Spotlight on Leaders and Trends

The world of exhibitions is filled with stories of amazing people.

Some enjoy universal recognition while others prefer to remain in the background  doing their part to make our industry stronger. UFI is proud to introduce a  new initiative called, "Spotlight on Leaders and Trends."

UFI's Barry Siskind, will take an in-depth look at the life and  career of one of these key industry figures. This will focus on the key  issues we face through the vision of those who are working hard to make our  exhibition industry responsive and dynamic.

  His Excellency Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri

Interviewed By: Barry Siskind, UFILive Community Manager (29/11/2012)

His Excellency Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri is a busy man. Currently he holds a number of positions such as Managing Director of Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company, Chairman of the Liwa International School, Chairman of Magna Investments, a member of the board for London ExCel and National Takaful Company and a member of the executive committee for Emirates Foundation.
At the recent UFI 79th Congress in Abu Dhabi he graciously made the time to share with us his background and his thoughts about the future of the exhibition industry in the Middle East.

Barry: What was your field of study at the American University in Washington?
H.E.: I studied Business. This is where I obtained my Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

Barry: Why did you choose to study in the USA?
H.E.: I knew that I wanted to study abroad and at the time the US seemed like a good option. The program was also well recognized.

Barry: How did your experience living and studying in the USA shape your approach to business?
H.E.: Living abroad expands a person’s horizons and teaches us how to be flexible in understanding different perspectives. This is also helpful in business because you develop the skill that helps you look at a potential opportunity with a 360 degree perspective.

Barry: One section in your biography reads, “Founding, launching and managing several successful business entities.” Within these three areas which was most satisfying to you?
H.E.: I like bringing an idea to life and then setting it in motion. Once it is established, I tend to hand the reigns over to someone else and move on to the next creative endeavor.

Barry: You are very involved in education with such institutions as the Abu Dhabi University and LIWA International School. How do you see the role of continuing education evolving in the exhibition industry?
H.E.: Continuing education is important because it ensures that individuals remain up to date in their knowledge and skills. The world is changing so quickly and we have to stay on top of our area of expertise in addition to expanding our horizons.

Barry: You have been involved with many business ventures and held many high-level positions. What were the greatest business lessons that helped mould your business acumen?
H.E.: Learning to manage people in various walks of life has been a great challenge and a powerful lesson. It helps us to realize what we can shape and what we have to accept. Learning about our own limits in the face of the other is tough but vital when working towards success.

Barry: Did you have a mentor? If so, who was it and how important was it to your growth as a businessman?
H.E.: I learned the most from my Father. He was very entrepreneurial and I grew up in this environment so I am very thankful that it became second nature. I owe a lot to him.

Barry: What are the biggest opportunities for organizers wishing to expand into the Middle East?
H.E.: Abu Dhabi’s economy is growing, and the government is actively looking to diversify away from oil and gas and into several sectors of strategic importance.
Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company (ADNEC) offers access to a dynamic and growing economy – a land of opportunity. We also have one of the most modern exhibitions centres in the world, and the only one in the region to offer indoor, outdoor and quayside event space all in one location.

Barry: What are some of the obstacles organizers need to be aware of and how can they mitigate them?
H.E.: The UAE is an easy place to do business, and ADNEC offers its clients significant support navigating the local market. Obstacles of the past are no longer there, as business processes have been streamlined and the tourism infrastructure has developed.
In Abu Dhabi, the tourism industry is growing every year with a corresponding growth in its related infrastructure. We have seen a large supply of hotels coming on to the market to address the undersupply seen in 2008. We also benefit from the growth of the UAE’s national airline, Etihad Airways. Two thirds of the world’s population lives within an eight hour flight from Abu Dhabi, so this is an ideal location for international events.

Barry: What is your prediction for the future of the exhibition industry in the Middle East?
H.E.: With Abu Dhabi’s strategic vision outlining the development of the Emirate for 2030, it is clear that there is significant room for growth. Business tourism and the MICE market are important to Abu Dhabi, and I expect this sector to continue to see steady growth.
The UAE has a lot of benefits to offer events organizers. We have an established industry with excellent MICE infrastructure, including hotels for every budget, a thriving F&B industry, and diverse social options. In Abu Dhabi, we also have one of the most advanced exhibition centers in the world and an expert team on hand to help organizers succeed.
Connectivity is very important for the MICE industry, and our geographical location straddling the East and West is a great benefit in attracting events to Abu Dhabi, coupled with the Emirate’s growing network of direct air links.
All signs point to a healthy, steady growth and a maturing MICE market.

Barry: Are there some industries that are better suited for exhibitions in the Middle East than others?
H.E.: The UAE government is investing in key strategic sectors in the Emirates, with some world class projects underway. This creates a secondary supporting industry for each sector.
Key sectors for strategic investment and growth include Energy, Petrochemicals, Metals, Aviation/Aerospace/Defence, Pharmaceuticals / Biotech / Life Sciences, Tourism, Healthcare, Education, Transport / Logistics, Media, Financial Services and Telecommunications.
Naturally, there is also space for other events including community, entertainment, sports and a host of others, creating a full and diverse events calendar.

Barry: A record number of delegates attended UFI’s Congress in November. What impressions did you want them to have of the potential of doing business in the Middle East?
H.E.: The UAE is one of the most stable economies in the world. The UAE is fortunate to have a combination of natural resources, a stable political climate, and strategic investments delivering diversified revenue streams. The stability of our economy is also helping to attract foreign direct investment when other markets around the world look less certain.
The number of events hosted by ADNEC has been growing exponentially over the past few years. The product itself is continuously improved and upgraded. The ICC Abu Dhabi was added to the venue earlier this year and we have also taken great strides in terms of auxiliary facilities and amenities, with six hotels and a wealth of F&B options.
Seeing is believing. I hope that the UFI delegates experienced the quality of our product, the ease of access, and the commitment of our people. I wanted them to leave with an understanding of the strength of the economy and the tremendous opportunity Abu Dhabi presents to organizers.
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