IN CONVERSATION WITH STEEN JAKOBSEN, ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT, DUBAI BUSINESS EVENTS

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ES. Dubai has been hailed as a world-class tourism hub and has a reputation as the destination of choice for those seeking luxury and glamour, but what makes it an ideal place for a meeting of business delegates, making Dubai a dynamic hub for major conventions?

Steen Jakobsen. Many of the key factors that have made Dubai one of the most visited cities in the world – including the strong infrastructure, connectivity with the rest of the world and diverse range of hospitality, attractions and experiences – have also contributed to its growth as a major business events hub. Added to these, the city has developed a number of major dedicated event venues around the city, ranging from large scale conference and exhibitions centres – led by Dubai World Trade Centre – to more intimate settings. And from the DMCs and PCOs in the city to the visitor-facing staff around the city, professionalism and excellence is at the heart of the services and offerings we provide here. All of these are key qualities anyone looks for in a potential host destination, and with Dubai being a city within just a four-hour flight of a third of the world’s population, and eight hours from two-thirds, we provide a compelling option for planners.

ES. Expo 2020 Dubai, the world’s biggest business event of the year, is a few months away and will welcome millions of visitors from all around the world. What will be the key attractions of the event and some of the major highlights?

Steen Jakobsen. As not only the biggest event Dubai has ever hosted, but also one of the first major global events to take place in the wake of the pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai will provide an unprecedented opportunity for visitors to explore ideas, innovations and cultures from around the world. Beyond being a large-scale event in itself, the Expo site will also host major conferences and other business events throughout its six-month duration, including at the new Dubai Exhibition Centre.

From the thematic and national pavilions to the F&B offerings and entertainment across the site, there will be something for everyone. Many planners and organisations have scheduled their events in Dubai during Expo 2020, and even those not taking place at the site are set to incorporate them into their itineraries. We will also be leveraging Expo 2020 as an opportunity to showcase the city’s capabilities and we are seeing a strong appetite from meetings industry professionals to visit Dubai during Expo and experience it themselves.

ES. Being a meeting and event industry professional responsible for promoting and developing Dubai as a destination for international association, meetings and corporate events, we would like to know in details, about your incredible journey over the years with major milestone achieved so far.

Steen Jakobsen. I joined Dubai Business Events, part of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, in 2013 and since then it’s been incredible to be part of the city’s growth story. Whether we are bringing in large scale incentive groups with thousands of delegates, or small corporate groups here for intimate meetings, it excites me to be working with our stakeholders across the city to achieve not only our respective goals, but also give all planners and visitors an incredible experience. Among the key milestones has been the formation of the Dubai Association Centre in 2014, and its subsequent evolution, which has really helped to solidify the city’s standing as a global association hub, in turn boosting our ability to attract business events.

It has also been great to see us work even more closely with the international meetings community, especially through our involvement in key industry bodies. Our membership of the BestCities Global Alliance is something I’m particularly proud of, while our work with ICCA saw us host the association’s Congress in 2018. Beyond this, both myself and the wider DBE teams have built closer relationship with the likes of ASAE, IAPCO and PCMA, to name a few, in recognition of the importance of collaborating on a global scale to further our industry.

ES. Incentive travel is an important subset of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) industry. It is effectively a travel perk for the incentive delegates. What incentives does Dubai offer in order to create a truly unforgettable experience?

Steen Jakobsen. Dubai lends itself incredibly well to the incentive segment, and it continues to be an important focus for us at Dubai Business Events. Many of the qualities that pull leisure tourists to the city apply to the incentive segment: the diverse range of hospitality and dining options, the rich experiences available, the appeal to different demographics and interests, and the many attractions, to name a few. Added to this is our ability to host groups of all sizes and ensuring every single delegate have a memorable experience. There is also flexibility in Dubai’s offering – meaning planners and organisations can offer tiered rewards and different itineraries all within close proximity.

ES. As part of the Tourism Vision 2025 initiative, Dubai aims to significantly increase its visitor numbers and tourism revenue, what role does Dubai Business Events have in achieving this goal? How far has goal been achieved?

Steen Jakobsen. Business events is a vital part of the wider tourism ecosystem and in terms of visitor numbers contributes a significant percentage. But even more than this, the multiplier effect means that the economic impact is particularly important, not only directly into the tourism and business events sectors, but also into the wider knowledge economy. Part of our mandate is to attract business events that align with Dubai and the UAE’s focus on innovation and the sectors of the future, as well as the continued diversification of the economy.

ES. In the race for excellence, there is no finish line, Dubai was turned from a desert backwater into one of the world’s most awe-inspiring cities in less than 50 years. How do you see the city developing exponentially into the desert, sky and sea over the next 10 years?

Steen Jakobsen. While the city has developed at an astounding rate over the past 50 years, it is important that we acknowledge Dubai’s rich history and heritage. In many ways, the city’s legacy as a meeting point between East and West, as well as its status as a trading hub over many centuries, have made it an ideal setting for business events today. At the same time, bold leadership has seen it evolve into one of the world’s leading cities today, and at the forefront of the global tourism and business events sectors. The key to that continued progress is that Dubai continues to look ahead to new goals and targets. In terms of the city’s development, the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan ambitiously sets out how key areas will continue to evolve, addressing the expected growth and needs of both the resident population and international visitors.

ES. Dubai has been shortlisted to host the 27th International Council of Museums (ICOM) General Conference 2025, the largest international conference in the field of museums? As the city aims to become the “meeting place of the world” in the post-pandemic era, how Dubai is preparing to host this event?

