Land of business and pleasure

Dubai’s adventure and cultural draws have won the hearts of Asian incentive and teambuilding programme planners, benefitting hotels along the way.

Camel racing in Dubai
Camel racing in Dubai

A growing number of Asian incentive and business groups have been heading to Dubai in recent years, lured by the city’s varied offerings for adventure-led corporate teambuilding and incentive programmes.

For instance, visitors can explore the rolling sand dunes as part of a desert safari with an expert guide, and experience the nation’s culture and heritage through falconry and camel riding. They can also taste authentic Arabian cuisine, get traditional henna tattoos drawn on their hands, indulge in the popular Arabic pastime of shisha, and watch an oriental belly dance.

Steen Jakobsen, director, Dubai Business Events, enthused: “No Arabian experience is complete without an escape into the desert. The desert safari is a spectacular combination of ancient Arabian traditions and modern culture.”

Justine Thomas Butler, Arabian Adventures’ MICE manager, said Asian clients particularly enjoyed experiencing Bedouin culture such as catching a traditional Ayala performance, aside from visiting photogenic destinations like Burj Al Arab.

When asked about what other adventure activities the city could offer, Butler suggested: “Groups can race around the iconic World Islands from country to country by boat, have a desert Olympics in the Dubai Desert and Conservation Reserve surrounded by 200m-high sand dunes, or enjoy a treasure hunt across Dubai, exploring both new and ancient parts of the city, including the bustling spice and gold souks.”

“The largest (group I have handled) so far was a group of 14,500 people from China in 2014. (Their itinerary included) a sunset desert safari complete with camel racing, as well as a shisha tent,” she added.

With several large groups from Asia confirmed for both incentives and events over the next 12 months, Butler expects to see a five to 10 per cent growth from the Asian incentives and events market, stating that it has “become easier for guests from China, in particular, to visit”.

Although China represents a significant opportunity, Butler added: “South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia have all shown increasing awareness and interest in the UAE as a new and exciting MICE destination.”

To obtain more business, the company actively participates in business development and sales missions both to and from the region.

Samir Hamadeh, general manager of Alpha Tours, shared a similar sentiment, indicating that for Asian markets, his company usually tries to incorporate a cultural experience.

Alpha Tours, which now has offices in Seoul and three cities in India, is also busy running sales trips and roadshows, in an effort to keep in touch with key players and decision makers from Asia.

“We are working on some solid leads for groups above 1,500 pax for 4Q2017 and 1Q2018. As such, 2018 looks very positive for us. We recently concluded the Amway Korea Leadership Seminar Incentive in March this year, which brought 3,600 people to Dubai,” Hamadeh pointed out.

Jakobsen concurred: “2017 is a strong year in terms of incentive trips that have taken place or are booked to be hosted in Dubai. We have already welcomed groups from Amway Korea and JDCK, bringing 3,600 and 3,700 visitors respectively, while later this year Amway India will bring 4,500 visitors.”

Hotels in Dubai are also seeing an uptick in incentive groups and business events originating from Asia.

For instance, Bill Keffer, general manager of JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, shared: “Although our primary source market is still the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council states), we have witnessed a 46 per cent growth in Asia, and demand from China also rose year-on-year by 13.4 per cent.”

As a result, the 1,368-key hotel is focusing on China, Japan and South Korea for incentive groups.

While the hotel does not organise activities, Keffer stressed that it has a great relationship with several DMCs and event planning firms that will work together to design adventure-led programmes.

He added: “The central location of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai means that most of the city’s activities and attractions are just a short drive away, so that a wide range of adventure-led off-site corporate teambuilding can be planned for groups.”

Jumeirah Group’s director of sales – groups, Tahir Ciyanci, also told TTGmice that business events and incentives from Asia have been growing year-on-year. Across the group, 20 per cent of all business events come from Asia, and the group is ready to welcome them with over 3,200 rooms and more than 30,000m2 of meeting spaces across Dubai. Its latest offering is the Burj Al Arab Terrace which opened last year. Spanning 10,000m2, the space can host up to 600 guests. As well, Madinat Jumeriah has recently launched Virtual Planner, a booking tool that provides planners with information on all venues within the hotel.

To court more Asian events, Jumeirah Group will conduct joint activities with local and international agencies, Dubai Business Events and national carriers.

Ciyanci added: “We will build relations with key partners through Jumeriah MICE appreciation events in China throughout the year, and secure marketing exposure in industry publications.”

“Dubai is a city that is constantly evolving, and there are currently numerous plans in place to not only further enhance existing attractions, but also open new ones in the years to come,” concluded Jakobsen.

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