By Tanya Lunn
Looking for the perfect Middle East venue for your international exhibition? What better location than a palm-fringed island in the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf, where business and leisure combine comfortably in a truly cosmopolitan environment?
Ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that the international conference and exhibitions market is a growth area. The market has been expanding globally by between five and eight percent per year over the past two decades and the worldwide Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector is now worth an estimated US$90 billion annually.
Bahrain's MICE market is growing at an approximate rate of three percent per annum and it is expected that ongoing initiatives to make it the region's premier centre for exhibitions and conferences will see the kingdom capture a major share of the Middle East market over the coming years," says Assistant Undersecretary for Foreign Trade Shaikh Daij bin Salman Al Khalifa.
"Our conference and exhibitions business is targeted at the Middle East market," adds Shaikh Daij. "It is an important income generator and contributes to local employment and training opportunities for Bahrainis. Since organisers invariably pre-arrange tours of the kingdom's key attractions for delegates and exhibitors, the industry has also become a catalyst for the growth of Bahrain's tourism industry."
The Bahrain International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) is the country's leading exhibition facility, opened in 1991 and hosting between 24 and 28 annual trade shows, public exhibitions, conferences, seminars and other events.
Impressive by any standards, it is located a short drive from Manama and is one of the best equipped facilities of its kind in the Middle East. At present, it features two Exhibition Halls with a total gross exhibition area of 14,000 sq.m. and five conference rooms with a total seating capacity of 1,200.
Exhibition Hall 2 (6,000 sq.m.) may soon be converted into a multi-purpose event hall that could also be used for mega conventions accommodating up to 5,000 delegates, with an option to use it for concerts, indoor sports events, exhibitions and trade shows. A further Conference Centre under construction between Halls 1 and 2 will link them both and will accommodate over 1,200 delegates (theatre-style) as well as being suitable for banquets of up to 500 guests or smaller, exclusive exhibitions of luxury items.
The Ministry of Commerce strives to strike a balance between trade shows and general exhibitions, says Shaikh Daij. Statistics indicate that over three million people visited Bahrain in 2002, of whom nine percent came for business purposes.
Of these, we estimate that around one-third, or 140,000, attended conferences and/or exhibitions. As a gateway to a market of over 200 million people, Bahrain's inherent strengths lie in its geographical location and proximity to the major markets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other key Middle East economies. The main focus is to strengthen our portfolio of international trade fairs dedicated to the manufacturing, high technology and communications industries," he says.
"The Middle East Oil Show (MEOS), Jewellery Arabia, Middle East Geosciences Conference and Exhibition (GEO), the Middle East Petrochemicals Conference and Exhibition (Petrotech) and Water Middle East are currently Bahrain's most high-profile annual events, attracting high-calibre international exhibitors and delegates. These are regarded globally as 'must see' exhibitions for those in the relevant industries and we believe that as the Middle East economies continue to grow, an increased range of conference and exhibition opportunities will present themselves."
The Bahrain Convention and Exhibition Bureau (BCEB) is organising prestigious events at BIEC for 2003/04, including the E-Life Electronic Show; Water Middle East 2003 and Measurement & Instrumentation 2004. These events are designed to become regular fixtures, cementing Bahrain's position as the region's pre-eminent exhibition venue.
BCEB also participates in overseas trade shows and missions designed to promote exports and foreign trade, with Bahrain as the regional hub and service centre. The 2003 programme of overseas trade promotions includes events in Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Thailand.
Outbound exhibitions such as 'Wonders of Gold' and 'Made in Bahrain' offer the advantage of taking products and information about investment opportunities to potential customers' doorsteps. Bahrain's overseas exhibitions attract a significant number of potential buyers and investors, while they provide excellent opportunities for exhibitors representing Bahrain's key industries to get valuable feedback on their products.
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