaza OCEC that opened last November. The four-star Crowne Plaza OCEC features 296 keys, five dining outlets, a fitness centre, an outdoor pool with views overlooking a Wadi (a natural waterway) and its very own Wadi bar for guests to enjoy an end-of-day beverage while looking over the nature reserve that is a haven for Oman’s exotic birdlife.

Please elaborate on OCEC’s campaigns and initiatives to promote MICE in Oman?

The team at OCEC together with OCB has spent some time already in working with and helping to develop the local association market in Oman and have encouraged leaders and subject matter experts to bid for the international association conferences in their field. Oman is lucky in that the local association market is very strong especially in the fields of healthcare, heritage, culture and tourism, infrastructure and logistics.

Persistent promotional activities and strong Omani leaders in their respective fields has led to our recently winning 18 regional and international association conferences with a total economic impact the country of RO22.5mn.

The number of association meetings in Oman has doubled in 2017 as recorded by the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA’s) recently released statistics and Oman is now placed 2nd in the Middle East and 86th in the world for the number of international meetings hosted in 2017.

On the exhibition side, we have just won the UFI Global Congress for 2020 and will be bringing many of the global exhibition organisers to see Oman and the potential for future exhibitions for themselves. UFI is the leading global association of the world’s tradeshow and exhibition organisers and selected partners of the exhibition industry. The event brings together more than 500 industry professionals from more than 50 countries. This year, it will be hosted in St. Petersburg, Russia, followed by Bangkok, Thailand in 2019 before coming to Oman in 2020!

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