Spotlight MEA
Fintech Middle East & Africa Spotlight

SPOTLIGHT MEA: Hosting Hybrid Tradeshows and Conferences in the Middle East During COVID-19

The pandemic has hit the economy and affected various sectors, one of which has been the global meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry. Today’s SPOTLIGHT MEA is a special edition, taking a look at the MICE industry and specifically in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) as it began hosting physical events in a hybrid format since the beginning of the effects of COVID-19 back in March 2020. 

The MICE sector (before COVID-19) was projected to hit over $1.4 trillion globally by 2025. Dubai is not only a regional hub but has also solidified its place as a global player and this also includes the MICE industry, as well as the UAE overall becoming a global player and leader in wider digital competitiveness. Dubai is home to Dubai World Trade Centre (WTC), the city’s major trade show venue that has played host to some of not only the Middle East but global ones such as Gulfood (the world’s largest annual food trade show), Arab Health (one of the world’s largest health trade shows), and GITEX (an annual consumer computer and electronics trade show, exhibition, and conference). The three examples in a pre-COVID world generally each have attendees of around 100,000 visitors or more from across the world; the ladder is planning to happen in the 6th-10th December in a hybrid physical and virtual format.

Hybrid Trade Shows And Restarting The MICE Sector

What is a hybrid trade show format? It has elements of a traditional trade show or conference where it is hosted in a trade show venue, hotel conference area or another venue. Just like the rest of the world events in Dubai and the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region generally as a whole had to either be postponed and/or go completely virtual due to COVID-19. A hybrid format allows for a return of pre-pandemic days, particularly for places whom for the most part have their COVID-19 number under control such as Dubai who began welcoming tourists again from July.

Much of the world is still undergoing its difficulties with the pandemic but Dubai has been able to begin reopening its economy. In July the city’s first major LIVE IN-PERSON business event, The Ai Everything x Restart Dubai Summer Conference was at Dubai (DWTC), held under the Patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; the event was hosted by the National Program For Artificial Intelligence.

A Hybrid Finnovex Summit in Dubai

Another recent event, which was organised by Exibex who do the Finnovex Global Series, recently hosted the Finnovex Middle East 2020 at the Conrad Dubai from the 3rd and 4th of November. It potentially was one of the first major summits in the world to have a hybrid model since the start of the pandemic.

The summit featured thought leaders from top banks and financial institutions from the region and beyond as they lay out the transformational goals and aimed to have over 200 delegates attending in-person.

Commenting on prior to the event, Mr. Shabaz Ahmed, Executive Director at Exibex, said, “Exibex is proud to present Finnovex Middle East 2020 at a time when the finance industry is witnessing a never-before-seen metamorphosis. We are delighted to have the opportunity to organize Finnovex in hybrid format in the UAE, which is perceived among the safest destinations to host global events and exhibitions for diverse international community.”

The First B2B Tradeshow in Dubai

Seamless Middle East returned for its 20th year on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th November as the world of payments, fintech, retail and e-commerce adapt to the ‘new normal’, focusing on key themes such as cashless initiatives and the exponential growth of e-commerce. The conference and exhibition is dedicated to helping businesses capitalise on new business opportunities accelerated by the pandemic.

Participants were able to attend Seamless Middle East 2020 in person at Dubai World Trade Centre or attend virtually. The conferences were also a hybrid format; pictured are Richie Santosdiaz (left) and Chris Gledhill (right)
Participants were able to attend Seamless Middle East 2020 in person at Dubai World Trade Centre or attend virtually. The conference speakers were also a hybrid format such as pictured with fintech and futurist expert Chris Gledhill (right) giving a virtual keynote presentation on “Goodbye Cash, Goodbye Privacy” to a live audience both at Dubai World Trade Centre and via a global virtual one

Despite the challenges of the current pandemic, it was held both physically at Dubai’s World Trade Centre (WTC) and virtually – unique as much of the world at present still remain to be virtual. Held under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant-General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Interior, and in partnership with the Dubai Free Zone Council and Dubai Economy, Seamless Middle East brought industry leaders at a time when it is needed most.

Seamless Middle East General Manager, Joseph Ridley, commented prior to the event, “Seamless Middle East is proud to lead the way for B2B events in the region and will run following the strictest health and safety guidelines. Whilst it will be different this year, we are grateful and excited to receive such fantastic support from both our government partners and the business community.”

It was the first B2B trade show to have happened physically alongside another trade show called Cityscape (a tradeshow in the retail and property industry), which also happened in a hybrid model. Having attended Seamless Middle East 2020 myself as a guest moderator in the hybrid format, the organisers of the event, Terrapinn and the WTC venue, did a great job in ensuring the safety and health of participants were of the most importance – mask wearing, sterilisation, social distancing, AI-powered thermal temperature cameras – to name a few. Fellow visitors and also those from the previous physical/hybrid events mentioned most likely felt the same.

The FinTech Times launching its SPOTLIGHT series, commencing first with SPOTLIGHT MEA alongside its new Middle East & Africa section this past summer, has looked at various topics and spoken to thought leaders across the fintech ecosystem. Today’s SPOTLIGHT MEA is a special edition due to the nostalgia many across the world see in the days of trade shows and conference – both in fintech and generally across other sectors. The fact that hybrid trade shows in the MICE industry, such as in the fintech ecosystem with Finnovex, Seamless Middle East and the upcoming GITEX, have slowly started happening or will happen, shows a sign of hope for the rest of the world that COVID-19 will one day pass. Having attended hundreds of trade shows in my life across the world with my economic development hat, it was nice to see the MICE industry take baby steps in restarting with a hybrid physical and virtual model.

It may take a while to go back to normal in a post-COVID world, but, as a global community one step at a time is needed; the recent first hybrid events in Dubai have shown that.


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

Related posts

PensionBee Finds Most Savers Expect Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting

Polly Jean Harrison

Revolut Business Partners With Adzooma for Industry First Business Marketing Cashback Incentive

Polly Jean Harrison

Behind the Idea: Phos and Mastercard

Gina Clarke