RIYADH EXHIBITION COMPANY (REC)
BE HERE: THE SAUDI WAY TO BIZ
Interview with Mr. Edouard Rabbat
With the global financial crisis still present in most of the economies of the world, only a few countries continue being attractive to investors because they are solid in both, economic performance and strong market demand. The jewel of the crown is undoubtedly Saud Arabia that in moments of crisis responds with the highest expenditure ever recorded in the Kingdom. With a growing interest of international investors, the MICE industry is being pushed to its heights.
“The easiest and fastest way to close a deal is face to face, being here and knowing the country, meeting the people and experiencing the way of doing business” says Edouard Rabbat, general manager of the largest exhibition organiser in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh Exhibition Company (REC). “If you want to do business in Saudi, you have to come and do it by yourself” he explains mentioning that although before investors used to go to the renown MICE destination of the Gulf Region, Dubai, now they are turning its engines to Riyadh or Jeddah.
“We cannot compete with Doha or Dubai but the reality is that people that go there are actually looking for Saudis to do business. It is easier to go to Dubai than to Saudi Arabia but after the economic crackdown people are starting to look to the real market and Saudi Arabia is the strongest of the region. Although it is still a bit tough to convince people to come to the Kingdom we are seeing a stronger push from the Embassies to bring business”.
And if we relate to the numbers, Edouard is very right. The sector is living its honeymoon. “In
the last two years the world economy has been a disaster so all the traditional big companies are looking for new markets but not just any market, -he points out-, they need to look for a safe and
strong destination that you can consider a future for your business”.
AN INVESTMENT WONDERLAND
Indeed, with the largest budget of its history recently approved and a number of royal decrees increasing expenditure Saudi Arabia looks more like a Wonderland for investors.
“The last decrees of the King to increase salaries and economic help to the young population for housing purposes together with the determination to spend more money on education and health is a real push for all the international companies to come to the kingdom and take advantage of the opportunities rising in Saudi Arabia”, explains Rabbat.
And according to the market needs, REC organised eight shows during 2011. “The way we do our shows is diversifying and in line with the needs of the market. Most of them are trade shows, B2B with international companies and local companies who are interested to enter this wealthy country”, says Rabbat. The REC shows follow the business opportunities of the Kingdom and are focused on tourism, health, education, electricity and energy, telecom and IT, agriculture, building, plastic and packaging and a motor show to complete the year.
However, there are still restrictions for the growth of the MICE sector in the Kingdom that can be summarised in three: the visa process that has nevertheless ease over the years; the segregation of sexes, that blocks women entrance to some of the shows and the lack of infrastructure to accommodate the growing demand.
For Rabbat “the visa process is not a big issue compared to what it used to be. There are a lot of facilities now given to international exhibitors. What we feel is more important and needed now is to lift the ban on females to attend to some of our exhibitions”.
Rabbat explains that at the higher education show they invite over 300 universities and for the last two years they have had the visas granted for ladies “without any problems”. However, for some other exhibitions as MEDICARE, the process is more tedious. “We are in talks with the Ministry to open the show to the ladies and normally, if you ask for something that is feasible it is granted.
Finally, according to the general manager of Riyadh Exhibition Company, the infrastructure is a problem only in the short term. In the long run it is already solved. There are a number of new four and five stars hotels being built to accommodate the demand and there is a project within the Chamber of Commerce to expand the space for exhibitions in the capital.
“As the demand on exhibition space becomes stronger, so does the interest of investors looking for MICE programs promoting also other cities like Qassim, Baha, etc. Exhibitions are the right spark that ignites business as they attract companies and investors where they can meet, discuss and seal”, proclaims Rabbat.
“I would like to give the chance to all international companies to look to Saudi Arabia as a good destination for their future business, not only big companies, but also medium and small companies that should come by themselves find the right partner to do business here and see what is here for them”, he finishes.