The Updates from Around the World session at the 88th UFI Global Congress features panelist Geoff Dickinson, CEO of dmg events. He answered a few questions ahead of the event about Dubai, Abu Dhabi and their successful reopening.

What are the one or two things that Abu Dhabi and Dubai have done right on the safe reopening?

Dubai and Abu Dhabi took a very practical approach to the pandemic. They locked down quite restrictively in the Spring of 2020 and embarked on one of the most ambitious and well-planned vaccination programmes in the world – with 98% of the population have been vaccinated and 88% having received both doses, i.e.: fully vaccinated.

The UAEs strong vaccination programme combined with safe protocols has brought the infection rate down and built confidence in the community. Safety protocols included many of the standards: physical distancing, face masks, contactless interactions (e.g., registration, payments, etc.), cheap PCR testing (you can get a test almost anywhere within less than an hour and results back same day), constant sanitising of facilities, messaging re: hand sanitising and washing, etc., etc. The UAE has also invested in treatments for COVID 19 to reduce deaths and aid the speed of recoveries.

It then pioneered pilot schemes to test the best practices: Dubai produced the AI Everything event in July 2020 – a show featuring best practices. They invited all event organisers and stakeholders along to view the best practices in operation. It also used the event to test those practices and refine them. This was one of a number of events run by the Dubai World Trade Centre’s own events team headed up by Trixie LohMirmand to spearhead the return of live, in person events in Dubai. Organisers in Dubai worked well together sharing information, best practices and experiences and Trixie did a great amount of excellent work with her team to start operating safe scale events from the second half of 2020 onwards.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi both embarked on running very large-scale events from early 2021 including Gulf Food in Dubai and IDEX the Defense Show in Abu Dhabi. They wanted to ensure business events could maintain their international content, and even operated green lanes for certain countries still not officially on UAEs the permitted entry list.  All were held with testing and safe protocols. Both venues continue to offer easily accessible on-site testing and tracing to protect customers and to alert people to stop the spread of the virus.

If you have any pieces of advice for the exhibition industry (organizers, suppliers, venues) on convincing their governments to allow business events/expos to reopen, what are they?

We worked closely with several high-level officials, but of special note is His Excellency Helal Saeed Al Marri of Dubai, Director General of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), Member of the Executive Council of Dubai and Director General of the Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA). He has been truly exceptional throughout the pandemic, holding regular dialogues with organisers.

He pioneered pilot initiatives in 2020 on ways to run safe and successful events and was open to industry suggestions. Additionally, his team have worked constantly to help organisers both operate and help promote their activities. He truly recognises the importance of events positive economic impact for a city and for businesses desperate to engage new ideas and customers to aid recovery.

Running shows was never the single objective for Dubai or indeed Abu Dhabi. It was about staying safe, instilling customer confidence, and delivering quality events. Dubai and Abu Dhabi also worked hard to positively promote their safe, successful event outcomes to build confidence back for their event organisers and the organisers’ customers.

Since May of 2021, dmg events has run several exhibitions in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and government officials from both cities have continued to help with the exhibitions. In September we successfully moved our Gastech event to take place in Dubai with a tremendous amount of help and support from Dubai government including the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE. In September we also ran our construction event Big 5 at the Dubai World Trade Centre which was incredibly successful, again the venue offered us incredible support.

As we prepare to run ADIPEC, the world largest and most successful oil and gas exhibition and conference in Abu Dhabi in mid-November, we are again being supported at the highest levels of government. Abu Dhabi are offering again Green Lane support for any countries not on the approved travel lists, and the venue is working closely with our team to operate safe on-site protocols again with extensive testing and tracing.

Once again, we have been given tremendous government support in the UAE. H.E. Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber member of the UAE Federal Cabinet, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Managing Director and Group CEO of ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) is actively supporting the event and helping with is team to develop thought leadership conference content. His Excellency Eng. Suhail Al Mazrouei Minister of Energy and Infrastructure has invited an incredible number of international Ministers to take part in the conference to make sure that the event maintains its leading global status.

The UAE understands the importance of events to stimulate trade and to hold the critical discussions about the future in key areas of business, commerce, and industry. Equally it knows that safe protocols must be adopted for the common good and to build customer confidence.

It is important for us to continue to lobby governments to support the return of safe exhibitions. In many ways these events develop best practices and pilot programmes for countries to scale up to larger events such as sports, music, and entertainment. Without working during the early days on manageable numbers of easily controllable businesspeople – it’s not going to be possible to safely scale up to mass consumer events.

Any other thoughts?  

Governments should end vaccine prejudice – they can’t say vaccines given in many countries won’t be accepted for entry into their country.  They need to do better diligence – so if the delivery is of a good professional standard (the health service injecting people) and the vaccine is a recognised batch (number, etc.) from a recognized company (e.g., Pfizer) that should be sufficient to travel internationally. Too many countries are refusing to recognize professionally delivered, internationally recognized and accepted vaccines. This does not help promote the idea of getting vaccinated or help travel and the world re-open.

Governments, need to understand, organisers can operate safe events, which are vital to stimulate economic discussions, and help re-establish customer trade relationship and product sourcing. Events will help businesses recover at pace. There are no faster alternatives – endless trips take too long and burn more carbon. B2B events will help pioneer good safe protocols for much larger consumer happenings – which again are needed for economic recoveries and to make populations have more enjoyment from life.