WITH THE MICE SECTOR ACCOUNTING FOR MORE THE 20 PERCENT OF THE KINGDOM’S TOTAL TOURISM REVENUES, RIYADH CONTINUES TO PLAY AN EVER-IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE GOVERNMENT’S SAUDI VISION 2030.

“MICE business expanded significantly over the past couple of years, backed by the growing number of facilities as well as pro-business and tourist-friendly policies,” enthused Hans Schiller, general manager, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Riyadh, Al Muroj Business Gate.

Despite the fact that the property is still in its soft-opening phase, Aloft Riyadh already benefits from strong demand from this lucrative segment.

“We are seeing an increase in the percentage of meeting attendees as the Riyadh MICE season builds up from October to December,” commented Shankar Sivanander, director of marketing, Aloft Riyadh.

As Bilal Al Barmawi, managing director, HILL-MICE, a Riyadh-based event management company, explained, while MICE business seemed to be a little slow in the first half of the year compared to 2015, there have still been many changes over this period.

Speaking about the segment’s future prospects, he expressed high hopes for year-end results with a number of prestigious events taking place in the capital in the second half of the year.

SAUDI VISION 2030

“As part of Vision 2030, the Saudi government plans to invest over USD1.5 billion in the MICE sector which will support the tourism industry greatly,” suggested Sivanander, referring to the oil-rich Kingdom’s recent drive to diversify its economy.

“There are many organisations which have contributed their share to develop this sector in Riyadh [and the] government has also played a vital role in the expansion of this specific segment,” elaborated Al Barmawi.

“The most important role is being played by the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB), which is working very hard to advance MICE in the Kingdom.”

In particular, Schiller attributed the sector’s development to the establishment of SECB’s online facility, a comprehensive platform with extensive information and license application services.

Commenting on the niche market’s valuable contribution to the overall growth of tourism, Schiller explained, “The MICE sector is very important to push the volume and create more demand in the hotel industry.”

However, it is not tourism alone that can benefit from such investments.

Sivanander highlighted the far-reaching impact of the segment, saying, “The MICE industry is key in promoting the diversity and growth of sectors such as automotive, plastics, pharmaceuticals, construction and much more.”

Al Barmawi predicted a promising future for the MICE industry in Riyadh, given the fact that the Saudi capital has already established a firm reputation for itself as a business hub in the GCC and a leading spot for international companies looking to establish or expand their presence in the region.

STAGING EVENTS

With some 600 conference and meeting venues hosting approximately 100,000 functions every year – as referenced by Schiller – there is no doubt that Riyadh is well-equipped to welcome some of the region’s top events, further underlying the city’s reputation as a top choice in the Gulf region.

However, many believe that more could be done to further entice organisers to choose Riyadh, with accessibility being one of the most pressing issues.

Schiller pinpointed, “Ideally, visa restrictions should be removed to increase opportunities in the city which includes visit visa.

These can be challenging and increase issues, especially when the visit visas are quite short.”

Al Barmawi claimed, “There are still many opportunities to be availed, there are for example still many events which are yet to be organised in Saudi Arabia for the first time, and that [is] surely going to increase the demand in this growing industry.”

Speaking from experience, Al Barmawi also noted that in order to continue to attract the most prestigious events, there needs to be a more efficient transport system in place as well as the provision of entertainment offerings for participants to enjoy their post-event time.

All in all, as Al Barmawi suggested, these should allow for an easier way to attract and stage functions in the thriving Saudi capital.