Steen Jakobsen. Dubai’s bid for ICOM 2025 is a typical example of the collaborative approach we take when looking to bring major business events to Dubai. Firstly, it was identified as an important conference to bring to Dubai as it ties in with the increasing focus on culture both within the tourism landscape and embedded within the city as a whole. Multiple entities – including Dubai Business Events, Dubai Municipality and Dubai Culture – have then worked together to create a compelling bid and engage with decisionmakers, including by hosting site inspections in Dubai.

ES. What are your plans to reach out to the Indian market as the restrictions on travel are getting eased by both Indian and Dubai government?

Steen Jakobsen. As with all our key target markets, restrictions on travel throughout the pandemic have not held back our efforts to attract business events from India. While of course there has been a disruptive effect in the short term, the nature of this particular sector and the long-term plans involved meant that it was vital we continued to engage with meeting planners and buyers throughout the pandemic.

This was conducted initially through virtual meetings and events, and subsequently in person through our dedicated team in India. Of course, we understand that nothing can rival the opportunity to see Dubai in person, and we look forward to once again welcoming study missions from India to allow planners and buyers to see and experience the city for themselves and build relationships with Dubai Business Events and our key stakeholders.

ES. Beyond glittering buildings of Dubai what is the city’s distinct history and tradition? Please tell us about some cultural events of Dubai.

Steen Jakobsen. A rich calendar of events throughout the year allows visitors to explore Dubai’s culture and heritage, and many of these are often incorporated into itineraries. Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, for example, hosts meals and talks throughout the year, providing visitors and groups with the opportunity to learn about Emirati culture and try the local food, all within historic settings. Whether in the city or the desert, there is also always a way in which local culture and heritage can be appreciated. This may be sampling some Emirati food, taking in a falconry display in the desert, or watching some traditional entertainment at a desert camp.

ES. What according to you would be the top trends that will shape up business/MICE tourism in the new normal?

Steen Jakobsen. Safety will undoubtedly be a top priority for meeting planners going forward, even as the pandemic continues to subside around the world. Just as previous events in recent decades put the focus on security, embedding them into practices over the longer term, the same will apply to health and safety. They key will be for destinations such as Dubai to show attention to details and the ability to handle new challenges in this area.

Another by-effect of the pandemic has been that planners have seen both the possibilities and limitations afforded by virtual meeting technologies, both when these were completely relied upon while face-to-face was not feasible, and since then in hybrid settings. While the experience of the past 18 months has underlined the fact that face-to-face meetings provide unrivalled opportunities, they have also shown that there is a place for hybrid elements, to maximise the reach of business, associations and other organisations and add value to their offerings.

ES. What synergies do you see that exist between India and Dubai to grow MICE tourism?

Steen Jakobsen. In recent years, before the onset of the global pandemic, India was Dubai’s number one source market for international visitation, and this applied across both leisure and business. The synergies are built on a number of key pillars: the proximity of India and the extensive network of flights connecting us, the historic links between us, and the strong bilateral ties between India and the UAE that exist today. There is also strong familiarity with Dubai in India, among meeting planners, businesses and the wider population, and at the same time always an eagerness to explore the latest offerings and experiences here. In terms of our marketing activities, India is at the forefront, with a dedicated office in Mumbai, roadshows visiting key cities around the country, participation in key trade events and regular inbound study missions from India.

ES. How Dubai is structured to market a destination and advice to tourists, events and meeting planners? What are your key marketing techniques for executing such task?

Steen Jakobsen. Within both Dubai Business Events and the wider Department of Tourism and Commerce Market, we have extensive marketing activities across all platforms, ranging from major television campaigns and OOH activations through to continuous digital and social engagement. As the business events sector – and certainly the process of attracting events – is largely a B2B space, the best way in which we can engage with planners is face-to-face, and this is done both in Dubai and around the world through sales missions, study missions and participation in trade shows and other industry events. Our network of offices in key target markets around the world – including in India – also ensures we are also engaging directly with our target audience.

ES. The Dubai Tourism industry has proved incredibly resilient over the years surviving countless negative experiences, do you think travellers will be confident enough to travel to the destination? What are some of the initiatives taken by Dubai in this regard?

Steen Jakobsen. Traveller confidence right now and for the foreseeable future is built on two key pillars: how we handled the pandemic and what we are doing to ensure continued safety. When prospective travellers around the world look at how Dubai and the UAE tackled the pandemic, they see that decisive action was taken here and that the foundations were quickly created to enable the restart and recovery of the economy and all sectors, including tourism and events. Emphasizing this, the rollout of vaccinations here, at among the fastest rates in the world, and the regular testing, have demonstrated our continued focus on minimising the impact of the global pandemic.

Our audeince can also see that we are keeping safety at the top of the agenda, embedding it within practices at all visitor and delegate touchpoints, while also ensuring we provide a platform in which professional development, networking and learning can all take place, and where all the destination’s touristic elements can be enjoyed to their full potential.

ES. Any message that you would like to share with us.

Steen Jakobsen. We understand the challenges the global meetings industry has faced over the past 18 months and we are eager to assist planners in resuming their face-to-face events. We always knew that, even with technology demonstrating that distance doesn’t have to hold back interaction, there are still tangible results that can only be achieved through physical events. And as the global industry continues to recover, we are eager to work with planners to get their event calendars back on track, and we welcome any opportunity to engage and start discussions with them.

ES. While managing your time and deciding when to take breaks on a tight schedule, we are eager to know what keeps you busy when you are away from work? Please tell us about your hobbies and other activities that you would love to do at home.

Steen Jakobsen. Golf is a great hobby of mine and it’s one that makes Dubai a perfect city to live in. We have some incredible courses here and it’s always enjoyable to spend a few hours trying to chip away at my handicap, and the recently opened Topgolf has also added an extra sociable angle to the activity! I also enjoy exploring food from different cultures, and again Dubai provides plenty of opportunities for this, with cuisines from all over the world, reflecting the 200+ nationalities that live here.