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The United Arab Emirates are keen on growing a new innovation culture in the Near East by staging events such as the EXPO 2020 or the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Advanced ideas have been emerging in Saudi-Arabia, where students are interested in studying event management.

audi-Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS, has been in the headlines quite frequently in the past months. This is because the minister of defense and first deputy prime minister is committed to liberalizing his country. Bin Salman is the leading head behind the Saudi Vision 2030, which also encompasses a gigantic business project including the creation of a $2 trillion Saudi sovereign wealth fund (the world's largest such fund) and the expansion of renewable energy sources in order to diminish dependency upon fossil oil. The share of women in employment is also designated to rise from currently 22 to 30 percent – not to forget that the female share of population according to government statements already makes up more than half of all college graduates.

To endeavor to improve the situation of women in this country is the more remarkable and ambitious as Saudi-Arabia currently ranks only 138th of 144 countries in the equality ratings of the World Economic Forum. But the crown prince is championing the improvement of women's rights with considerable public impact. In confirming these efforts, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed deputy labor minister in February 2018.Women will be allowed to drive automobiles starting the middle of this year, and even the army is gradually opening its ranks for females. The crown prince is also triggering public discussions: while traveling to the US in March, he stated that women will be allowed to decide for themselves if they want to continue wearing the abaya – a footlength black cloak – in public. And in early April, Salman in an interview with the US magazine "The Atlantic" acknowledged Israel's right to exist. This is the first time a high-ranking official of the kingdom has made such a statement in public. It might of course be worth a discussion to establish the genuine reasons behind these political gestures, but experts are agreed that the announcement to open is in itself already a positive signal.

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Women on stage in Dubai – and soon in Saudi-Arabia? EXPO 2020 could be a role model for the region.

Saudi-Arabia's meeting industry is also sending and receiving positive signals. Here's a concise chronology of events: after foundation of the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureaus (SECB) in September 2013, the kingdom grew its relevant infrastructure to more than 500 hotels, congress and event centers. Numerous international hotel brands have been operating properties in the major cities. The Saudi Academy for Event Management was then founded in the capital city of Riyadh in March 2017. Two months later aSaudi delegation premiered at the IMEX in Frankfurt to present the country in an own pavilion. And in January 2018, Saudi-Arabia was admitted to the ranks of the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association).

Tariq A. Al Essa explained the significance of conferences and meetings in Saudi-Arabia and the role of the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureaus (SECB). "Saudis are genetically passionate with meetings. Religion and culture emphasize people to meet and network. Interestingly, a study conducted by the Saudi Ministry of Labor revealed that Saudi graduate students selected 'event manager' as one of the jobs they are keenest to do," said the SECB Executive Director. "The SECB aims to be a pioneer. Our mandate is not only marketing, but also the development of the Saudi meetings industry and positioning it as a global leader."

The SECB as new association member will have opportunity to do just that at the next ICCA congress in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The meeting will be staged at the Dubai World Trade Center from 11 to 14 November. Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, explained the significance of this conference for the emirate: "Hosting business events forms a core part of our sustainable economic diversification efforts, and is a key driver in our Tourism Vision for 2020."

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Abu Dhabi announced the launch of a digital platform, the Abu Dhabi Culture.


More than 2,700 interviews were registered at IBTM Arabia, staged at the Jumeirah Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi from 5 - 7 February 2018. Several new features were in effect at this year's show, among these an expansion of the hosted-buyer-program. Stricter screening by the IBTM team prior to the show had been implemented to streamline the profile of event planners to accurately meet exhibitor requirements. Moreover, buyers originating from the United Arab Emirates had a one-day option. "We're delighted with the immediate feedback from our customers on the success of this year's event, in terms of the quality of meetings, the networking opportunities and the results of the enhancements we've made," said Shinu Pillai, Event Director IBTM Arabia, after the show. "IBTM Arabia is all about connections. We know that our attendees value the opportunity to build meaningful, long-term business relationships and the formula of this event is a clear conduit for this."

