The postponement of the much anticipated EXPO 2020 Dubai was a shock to the United Arab Emirates economy already hurting from a Coronavirus outbreak that grounded travel and tourism, cramped real estate activity, and led to countrywide company layoffs and furloughs.
The UAE’s economy is expected to contract by -3.5% in 2020, still better than Saudi Arabia -6.8%, and Bahrain -3.6%, according to the IMF.
Dubai received more than 16.7 million visitors last year.
One key factor that can stimulate the UAE economy is the events industry which has since July this year made its way back from cancellation and postponement mode to a new normal: a hybrid form of its old self.
This will continue post-COVID-19.
Post-COVID-19 event survey
A July 2020 market survey commissioned by Messe Frankfurt Middle East (MFME) showed 77% of respondents viewing Dubai as the safest destination to attend an exhibition post-COVID-19.
62% agreed that as the novel coronavirus recedes, exhibitions will be more or just as important for business compared to the past. Around 64% plan to attend exhibitions in the next 8 months.
COVID-19, an event wrecking ball
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the $1.5 trillion global business events industry has seen events either canceled, rescheduled, or went virtual since the outbreak.
Expo 2020 will now be held from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.
UAE events today
The events industry is vital and gets the attention of both the UAE and Saudi. Earlier this year, the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi announced a $163.3 million fund to attract business and entertainment events to the emirate.
Saudi, the host of the 2020 G20 Leaders’ Summit next November, along with more than 10,000 other MICE events per year, has invested approximately $1.6bn in hosting facilities since 2016.
Starting this July, the AI Everything, held at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), marked the resumption of the emirate’s events calendar.
The Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) program kicked off a calendar of events on July 9 boosted by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing which has given the green light for hosting live events, indoor and outdoor concerts in line with health and safety guidelines.
Jimmy Carr, who was originally scheduled to perform two shows at Dubai World Trade Centre on August 13 and 14, accommodated a third show due to popular demand. Each show was held at 30% capacity.
The Laughter Factory provided 9 shows featuring 6 of the best British talent in the comedy world.
On August 21st, Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione entertained audiences during their live show at Dubai Opera, as part of DSS.
On August 20th, Arab singing fan favorites Saif Nabeel and Mohammed Assaf performed live at the Dubai Opera while top Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam enthralled fans at a live concert on August 21st at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Dubai had earlier hosted several other live events including Tomorrowland which was streamed live exclusively to the Festival Arena at Dubai Festival City, the first socially distanced entertainment event in the UAE.
Future events: Formats and ideas
In an interview with The National, Dan Bolton of the Creative Management Agency specializing in event entertainment design & production for more than two decades, launched an industry survey, measuring the impact of COVID-19 on UAE creatives.
Around 97% of respondents saw a negative impact on work opportunities, while 85% had all future gigs canceled.
“Everyone keeps saying digital is the future and, to a certain degree, that is true. But as event creators, we need to start thinking of how we can bring that digital world to the live environment,” he says. “The way to do that is to create these smaller, hybrid experiences.”
He mentions utilizing technology and augmented reality, but also for concerts, stripped-down performances.
Events: A hybrid future
According to DWTC, 96% of event professionals do not believe virtual will replace in-person events and 54% of event organizers plan to host more events in the future.
Hybrid events can include hosting the main event in one location and have satellite events in other locations to avoid having thousands of people congregate in one space at a time.
Cityscape Dubai in 2020 will take place at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) from November 16-17 and will move away from normally sizeable exhibition stands and instead focus on creating smaller pods to support developers and service providers.
In Africa and the Middle East, the end of September will see the first virtual Arab African Mining Conference and Exhibition. Participating nations include Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Oman, Saudi, and the UAE.
A virtual strategy enables exhibitors and speakers to use cost-effective means to reach a wider audience without the need for participants to travel.
Online events are thriving. Event management platform Eventbrite has recorded a 1,100 % year-on-year increase of business and professional online events taking place in April 2020 compared to April 2019.
But delivering online events costs time and money, needing technology for small groups, communication, virtual lobbies, exhibitor halls, and networking spaces.
Another challenge with virtual events is that you do not have a captive audience with many distractions at home.
Top online experiences are now incorporating gamification, recognition, raffles, and rewards to keep their audience’s attention and engagement.
A list of events canceled or postponed in 2020
This is just a small sampling of events canceled or postponed due to Coronavirus fears.
- Dubai World Cup 2020- Cancelled
- The Electric Vehicle Road Trip (EVRT) Dubai 2020- Cancelled
- Dubai Chess Open 2020: Cancelled
- AKS Color Carnival: Cancelled
- Holi Masti, Meydan Golf Course 2020: Cancelled
- Fashion Forward Dubai: Cancelled
- K-pop Super Concert: Postponed
- Arabian Travel Market: Postponed
- The first ever Giorgio Armani Cruise Show: Postponed
- Music Bank at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena: Postponed
- Russ at Coca-Cola Arena: Postponed
- Taste of Dubai: Postponed
- Gov. Games 2020: Postponed
- Global Village Concerts: Postponed
- Dubai International Boat Show: Postponed
- Dubai Lynx 2020: Festival of Creativity: Postponed
- Dubai International Baja motorsports: Postponed
- Bayut Big Broker Event 2020: postponed
- Art Dubai: Postponed
- Abu Dhabi Festival: Postponed
- Ultra Abu Dhabi Music Festival (UMF): Cancelled
- Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: Postponed
- Club Social: Postponed