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Alia's dream

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, took on patronage of the 57th Congress of the International Congress & Convention Association. The Middle East is a premiere for ICCA; the meeting registered record attendance.

hen I was small, I thought I was an alien," said Alia Almansoori. From the time she realized that she was actually human, she's been occupied with finding an answer to the question: "How can I go to space?" The Dubai student wearing a red flight jacket with NASA pins and patches is a role model for young women in the United Arab Emirates. She won the "Genes in Space" contest, and her genetics experiment as a consequence made it to the ISS – International Space Station. At the Dubai World Trade Centre, Alia narrated to members of the International Congress & Convention Association her dream of being one of the first female astronauts to fly to planet Mars, and it sounded absolutely credible and not at all illusory when she discussed this with Dubai's Crown Prince.

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, was patron of the 57th ICCA Congress from November 11 thru 14, 2018. "We are deeply honored to receive official patronage for our Congress from His Highness the Crown Prince," emphasized ICCA-President Nina Freysen-Pretorius. Members of the royal family will take on patronage for key events with significant added value for the Emirate. The Crown Prince's sponsorship clearly indicates Dubai's commitment to support the congress industry.

This marked the first time the ICCA staged its annual congress in the Middle East. Both strategic location and plain curiosity mobilized 1,156 delegates from 79 countries to attend – a new record outside Europe. "We believe that by bringing together one thousand of the world's foremost experts in our industry to Dubai, we will leave a powerful legacy of transferred knowledge and shared insights," said Freysen-Pretorius. She added: "At the same time, ICCA members will themselves learn a great deal from the experiences and vision of this great meetings destination." Participants experienced the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), Dubai Business Events (DBE), the city’s official convention bureau and Emirates as outstanding hosts.

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"Monday Morning Wake-up Call" with Alia Almansoori: the 16-year-old student aims to be one of the first female astronauts to land on Mars.

The Middle East ranks among the growth regions for international association congresses, which has earned a seat for the region on the ICCA board as well as a regional director. Dubai has been investing here for years, e.g. in the Dubai World Trade Centre, to which the new halls Zabeel 4, 5 und 6 have been added, expanding overall space to 122,000 sqms including the ballroom and 42 meeting rooms. These measures have paid off: Dubai Business Events secured 261 successful bids for meetings, conferences and incentives in 2018, attracting an additional 153,640 delegates. The number of event bids won represents a 24% increase from 2017 and will deliver an estimated economic impact of AED 1.2 billion to the city. "Whether through the year-round calendar of home-grown trade shows or major congresses we understand and use the power of conferences to facilitate the rapid transition to a knowledge economy, and to grow scientific advancement and key industry sectors in Dubai and the UAE," said His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in his address. "The events industry is driving other industries to change. Dubai is a centre."

In time for the EXPO Dubai 2020, the Emirate wants to have invested another US$9 billion into its infrastructure. ICCA members at the site inspection were given a foretaste of the world expo grounds with the new Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC).  Those delegates looking at the picture series "Dubai 1960" and "Dubai 2018" were particularly impressed: they showed the rapid transformation of the port city to metropolis from the time the first oil fields were discovered in 1966. Dubai since then has been making headlines with mega-sized building projects including the artificial archipelago "The World Dubai" in the shape of a world map or the "Palm Islands" in form of a palm tree with the Atlantis Hotel Dubai. Other equally ambitious projects are the Hotel Burj al Arab with seven stars and the Burj Khalifa, with a height of 828 m the world's highest structure. The Armani Hotel occupies 15 of the building's floors.

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ICCA-President Nina Freysen-Pretorius, members of the board and the team and their hosts.


The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) unites the world’s leading suppliers in handling, transporting and accommodating international meetings and events and comprises over 1,100 member companies and organisations in almost 100 countries worldwide. ICCA members represent the top destinations worldwide and experienced specialist suppliers.

In spite of all ambitions and visions, Dubai maintained a local profile at the ICCA congress, be it with carpet sitting areas or interactive formats such as the 'Caravan of Associations' with 20 senior executives representing the Academy of Eating Disorders, the International Society of Surgery, and others as well. Almost like at an Arabian bazaar, the sellers, here in form of convention bureaus and congress centers, were lined up at tables. They called out to association representatives questions such as "How can the bidding process be changed to be more transparent?", hoping thereby to attract as many potential buyers as possible to their tables and for these to give them an answer. Some ICCA members yelled their heads off – and had fun doing it.

The format went down well with attendees, the more so as they were keen on evolving meeting experiences. 89% of them later agreed in the 2018 ICCA Congress post-event survey that the event included experimental and interesting meeting design concepts and formats. Nina Freysen-Pretorius had strongly advocated this approach. Before she retired after two tenures in office, she intended to leave behind another legacy with the Inspirational ICCA Women Award. "Through my role as ICCA president, I have continuously sought to champion and encourage the achievements of women in business events," Freysen-Pretorius said. "Gender equality in the workplace globally remains a challenge with unequal opportunities and remuneration packages a reality. Without female role models and champions seen as leaders, presidents and activists as examples, women will not be able to take their rightful place in society at different levels."

The awards were presented to winners by the new ICCA President elected in Dubai: James Rees, Executive Director ExCeL London. Irrespective if a gesture of solidarity in view of the upcoming Brexit or not, the Englishman came out first against Juan Jose Garcia (BCO Congresos) from Spain and Eric Bakermans from the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions. "As ICCA President, I will be a true advocate for our business, a champion of our sector and ensure that ICCA's voice is heard by government, in a language they understand," said Rees. In his inaugural address, he also referred to his German grandmother and World War II. "This is why I know about the value of travelling and meeting people".  KERSTIN WÜNSCH