The potential national economic contribution of the business events industry is well understood, and Oman is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of this in 2020, says Said Salim Said al Shanfari, CEO of Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre. Excerpts from an interview
How was the year 2019 for Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, and Oman’s fast growing MICE sector in general?
Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre has enjoyed a remarkable year and we can be proud of what we’ve achieved. We hosted more than 234 events, including key global conventions, and we have successfully won bids for 40 major regional and international conferences – many of them coming to Oman for the first time. It’s a significant step for us to be bringing events to Oman that haven’t previously been hosted here; significant not just for us in terms of our increasingly attractive global appeal, but also for the nation as OCEC continues to prove its economic potential and put Oman on the map globally.
We also broadened our capacity for events with the completion of the stunning 3,200-seat Madinat Al Irfan Theatre which is a real milestone for the country. A theatre of this caliber can have a substantial contribution on the diversification of the economy. It is the first of its kind theatre in Oman and its technological capabilities are state-of-the-art. It is also architecturally beautiful. More recently, we won the World’s Leading New Exhibition & Convention Centre Award at the World Travel Awards 2019. The team have worked incredibly hard for this so it’s a welcome testament to their efforts and our commitment to excellence.
More broadly, the global business events industry has enjoyed some great momentum. More and more people are recognising the value of events for connecting with their customers and the importance of face-to-face meetings for brand image and revenue. Events are continuing to become larger components of marketing plans and customer demands are changing. Venues and operators are increasingly being required to provide more flexibility and more personalization, so the industry is rapidly adapting and contributing to capacity building and employment opportunities. It’s safe to say that the business events industry is quickly becoming a significant driver of economic growth for countries.
How do you sees Oman’s economic prospects in 2020 and what is your industry outlook for 2020 and beyond?
Oman’s economic prospects are looking good. The government’s diversification agenda continues to drive change across the economy and we’re seeing something of a resurgence in the global and regional economies. The business community has been one of the first to swing back into action, with direct impact on the tourism and hospitality sectors, and business and incentive tourism is continuing to grow.
At OCEC, our strategy is directly aligned with the government’s National Tourism Strategy 2040 and we are anticipating even more uplift as the Sultanate continues to be promoted as an all-round desirable destination. It’s a very competitive industry, so it is particularly helpful to be able to work with the government, specifically Omran, on building this industry in Oman.
The potential national economic contribution of the business events industry is well understood, and Oman is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of this in 2020. Not just as a unique tourism destination, but specifically as a venue, OCEC can offer an edge over competitors in our technological facilities, venue space, and on-site facilities. The industry is also becoming more and more consolidated as attendees demand a more inclusive destination and, going forward; operators that can offer the breadth of services in demand are the ones who will see growth. At OCEC, our proximity to the airport, our location in the centre of Muscat, our global positioning at the center of multiple continents, and our Omani culture and hospitality means we can offer event managers a complete, and totally unique, destination for their event.
Can you talk about the future plans and major areas of innovation for your company in 2020?
In 2020 we will continue to bid for notable events, and we are already anticipating 310 throughout the year including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) Congress, the World Cancer Congress and the International Gas Research Conference 2020, International Sustainability Resources & Technology Conference (ISRTC), and the International Congress of Radiology. We are also looking forward to the opening of the new five-star JW Marriott, which has a connecting bridge to our venue and will add even more appeal to the Madinat Al Irfan precinct.
On the exhibition side, we have just won the 87th UFI Global Congress for 2020, which is the leading global association of the world’s tradeshow and exhibition organisers and selected partners of the exhibition industry. We will be bringing many more global exhibition organisers to see Oman and discover the potential for future exhibitions for themselves.
OCEC’s strategy will continue to support the long-term strategic goals of the Sultanate, through employment opportunities, public-private partnerships, Omanisation, business to business opportunities, support to local SME development, and the prioritization of sustainable practices. In terms of tourism, we continuously work alongside government and other stakeholders to position ourselves as a hub for world-class events, a meeting point for global knowledge transfer and exchange, and as an example of world-class infrastructure that generates inbound revenues and supports direct foreign investment.