The number of tourists in Dubai is rising consistently. In 2016, the city registered 14.9 million visitors, making it one of the most popular metropolitan destinations in the world. In the first nine months of the year 2017, the city welcomed 11.58 million international visitors, a plus of more than 7.5 percent as compared to the corresponding prior period. One factor which might serve to explain the increase in visitor turnout is the massive investments into Dubai's infrastructure, which are element of the UAE Vision 2021: while the UAE ranks among the world's leading energy providers, the seven emirates Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain are endeavoring to diversify their economies in order to solidify their positions as logistical, financial and tourism hubs in the Near East.

The World Expo 2020 in Dubai with its motto "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future" will be a catalyst; the show is expected to attract around 25 million visitors from all over the world.

"We want to contribute to a better future by creating a platform with sustained and permanent effects for innovative cooperation between people and their ideas," said Reem Al-Hashimi, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and managing director of the Expo Dubai 2020 organization committee, to explain her vision. The first UAE Innovation Month was scheduled in early 2018; throughout the entire month of February, Expo 2020 will organize and attend more than 20 events to create an "innovation culture" across the VAE. "As one of the largest global programs to focus on creativity and human ingenuity, UAE Innovation Month significantly contributes to strengthening the country's position as a global innovation hub," said Najeeb Mohammed Al-Ali, Executive Director, Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau. "Innovation is in our DNA."

Sustainability is also destined to play a major role: "Equally important for us is to ensure we create a meaningful and sustainable legacy for future generations to use the smart infrastructure that will be built for Expo 2020." Half of the electrical power needed for the world expo will come from renewable energy sources. The Sheik Mohammed bin Raschid Al Maktum Solar Park will be such a major energy source. In March of this year, the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai officially launched construction work for the fourth phase of the solar park. This is the world's largest CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) investment project, a solar power plant capable of generating 700 megawatts of electrical power at a single site. It will feature the world's highest solar tower (260 meters) and the highest thermal energy storage capacity. The solar farm will provide clean energy for 270,000 homes, reducing CO2 emissions by 1.4 million tons per year. But Al Maktum's vision goes beyond that: plans are to have expanded the facility to a very ambitious 5,000 megawatts output by 2030. To give readers an idea of the magnitude of this project: the world's largest and presently operative solar parks, Solar Star I and II in the Californian Mojave Desert, have a capacity of 579 megawatts.

Sustainability and renewable energies frequently play a major role in projects and construction schemes on the Arabian peninsula. From January 13 thru 20, 2018, the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) saw a total of 22 events, among these the World Future Energy Summit (WFES). Some 38,000 visitors attended the Week hosted by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC). The motto: "Driving the Global Energy Transformation". Large- sized events such as the Sustainability Week are instrumental for cutting a distinct profile for Abu Dhabi. This has also led to a hike in hotel visitor volumes: in 2017, approximately five million guests stayed overnight at the emirate's 162 hotels and apartment hotels. That amounts to a plus of almost ten percent as compared to the prior annual period.

However, tourism and sustainability aren't the only issues in the focus of local authorities and competent operators. In context with the UAE Innovation Month, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) announced the launch of a digital platform, the Abu Dhabi Culture. "The Abu Dhabi Culture platform is an important step in our journey to present Abu Dhabi's rich culture to the world, as it represents our continuous efforts in reinforcing the emirate's cultural and intellectual presence, as well as contributing to the UAE's position internationally in the application of technology and digital transformation," is how Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak described the initiative. "Through launching an accessible digital platform of this level of diversity and inclusivity, we are ensuring that we encourage creativity, and supporting the spread of innovative thinking within society, benefitting users from all backgrounds and interests," said the DCT Abu Dhabi chairman. Such statements are not yet to be heard from Saudi-Arabia, but Vision 2030 could be a beginning.  CHRISTIAN FUNK