Backed by a growing number of modern facilities and government support, Makkah is set to become a new destination for the MICE tourism industry in Saudi Arabia, according to industry experts.
Traditionally seen as a site for religious travel, Makkah is attracting a growing number of local companies and government authorities looking to combine their meeting and training requirements with Umrah pilgrimage.
Conrad Makkah Jabal Omar, the first Conrad property opened by Hilton in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, has seen its MICE business grow steadily, driven by demand from pharmaceutical companies and government entities that tend to conduct their board and annual meetings, as well as training and development programs, over weekends in the Holy City.
“There are several factors that contribute to the development of MICE tourism in Makkah, one of which is the growing supply of modern venues from new hotels that are opening in the market, equipped with the latest technology,” said Ismail Sirry, general manager of Conrad Makkah Jabal Omar. “Other factors include the improving infrastructure, companies’ desire to hold their meetings and trainings in nearby locations, and continuous government support.”
Saudi Arabia aims to become the main destination for conferences and exhibitions in the Middle East by 2020. The Kingdom has announced ambitious plans to invest USD1.6 billion in its MICE tourism industry for the coming years to 2019, and several centres and venues will benefit from this financial boost.
“Indeed, since our opening in June, we have seen very strong demand from both the public and private sector to utilize our meeting spaces for weekend meetings, as well as training and development initiatives. We expect this trend to continue growing throughout 2017, with more interest coming from energy companies, as well as banks,” Sirry added.
New infrastructure expansion projects, mainly related to transport, such as the High-Speed Rail and Metro projects, and the new hotel development projects such as Hilton Makkah Convention Hotel Jabal Omar will stimulate the MICE sector further and help it grow.
“One of the challenges of the MICE industry in Makkah is the inadequate meeting space to hold big events. With new developments entering operation soon, hotels can collaborate to drive the MICE segment in the Holy City forward,” Sirry said, adding that Hilton Makkah Convention Hotel Jabal Omar, for example, will add up to 1800 seat in meeting space when it opens in 2017.