The first phase of OCEC was launched in October 2016. What are the next steps in terms of the remaining phases and the delivery of the completed project?
We opened OCEC with our first event on October 10, 2016. OCEC is just over a year old now, and within this year, we have hosted 93 events. The current building has five exhibition halls with a total area of just over 22,000sqm, 10 hospitality suites, an extensive concourse, the main production kitchen that covers an area of almost 3,000sqm, and parking for 4,000 cars. That is Phase I of the project. By the end of 2017 or early 2018, we will have Phase II ready. This will comprise an auditorium for 450 people, 13 breakout rooms, and two multi-purpose ballrooms that can be used for banquets, breakout sessions, weddings, small exhibitions, and many other types of events. The showpiece, a main theater with seating for 3,200 people, will welcome its first visitors a little later in 2018.
What have you and the government done to differentiate Oman, and specifically OCEC, from competitors in the region?
When you come to Oman, you get an authentic and unique experience that you may not have had before. You are going to meet local people. 76% of OCEC's team members are Omani and from various parts of the Sultanate. They are very proud of their country's achievements and keen to share their experiences with visitors. This interaction with locals from the host country is an important part of the experience for international delegates. Added to this, Oman is a beautiful destination. There are so many places to go and see in Oman before or after a conference. Oman has been voted one of the top-10 must-see destinations in the world by several publications, as well as one of the best places for expatriates to live. Talking specifically about the OCEC facility, this well-designed center will be one of the easiest facilities to navigate and offers a wide range of meeting spaces along with essential support services including IT, audio and visual, and five-star catering. The delivery of our services by a dedicated team of professionals will enhance each client's experience and leave a lasting impression.
Does Oman have further plans for convention and exhibition centers in other cities to capture the MICE tourism market?
As operator of OCEC, AEG Ogden has concentrated on the OCEC project. But this is part of a precinct, and there are two hotels that are almost complete right beside us. The four-star Crowne Plaza will be ready in the next few months, and the five-star JW Marriott hotel will be finished in 2018. There will also be a business park, shopping mall, and residential area in this precinct. In turn, our precinct is going to be part of the much larger 7.4 million sqm Madinat Al Irfan Urban Development Project.
What are OCEC's main objectives for 2018 and how do you plan to achieve these?
The main objective for 2018 is to attract more exhibition business and make sure we have enough regional and international business for future years. Our long-term objective is to have a positive sustainable economic impact and help Oman's diversification program. The economic impact is not just about money coming in, it is about facilitating knowledge transfer and exchange through our events. It is also about job creation. Once the whole OCEC precinct is fully operational, it will have created around 4,000-6,000 direct jobs. We also want to support SMEs, so, where possible, we source locally from Omani companies. Around an operation like the OCEC, there are so many activities for which we rely on a range of suppliers to service the conference and events sector. Supporting SMEs and creating jobs is one of the objectives of building a convention center in Muscat.