Desert mice

Away from the high rise glass buildings and the eight lane highways, a new MICE product is developing in the desert that provides unlimited space for team building

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  December 22, 2004

|~|BabAlShams2.jpg|~|Bab Al Shams resort features a traditional Arabic desert restaurant called Al Hadheerah.|~|The meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) industry is big business in the Middle East. Large business hotels, offering the latest in conference technology, are opening at a rapid rate. According to Awadh Al Seghayer, director of the Dubai Convention Bureau (DCB), Dubai is on course to become one of the world’s principal cities for conventions. "Conventions have had a positive effect over the hotel industry, where the quieter summer months are now enjoying higher occupancy levels," says Al Seghayer. Dubai registered significant growth in the events held in the city. “In 2003, Dubai Convention Bureau catered to 22 events; by October we had already had 40 events,”Al Seghayer states. “Looking ahead, growth rates seem very promising and Dubai’s world-class properties will continue to remain busy, catering to the influx of conference exhibitors, participants and visitors.” Away from the high rise glass buildings and the eight lane highways, a new MICE product is developing, one that offers unlimited space for team building activities and a perfectly isolated environment, allowing delegates to remain focused on business. The product? Desert resorts. Jumeirah International opened its latest property, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, in November. The five- star desert resort offers 115 deluxe rooms, including 10 suites, and is located 45 minutes drive from Dubai International Airport. “Bab Al Shams has a unique location and the aim is to use the surrounding desert landscape as a backdrop for a wide variety of activities, including team building exercises,” explains resort general manager, Abdin Nasralla. “In terms of the MICE segment, Bab Al Shams will be a unique product to the MICE organiser with its location in the desert, its close proximity to the Jumeirah International resort products, and the service levels and facilities Jumeirah International is renowned for. We anticipate that approximately 15% of our business will come from the MICE segment at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa,” Nasralla adds. MICE facilities are small, with the resort offering three Falcon meeting rooms, two of which are designed for board room style meetings and one meeting room with flexible seating arrangements. All rooms offer audiovisual equipment. However, it is the external features that will give the resort its unique selling point. Bab Al Shams resort features a traditional Arabic desert restaurant called Al Hadheerah, which is located outside the resort at just a short walking distance. Al Hadheerah offers a fine dining experience combined with live Arabic entertainment, including a henna-painter, a shisha area and falcon display. Nasralla is confident that the mix of business and leisure facilities will prove successful. “We believe that Dubai and UAE-based companies will select Bab Al Shams as a unique hotel and ideal retreat for small incentives and board meetings. In addition, the resort will also attract smaller size up-market incentive business from the region and abroad,” he says. Other desert resorts in the UAE are also targeting the niche market of team building and small meetings business. Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, owned by Emirates Airline, is set within a 225-square-kilometre desert conservation reserve. Built in the style of a traditional Bedouin encampment, the resort opened new conference facilities in the summer. The new conference centre is equipped to accommodate 40 guests boardroom-style, 60 guests conference-style or 90 guests theatre-style. “MICE represented about 10% of our turnover prior to the opening of the new conference facilities in the summer. With the new conference facilities we will be able to increase it in the coming years to at least 15%, and hopefully as much as 25%. This will be a combination of local, GCC and international conference and incentive business,” predicts Tony Williams, vice president, resorts and projects, Emirates. Board of directors meetings, car launches, product launches and international/regional conferences are the most common events held at the resort. In addition, the incentives market uses Al Maha, with large corporations offering stays at the resort as rewards to clients, staff or partners. “Both these types of business have good advantages to the companies concerned in so much as the participants are a ‘captive’ audience, as the resort is self contained, and participants do not ‘wander off’ to other venues and get distracted by other offerings as happens in most hotels. Also, participants take part in unusual and unique activities together, activities that they are unlikely to have access to in their normal lives. This builds a great sense of teamwork, with shared experiences,” Williams explains. Guests at Al Maha can take part in a number of on-site activities, including falconry, horse and camel safaris, archery and guided nature walks. More adventurous travellers can also take part in a range of off-site activities ranging from historical and architectural tours around the Hajjar Mountains, to sand skiing and 4x4 dune driving. In the neighbouring emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort has also begun targeting the MICE market. The resort is introducing an additional 82 units, in villa-style accommodation. The extension is due to increased demand from the MICE and leisure markets. “Clients are looking for a new destination and we have received very good feedback from the European market. Al Hamra Fort has received interest from the new markets of Japan, New Zealand and Malta. The hotel attracts MICE and special interest groups, international corporate guests, as well as European leisure travellers. Around 30% of our business comes from the MICE sector,” says Elia Timani, director of sales and marketing, Al Hamra Fort Hotel. Al Hamra offers a wide variety of team building events, with events co-ordinators onsite to manage groups. Activities include desert safaris, beachfront challenges and trips to Ras Al Khaimah. So how will three desert resorts, all within relatively close proximity, compete to attract their target market? Abdin Nasralla from the recently opened Bal Al Shams resort believes that there is room for all in the desert. "The resorts are all very different; they attract a different type of guest, have a different product and service offering, and have a different positioning in the market. "Rather than competing with each other, we believe that the resorts will combine their marketing efforts to attract guests to the desert, to experience the uniqueness the desert has to offer," Nasralla says. Desert resorts in the UAE appear to be capitalising on their surrounding unique selling point. With more tourists wanting a taste of Arabia, this trend looks set to continue.||**||

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