Email the editor

Muted response to Saudi Arabia’s international meetings bid

The Kingdom is launching its first international meetings industry campaign at IMEX next month

Tariq A. Al-Essa, executive director of the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau

Saudi Arabia’s decision to promote the country as a destination for international meetings, conventions and exhibitions has met with scepticism in the industry.

The move is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 – a road-map setting out economic and social policies designed to move the Kingdom’s economy away from its dependence on oil.

The country will be exhibiting at IMEX in Frankfurt, the meetings industry trade show, next month (16-18 May).

It is unclear how western markets, in particular, will respond to the initiative. Although an ally of the West, the country is perhaps better known for its insularity, harsh punishments, and restrictions on women.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) is behind the promotional push along with the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau, which was formed four years ago.

London-based PR firm Clareville Communications has been hired to oversee the campaign.

Under the National Transformation Plan, the centrepiece of Vision 2030, the SCTH is investing almost SAR 26 billion (EURO 6.5bn) on initiatives around the country.

Tariq A. Al-Essa, executive director of the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau, said: “As the worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events, IMEX in Frankfurt is the perfect place for us to meet thousands of influential event and meetings buyers face-to-face and to show them the opportunities in Saudi Arabia and many superb facilities that we could offer them.”

However congress organisers and association executives expressed doubts that the Kingdom would be able to attract international delegates. One leading medical association executive said Saudi Arabia's human rights record would be ‘considered highly,’ while the events coordinator of a major education association said issues around equality would ‘obviously be an issue’.

Jeffers Miruka, executive director of the African Society of Association Executives, said Saudi Arabia had a ’lot of homework to do’ in relation to ‘human rights and women’s rights’ before it could be taken seriously as a competitor to other countries in the Middle East, such as UAE.

He said: “It's all about perception. Nobody wants to take an event to a place where a section of your delegates feels constrained or aren't free to be who they are, or where social freedom is under constant surveillance. I have no doubt that Saudi Arabia could have wonderful facilities that can deliver wonderful events, but it goes beyond that."


  • Dave Lally 08/05/2017

    Most of our specific genre (ie SF: Science Fiction incl fantasy etc which attracts HUGE nos to Conventions elsewhere and which is a growing MICE area) is effectively BANNED there and IMO most SF people wouldn't touch the place with a huge barge pole! (Sorry S/Arabia: but yr overall attitude to stuff we in the west find normal is appalling: esp yr attitude to women and to what we call "human rights" !) NB: however, I fully accept and note --for religious reasons-- that **some** aspects of SF esp some re fantasy areas can cause issues re the Holy Book of The Quran (that is clearly agreed by me). But there is also what we call "political" SF which in most autocratic societies is a clear no-no (in that it can be seen to challenge the existing status quo or give ideas to people there to so challenge). Such areas in SF are quite normal in most democratic societies (eg "1984" (Orwell), "Fahrenheit 451" (Bradbury) and "The Prisoner (TV series)" (McGoohan). Sorry but that is my opinion and this is my personal one -and *not necessarily* aligned with any SF organisation I am connected to (though many therein would quietly agree with me). Sadly, I wont now be able to attend IMEX 2017 but hope to get to 2018.

  • Anonymous user 05/05/2017

    Absolutely not. When there are so many amazing locations on the face of the planet why would I inflict this on myself or my delegates? I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

Facebook Share Twitter Share LinkeIn Share