By Meera Ravi » Do you want to tap into a prosperous regional market that will buy a whole range of goods from sophisticated oil drilling equipment to designer jewellery and also offer niche markets for health tourism services and consumer goods from around the world? Then the people at the Bahrain Convention and Exhibition Bureau (BCEB) are the ones you should talk to.
With the Middle East economy booming because of rising oil prices, there is rich potential here and the world has been quick to realize that Bahrain, with its strategic geographic location, is an ideal gateway to this market. The BCEB, which functions under the Ministry of Commerce, is responsible for the promotion and establishment of Bahrain as one of the leading international convention and exhibition destinations in the Middle East – and has done an impressive job so far.
“The estimated annual industry turnover/expenditure on trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences in the kingdom is $25 million, a figure with a potential to double over the coming years,” said acting general manager of the BCEB Kadhem Essa Al Saeed.
“To tap into this growing market, the BCEB has adopted a multi-pronged action plan that has seen it enlarge facilities at the purpose-built Bahrain International Exhibition Centre (BIEC), which it manages, and also expand its own portfolio of inbound and outbound shows.”
The BCEB is responsible for promoting the island as a major exhibition centre and promoting Bahrain industries globally through shows such as the successful Wonders of Gold, which promotes Bahraini gold and jewellery, and the industrial showcase, Made In Bahrain.
“Our strategy is to promote, develop and renew Bahrain’s exhibition industry and keep pace with progress achieved by this sector in the developed countries,” Al Saeed said. “To do this, we have linked up with international and regional event organisers such as Nuernberg Global Fairs (Germany), PennWell Corporation (USA), Media Generation Group plc (UK) and Fairtrade GmbH & Co KG (Germany).”
He pointed out, “A look at our portfolio in the past year will show that the BIEC now offers a truly diversified range of events to match the increasingly sophisticated needs of this market. More importantly, we have seen a two-fold increase in the Centre’s occupancy in 2004, largely from repeat events – a total of 35 confirmed bookings occupying an aggregate 2.6 million gross square metres of exhibition hall space. This means exhibition organisers and exhibitors find it rewarding to showcase their products and services at BIEC and are coming back for more success.”
Another winning trend is that existing exhibitions have expanded and are occupying more space than before. Shows such as the perennially popular Autumn Fair and the region’s largest jewellery and watches expo, Jewellery Arabia, now occupy both Halls 1 and 2 of the BIEC, which represents a covered, column-free gross exhibition space of over 16,000 square metres. Specialist shows such as the Middle East Oil Show and even newer fairs such as the International Health Tourism Show have shown impressive growth in terms of the number of exhibitors and space occupied.
The BIEC, which was opened in 1991 with one hall, is Bahrain’s largest trade show and convention facility. Today, it has two sprawling halls and the latest addition is a $4.5 million, 1,400 square metre Convention Centre that was inaugurated in 2004. This world-class facility conveniently links Halls 1 and 2. With five self-contained halls, the new Convention Centre is fully equipped with the latest audio-visual and electronic equipment, multiple high-speed internet access, satellite TV connections, teleconferencing and video facilities.
It can accommodate approximately 1,250 delegates in a theatre-style seating for large international conventions and meetings such as the petrochemical industry shows. During Jewellery Arabia 2004, it proved itself an ideal venue for exclusive exhibitions of luxury goods, jewellery and fashion items that require a luxury ambience.
New projects lined up for further improvement of facilities at BIEC are a multi-storey car park, upgrading of the acoustics system in Hall 2 to international standards, construction of new storage facilities and refurbishment to existing conference and exhibition facilities.
The BIEC is one of few venues in the Arabian Gulf certified by the Bureau Veritas Quality International (BVQi) to ISO 9001:2000 for meeting international quality standards for hosting and organising exhibitions. The BCEB is an active member of the Association of Exhibition Organisers in London, the International Congress and Convention Association in Amsterdam, the Arab Union for International Exhibitions and Conferences in Cairo and the Union des Foires Internationales in Paris.
“BIEC’s show season starts in September and runs up until May of the following year. Our evolving programme of shows and events reveal that the Centre’s multi-dimensional marketing has paid off,” Al Saeed said.
“Last year, in addition to exhibitions and conferences, the Centre hosted nationwide festivals, community and charity events and sports events such as the 39th Asian Weightlifting Championship."
In order to achieve its objectives, the BCEB participates in a number of overseas trade shows and missions to promote export and trade using Bahrain as a regional hub and service centre. The BCEB’s own portfolio of international inbound exhibitions and outbound events include Auto and Motorsport Arabia, Bahrain Garden Fair, Power-Gen Middle East incorporating Iraq Reconstruction Exhibition and Conference (2004), Water Middle East, Measurement and Instrumentation, Telecom Arabiya and Aluminium Middle East.
The Ministry of Commerce strives to strike a balance between trade shows and general exhibitions and the thrust is on encouraging business networking and projecting Bahrain as a regional business hub.
Specialised exhibition subjects most in demand in Bahrain include oil and gas, infrastructure development, downstream manufacturing, education and health care, financial services, tourism and motor sport – especially since the advent of Formula One. The BCEB can be contacted on