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Dubai - the essential events hub

By Bindu Suresh Rai

Flashback one decade ago and Hollywood scouts were hardly clued into an emirate in the Arabian peninsula that would one day serve as a backdrop for one of the biggest money spinning film franchises of the millennium.

Today, the world knows “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” not only for Tom Cruise’s death-defying stunts atop Burj Khalifa, but also for the emergence of Dubai as a film-making hub that will certainly scale dizzying heights in the coming years.

Credit for this can be given only to the visionary leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who realised the potential of transforming this emirate into the crown jewel of the region for hosting world class events and courting international celebrities to firmly place Dubai on the world map.

The city’s open-door policy and warm hospitality even had the stickler for perfection, Cruise himself uttered the first words when he was in the emirate in December for his film’s world premiere during the Dubai International Film Festival, thanking this country’s dynamic leader, saying: “I would like to thank Sheikh Mohammed for the hospitality that has been extended to us here.

“I have literally seen Dubai grow into this miraculous city that risen from the desert in a few short years. Today, I see it turning into an important film-making hub in the region.”

Cruise’s words serve as a cherry on top for the changing landscape in the meetings and events arena over the last 10 years, which has seen world-class entertainment acts, international celebrities and business enterprises being courted by Dubai.

Yet, as the events have grown bigger and bolder, the one constant that has remained through it all is Sheikh Mohammed’s own personal interest in ensuring standards are set to better themselves with each passing year.

The business landscape

Today, the emirate’s business calendar boasts top-notch events that are held under Sheikh Mohammed’s patronage that few can deny participating in on a macro level.

The catering industry’s Gulf Educational Supplies and Solutions is a juggernaut in its field, while the Arabian Travel Market conquered new heights in 2011 with the region’s leading travel industry showcase welcoming over 2,200 exhibitors from 69 countries, highlighting the underlying strength of the regional tourism industry.

Meanwhile, the region’s premiere real estate exhibition, Cityscape Global celebrated its tenth year in Dubai last year with 150 exhibitors from over 28 participating countries.

Chris Speller, group director for Cityscape, said at the time: “Cityscape has developed significantly over the past 10 years, becoming a ‘household name’ within the real estate industry… and Dubai’s position as an ideal bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa has secured its standing within the international business community.”

The technology industry’s lifeblood is the annual Gitex week, which saw Sheikh Mohammed inaugurate the 2011 edition and take a keen interest in this trade exhibition where global entities were present to conduct business with many of the world’s most illustrious technology organisations.

Last year, more than 3,500 companies from 57 countries were present to showcase their latest products and services to more than 130,000 visitors at the five-day event.

Of course, capping off last year’s business calendar was the bi-annual Dubai Airshow, that Sheikh Mohammed ensured would be the icing on the cake of a promising 2012 ahead.

The exhibition heralded resurgence in the aerospace industry, with an order book that boasted a whopping $63.3 billion, more than four times larger than the previous event in 2009 with $14 billion in orders.

Needless to say, the Dubai-based Emirates led the way with signing a deal for 50 Boeing 777-300ER (Extended Range) aircraft, plus options for an additional 20, which, with a value of $26bn, makes it the single largest commercial aircraft order in Boeing’s 95 year history, in dollar value.

Naturally, the world sat up and took notice; and the five-day affair proved its worth as 960 exhibitors, up by eight per cent on 2009, and 56,548 visitors made the 12th edition the biggest as well as the most colourful yet.

Entertainment arena

Last year’s success story was evident by the growth in the business calendar, but Sheikh Mohammed’s quest for perfection saw no reason to limit Dubai’s growth in the events arena.

While the business hub was growing by leaps and bounds, his patronage for the arts and culture continued its steady climb last year, reaching a pinnacle of success after a decade of hard work and tireless efforts by Sheikh Mohammed.

The last few years have seen Hollywood and Bollywood names such as Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Owen Wilson, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, AR Rahman and many others jet into Dubai for respective film shoots world premieres and promotional blitzkriegs for their upcoming projects.

Ten years ago, one would have hardly imagined Dubai as a hub for international filmmakers; while today, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’s” turn in the spotlight is a milestone in a decade worth of hard work that saw movies such as Clooney’s award-winning “Syrianna” and Jamie Foxx’s “The Kingdom” also being filmed here in the recent past.

Adding to the glitz was the birth of the Dubai International Film Festival eight years ago, that Sheikh Mohammed envisioned and pioneered in the region before other emirates and countries followed suit.

In these eight years, Dubai has not only courted the biggest names in the entertainment arena, but have also launched a local film industry hub that has seen young Emirati hopefuls chase the dream of the bright lights one day.

Meanwhile, the entertainment landscape has also seen the music industry’s biggest names take to the stage here in these past few years, with Usher and Amy Winehouse leading the way last year, who were only following in the footsteps of seasoned acts such as Kylie Minogue, Kanye West, Craig David, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and many, many more.

Annual programmes such as the Dubai Jazz Festival and Desert Rhythm simply add to the glam quotient that this emirate has been offering of late.

A week into the New Year and one can only expect 2012 to even better what the last decade or so has offered; and with Sheikh Mohammed at the helm, Dubai’s ship can only sail into unchartered territories in the future and discover new ground that would even pale next to Christopher Columbus’ voyages of yore.