Dubai's big moment

The IMF and World Bank meetings are a chance for Dubai to shine on the world stage and it's pulling out all the stops to try to make sure that happens.

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By  David Ingham Published  September 15, 2003

|~||~||~|After several years of extensive preparation and planning, the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF boards of governors are upon us. Between September 20 and 24, Dubai will become the focus of pretty much the whole world, as up to 16,000 people descend on the city for what has become known within the UAE as Dubai 2003. Ministers, bankers, government advisors, journalists, chief executives, NGO representatives, entrepreneurs and potential investors from just about every one of the World Bank and IMF's 184 member states will be present.

They will be in the city to debate solutions to the most pressing issues, such as AIDS, illiteracy and natural resource shortage, that the world faces today. This is the first time, of course, that the meetings have been held in the Middle East, but for Dubai there is more than just prestige at stake. The city has a chance to further bolster its image on the world stage and the authorities have pulled out all the stops to try to make sure that the event is a success.

The presence of up to 16,000 extra people is expected to bring a $45 million spending boost to the UAE economy in the normally quite month of September. If things work out the way they are supposed to, however, that will prove to be just a drop in the ocean.

The real objective, as Ibrahim Belselah, general co-ordinator of Dubai 2003, puts it, is to create, "more than 14,000 'goodwill ambassadors' for the UAE by providing such a unique and memorable experience for the participants of the annual meetings and associated events, that when they return to their respective home countries, not only will they want to revisit Dubai, but they will also encourage their friends and relatives to come and experience the delights of our city."

These ambassadors, it is hoped, will want to buy properties, recommend breaks in Dubai to their friends and, crucially, think of investing money here. "Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional business is projected to be generated from the ripple effect of the meetings [through] repeat visits, word of mouth referrals and increased global awareness of the UAE and the region," says Ahmed Al Banna, assistant general co-ordinator of Dubai 2003.

It's no surprise, therefore, that the organising committee of Dubai 2003 has been keen to ensure that delegates have a good time whilst they're here. Whether it's making sure they have a room when they arrive, ensuring they don't get overcharged or showing them around town, they've thought of everything.

As Arabian Business went to press, negotiations were underway with hotels to pre-book a certain number of rooms for the dates of Dubai 2003 and agree on a rate structure for delegates. Early estimates suggested that around 10,000 of Dubai's 24,000 hotel rooms would be 'blocked' and prices set according to a hotel's location and star rating.

The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is also doing its bit for the event, with the launch of its 'Forever Dubai' promotion. This retail initiative, which will run between September 10 and 25 will see numerous retail promotions and cultural activities taking place.

One of the highlights will be a citywide sales promotion, whereby anyone who spends over AED 200 (US $54), will be entitled to enter a draw to win 25 kilos of gold. More promotions and events are in the pipeline and will be revealed as the event approaches.

"This is a golden opportunity for us as we will be able to promote Dubai to the world in Dubai," says Hussain Ali Lootah, DTCM deputy director general. "We have to take the initiative, and I am sure that we have the right formula to showcase our legendary hospitality to the participants. We will not leave any stone unturned to make the Dubai visit of each delegate, official, journalist and visitor more personally memorable," Lootah added.
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All in all, a small fortune has been spent building up the infrastructure for the event, a construction boom funded in part by the government of Dubai's recent $400 million bond issue. The issue, the first by the Dubai government, is a milestone in itself and could be a significant step in deepening regional capital markets and encouraging capital repatriation.

The hotel industry in Dubai has been gearing up for the meetings since it was announced in 1999 that the UAE would be the first country in the Arab world to host the event. The Grand Hyatt, Ibis and Shangri-La hotels were built on the back of the event, along with the US $175 million Dubai International Convention Centre (DICC).

The government of Dubai believes it is now equipped to handle the very largest events in the world and a key measure of the event's success will be Dubai's ability to attract top global events in the future. There is certainly no intention of leaving that expensive new convention centre empty. "There is significant potential to capitalise on this event in the long-term, through maximising the profile of the UAE's ability to host huge conventions, which is big business, and remains an unexploited resource for the tourism and hospitality industry in this country," says Al Banna.

There is also, of course, a political and social message to be sent out. Dubai 2003 wants to counter stereotypical perceptions of the region and show that there are some success stories here. Dubai's economic decision makers would also like the message about the need for economic reform in the region to be heard loud and clear by others.

"There should be a message to Middle Eastern governments to modernise, change their policies and tame the crazy, and to do it fast," says Mohammed Al Abbar, chairman of the Dubai Department of Economic Development.

Saeed Al Muntafiq, director general of Dubai Development and Investment Authority (DDIA), also believes that the themes of good governance, economic reform and transparecny to be discussed at the meetings are highly relevant to the Middle East and that the region should take notice. "There should be a message to the region on how to encourage investment and intra-Arab trade," he says. "Issues of competitiveness come to my mind. Another issue is the involvement of women in the workforce."

Security is, of course, high on the agenda. Whilst Dubai may have a good track record on that front, it does lie in a volatile region and Dubai Police has quietly been preparing for the event for many years.
Trips have been made to other international events to study how they have been policed and it's likely that there will be large exclusion areas in place in Dubai to help maximise security. The international protest groups that normally descend on IMF and World Bank events have been quiet about their plans so far, but whispers suggest that heat, cost and distance are likely to keep their presence small.

Major General Abdulaziz Al Bannai, director general of protective security at Dubai Police, says simply, "Dubai Police is ready."
A major road improvement programme has been put in place in Dubai, but traffic jams are still likely to be huge. It has been reported that Dubai's schools will be closed for the duration of the event.

Simply put, the World Bank and IMF meetings represent a chance for Dubai to increase its profile on the world stage, with all the spinoff benefits that could potentially go with that. As long as the investment continues to pour in and the tourists keep coming, the event will be considered a success.||**||

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