Analysis: An Arabian adventure

With anniversaries in the air, one agency talks to Mike Fletcher about its interesting year spent wooing the events management sector in the United Arab Emirates.

Moving Venue Management (MVM) directors Kate Bowery and Richard Beggs open their diaries on the triumphs and trepidation of opening an office in the United Arab Emirates, and the joy of reaching the first milestone for MVM Events Dubai.

BOWERY: "My analysis has shown that more than 200 Dubai-based businesses claim to do events management. The majority are Destination Management Companies (DMCs), PR firms or production companies. The most significant seems to be World of Events, owned by Emirates, but even it markets itself as a DMC."

BEGGS: "The Dubai market is ripe because so many London-based firms are opening offices there. Aviation is a strong interest with the opening of a new terminal, the Dubai Airshow and the dominance of Emirates. With our Farnborough pedigree and aviation work in Singapore, this is a sector we'd like to tap into."

BOWERY: "Securing office space is proving tricky. There are two options: to obtain an office, the company must be sponsored by a local resident, but that resident will then hold 51% of the shares, so for us this is not an option; to trade independently we must apply for office space in the Dubai Media City Business Centre, one of the city's trading zones.

The demand, however, is huge, and we will need to spend three months in expensive serviced offices before completing our move into our proposed offices in a new building."

BOWERY: "For all the achievements Dubai can take credit for, many of the simple tasks such as getting bank statements, arranging for telephone sockets to be installed, printing business cards, and absolutely anything happening to an agreed timeline, is difficult. It's simply an adjustment to a different culture. Dubai is still catching up with western business culture and doesn't understand the pace at which we work."

BOWERY: "With no experience organising events in the Arab Emirates, attracting business has not proved simple. We've spent three months explaining the high standards that we have in place to hotels, clients and suppliers. During the first few weeks we struggled to find good suppliers, but now they are pitching to us."

BEGGS: "We've managed our first event. The Middle Eastern Business Aviation conference took place at Le Meridien on the day prior to the opening of the Dubai Airshow. Guest of honour was Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, director of the civil aviation authority and president of Emirates Group."

BOWERY: "I've been learning a few words of Arabic in order to show respect.

The proportion of locals to ex-patriots is small however, and there is a huge Indian community. Dubai is not just one culture, it's many different religions. We hoped to find a small festive holiday event market here for the ex-pats, but no such luck. There are end-of-year parties being planned though, and November's high was a conference for Investec at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Resort & Towers."

BEGGS: "The £150,000 funding from MVM London hasn't stretched far, mainly due to us still being in the serviced offices after more than six months. Recruiting staff costs money, as does building contacts and pitching to hotels. A figure of £250,000 is looking more realistic."

BOWERY: "Cold-calling turned into client meetings with MVM Dubai-branded Powerpoint presentations. These now translate into regular bookings. An event we staged here for Procter & Gamble's Gillette has rebooked six months on, which is fantastic news, while events for a leading European bank, law firm and British American Tobacco have been huge success stories.

I now have seven staff compared with two when we started, and we're finally focusing more on the operational side, rather than sales."

BOWERY: "Creative expectations are different here and we've had to be careful not to pitch ourselves too high. For locally based businesses the event concept needs to stay quite simple, but for European clients there is still the need for the wow factor despite limited local resources.

I have secured a new office by swapping with one of our suppliers. All we need now is the approval to move from Media City and the patience to face the telecom company."

BEGGS: "As we pass our first anniversary, we finally move into new offices and Kate's looking forward to taking on two new staff. I'm planning the 2007 launch of Renault Trucks in Jeddah. We've finally arrived."

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