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The Big Interview: ADNEC CEO Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri

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EW meets the driving force behind the venue jewel in Abu Dhabi’s exhibition crown, Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, Group CEO at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

 

What first attracted you to work in the events industry?

With a background in finance and banking, I joined Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company in 2005. The exhibitions and events sector was quickly developing in Abu Dhabi and I could see great potential for events to help deliver new and exciting business opportunities. 

I initially worked for ADNEC in the finances sector where I could use my core skills to establish myself.  But I quickly realised that if ADNEC was to compete at the top level, we would need to establish sound international standards – not just in finance, but in health and safety, event management and business continuity.  

I became Chief Commercial Officer, responsible for all of the sales and marketing activities. This gave me a great insight into the mechanics of how we grow our business. Our business grew with the acquisition of ExCeL London, hotel properties and in-house service companies and I became Chief Executive of ADNEC Group in 2017. I am proud to have led the team through this period of innovation, creativity and change.

Abu Dhabi is a global hub for the oil and gas industry, but it is clear that business diversification is critical for the emirate. ADNEC is a main driver for economic impact through hosting a diverse calendar of events. We are seeing new developments in areas such as sustainability, renewable energy, innovation, healthcare and education. The events we attract and host provide critical and solid platforms for these industries to grow and thrive here.

I am also happy to have played a role in bringing several renowned international exhibitions for the first time to Abu Dhabi.

How have you changed strategy over the years to adapt to trends?

Abu Dhabi’s strong connectivity with major global cities, cutting edge infrastructure and the strong backing of its government have played a critical role in confirming Abu Dhabi’s status as a serious new player in the exhibition business. 

ADNEC has grown its exhibition business year on year helping Abu Dhabi to emerge as one of the as one of the top 100 destinations in the world. The sector’s contribution to the local economy has seen significant growth reaching AED3.9bn (US$1.06bn) in direct and indirect economic impact in 2017. (We are still awaiting the final tally for 2018).

ADNEC focuses on strategic sectors identified by the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic Vision including tourism, healthcare, petrochemicals, transportation, financial services, media and broadcasting, renewable energy among others. 

ADNEC has responded to the competition from other prominent business destinations within the region through developing a joint collaborative bidding approach with its key strategic partners.           

 

Which sectors have been the most productive for exhibitions for ADNEC?

As one of the global centres for the oil and gas industry, Abu Dhabi is understandably the home of one of the largest and most highly regarded events within this industry - ADIPEC.  

Organised by DMG, this flagship event, which takes place every November, services the industry here and serves as a platform for the national oil company, ADNOC, to reach out to a global market.  

However, we recognise that business diversification is key to the ongoing success of Abu Dhabi.  

Education and healthcare events are moving up the agenda as well as emerging technologies, sustainability and innovation. We help to support these industries in line with the 2030 Economic Vision. 

We have seen positive growth across all sectors in the trade and consumer shows. Also, recently launched shows have rebooked asking for extra space which is a strong indicator of the healthy market and strong economy. 

What trends do you observe in the Middle East exhibitions market? Perhaps you will launch some new exhibitions yourselves?

As the exhibition market consolidates through mergers and acquisitions, more international organisers are seeing Abu Dhabi as a solid location for regional clones of their global brands. We have a stable economy, a safe and welcoming environment, superb global transport links and an easily accessible platform for reaching the sizeable Middle East and African regional market. 

We have had success with some strong global brands including VIV agriculture event, Informa’s Cityscape Real Estate event and CPhI’s Middle East and Africa pharmaceutical exhibition - all establishing their regional base here at ADNEC.  

We are in discussions with other organisers to bring similar global brands to ADNEC. The local market is also very strong and many international organisers now set up regional offices here to capitalise on this.

Organic growth is also on our agenda. Having had many years of success in the defence sector with our IDEX event, the in-house organising division of ADNEC Group has recently launched the Abu Dhabi International Boat Show to much acclaim. Set to return this October, the event, which launched in 2018, attracted over 21,000 visitors and had 96 boats on display in our Marina facility. The team will follow up this success with other launches and joint ventures planned for 2019. 

 

Abu Dhabi has many new attractions for international delegates to visit now after show hours. Which attractions would you recommend visitors to sample while in the emirates?

Abu Dhabi is the jewel in the crown of Arabia. We have the perfect blend of ancient tradition, Arabian heritage, modern architecture, a thriving mix of nationalities and some of the most wonderful art and cultural experiences available.

Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the public at the end of 2017 and has since established itself as a must-see attraction. The stunning architecture, hovering over the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf, houses one of the finest collections of art and antiquities, not just in the region, but anywhere on earth.  

Abu Dhabi is a desert land and there is nothing like seeing the endless expanse of sand dunes. The best way to experience the desert is to take part in a desert safari in a 4x4.  

You’ll have an amazing experience with the backdrop of the Empty Quarter – the largest sand desert on earth. Then, as the pace slows, you will get to take part in more traditional cultural activities like falconry, camel riding and henna artwork. 

Yas Island is our entertainment district, with attractions such as Warner Brothers Studios, Yas Water World and Ferrari World.  

Why not visit the Abu Dhabi F1 Marina Circuit which opens its doors twice a week to cyclists, runners and walkers who can experience a few laps of the famous race track – all free of charge.

Abu Dhabi has just completed an extensive renovation of the Qasr Al Hosn Fort and Heritage site just off the Corniche.

Also, do not miss the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that has recently been voted as the world’s second favourite landmark by TripAdvisor.

Finally, what would be your New Year wishes for the global exhibition industry for 2019?

I hope that our industry is also part of the solution when it comes to many of the issues in the world today, particularly with sustainable development goals. 

Already we host many events in support of these efforts: We are just getting done hosting the World Future Energy Summit, which is part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, and in September we will host the World Energy Council in Abu Dhabi.

But I am talking beyond that, about how we can be a part of the solution by setting an example, by making our buildings more energy efficient and by lowering our carbon footprint. 

As an example, of the 1,510 tons of waste we produced in 2018, we recycled 777 tons of materials or 51% of all our waste materials. Our recycling target was 34%. Our ‘No food waste’ campaign has diverted 55 tons of food waste from landfill thanks to our Liquid Food Compost machine. 

We have also produced 530 litres of biodiesel to run the ‘bucket’ and ‘scissor’ lifts and other machines around the facility. 

We have a 1,000sqm solar panel farm atop the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre’s Car Park B that produces energy to run its elevators.

So we are trying to lead the way by example and, again, it is part of the innovative culture we are striving for at ADNEC. 

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