An events evolution
Recovering consumer and corporate spending is boon to events industry
After a tough couple of years following on from the global economic downturn, increasing consumer and corporate confidence is proving a boon for the Middle East events industry
Accustomed to the Middle East’s glittering parties, glamorous corporate launches and unlimited budgets, the regional events industry had a rude awakening when the financial slump hit.
Thanks to reduced company budgets and more cautious private spending, events planners saw a definite drop in demand — as noted by Dusit Thani Dubai director of sales and marketing Leon Salinel.
“Definitely, there was a slow-down in enquiries during the economic downturn,” he admitted.
However industry professionals agree that the events market is now recuperating and evolving, bringing in more customers with whole new set of demands and ushering in a more confident events scene.
Russell Hanson, director of F&B at Emirates Golf Club, explained: “There is much more competition in the market now, which is actually a healthy trend as it makes everyone more resourceful and also helps put the focus on innovation and creativity.
“Customers are looking at added value — and also now they are coming to us directly, rather than going through third parties as they did previously,” he said.
Dusit’s Salinel added that the expectation of high standards had remained the same. “But today consumers in this region have a very large range of venue choices, across all price spectrums, so it’s not only the rates that matter, but the experience that will be delivered,” he explained.
Emirates Golf Club’s Hanson added that today’s customers were “looking for a lot more value for their money”.
“They are planning better with their budgets, less last-minute requests are coming in — in a nutshell, they are spending more efficiently and we’re working with them to meet their needs based on these new requirements,” he explained.
“Although there might be less money in a budget, the event doesn’t necessary need to be less impressive.”
JW Marriott Hotel Dubai director — event management Martijn Dekker added that flexibility had become increasingly important. “Today’s client needs support and understanding; our event planning team goes to great lengths to be more flexible in terms of adapting menus, extending cut-off dates, being more lenient with cancellation policies, lowering guarantees and providing more value and service at the same competitive rates,” he explained.
Some customers are looking for even more, noted The Address Hotels and Resorts’ area director of catering and conference services, Alma Au Yeung.
“Some cost-conscious clients look for a yearly deal instead of one-off association with us,” she explained.
“The positive side is they become more loyal to the brand, and during this period we can support each other.”
And with the events industry going from strength to strength as corporate and consumer spending gains more confidence, new trends are coming online.
Emirates Golf Club’s Hanson noted: “People are looking for fresh new ideas in event planning, looking for more creativity when it comes to presentation and more value for money.
“Clients are also more careful — they are using time and money more wisely,” he added.
“We appreciate and welcome such changes, as greater planning and detail from the client help us to really tailor an event to specific needs.”
Naturally, food and beverage is still playing a major role in the success of events, and — looking to stand out from the growing competition — operators are keen to shine on the F&B front.
As The Address’ Au Yeung noted: “When it comes to F&B, attention to detail makes all the difference — right from the choice of beverages to the canapés.”
JW Marriott’s Dekker added that it was vital for the menu to “fit perfectly with the guest profile, theme and budget”.
“Our clients know that with Marriott hotels, quality is never compromised and creative solutions can always be found,” he asserted.
“For example, at an Argentinean Tango Gala, we arranged for our Latin American chefs around the world to provide the recipes. And for a traditional local wedding we hosted recently, our chefs cooked local dishes together with the wedding family in our own kitchen.”
Naturally there are pitfalls in the events planning world, but according to Dusit’s Salinel, these challenges only serve to heighten a planner’s sense of achievement when it all goes off smoothly.
“We definitely welcome a challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to wow our guests,” he said. “These are the things that make event planning fun and exciting.
“Obviously you have to understand the nature of the market in the region, namely what possibilities are available for the event, as well as the nature of the clients themselves.
“Combine this with a good understanding of the required procedures in terms of licenses and permissions, and there are really no major difficulties to event planning.”
Emirates Golf Club’s Hanson commented: “Overall, to make an event a success, the most important factor is understanding your client’s needs and to truly give them their added value for money.”
However it takes time to learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ with regards to operating in this region, as JW Marriott’s Dekker noted.
“I think if one is new to the region, then planning events is not always so easy. Dubai enforces a high standard of hygiene regulations and conformity,” he pointed out.
“Official permission is needed for most activities — such as live cooking approval, staff certifications, entertainment licences, smoking permits, and more.”
But as The Address’ Au Yeung noted, those heading up events operations remain upbeat in the face of any difficulty: “We turn every challenge into positive opportunity, and in that sense, planning an event here is no different from any other part of the world.”
“Our conference services and catering department is divided into two sections: catering services the social segments, such as birthday parties and weddings as well as non-residential meetings. The conference department handles residential meetings.
“Our meeting centre comprises five meetings rooms and an executive boardroom. We also have the Al Wasl Ballroom for larger meetings and social events.”
Leon Salinel, director of sales and marketing, Dusit Thani Dubai
“In terms of locations, Emirates Golf Club has the Royal Majlis, a Bedouin-tent-shaped building with capacity for 70 guests with outdoor space on the Royal Majlis Lawn for 500.
“We then have The Clubhouse Terrace with magnificent views of The Majlis Course’s 9th and 18th greens, for up to 500 guests; The Poolside set amid tropical palm trees and lush landscaping; and my favourite, The Lawns. This is not only the Club’s largest venue, with a capacity of up to 3000, but also the largest open ground in Dubai.”
Russell Hanson, director of food and beverage, Emirates Golf Club
“The JW Marriott Hotel Dubai is an all-round event specialist. With 34 meeting spaces that total over 31,000 square feet of event space, it is one of the largest venues for meetings, conferences, exhibitions, weddings and festive events.
“We also operate an extensive outside catering operation, covering everything from small private gatherings to corporate openings and even large festivals and concerts.”
Martijn Dekker, director — event management, JW Marriott Hotel Dubai
“Our catering and conference services team provides a one-stop-shop for guests. From day one, we work as a partner with the event organiser to create tailor-made packages, set up to meet the client’s needs.
“Our goal is to deliver a memorable experience to all guests and a professional adviser to the event organiser throughout the event process.”
Alma Au Yeung, area director of catering and conference services, The Address Hotels and Resorts
“I once had to find a parrot capable of being trained how to say ‘good evening your highness’ to a Princess, who was having a special welcome dinner held in her honour. We managed to do this in five days.”
Russell Hanson, director of food and beverage, Emirates Golf Club