How would you assess the development of the center so far in its lead up to the launch next year?
This project has been in the making for some time. The OCEC is being built in two phases. Phase I, the exhibition center, which includes 22,000sqm of exhibition space and 10 hospitality meeting suites, will be opening early next year. Phase II is the remainder of the convention center, which will feature a 3,200 seat auditorium, a smaller auditorium with 450 seats, 13 meeting rooms, two ballrooms that can be subdivided, a business center, a VIP pavilion, and all of the associated facilities. The convention center will be ready for business in December 2017 and there are already three confirmed events lined up for that month. The main reasons for building the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre are firstly for economic growth, but also for the development of SMEs and the creation of employment opportunities. Around 90% of the businesses in Oman are SMEs and one of the OCEC's prime objectives is to generate increased business for them.
The Centre is already engaging with various SMEs that are relevant for the operation of OCEC across the board. Where possible, the center is trying to source as many requirements as possible for the operation of the venue from local companies. SMEs will be needed for a diverse array of services ranging from kitchen supplies, equipment, print, design, and limousine services. It has already engaged SMEs by bringing them on-site and delivering presentations about the OCEC, its function, and the potential for SME involvement. We also held a large event in 2014 with the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), with the aim of introducing 15 international buyers to the Omani marketplace as well as introducing local stakeholders such as government ministries, hoteliers, destination management companies, professional congress organizers, and all others who could have an interest in the OCEC's business to the expectations and requirements of international organizers.
How does the OCEC cooperate with Riyada, the Public Authority for SME Development, to facilitate SME involvement?
We could not have achieved success without them. We hosted a specialized event last year for SMEs, where we worked in close collaboration to identify target sectors within their database. We will continue to build upon our partnership to best support the future development of SMEs.
What will be the primary benefits of the OCEC for Oman, in both the short and long term?
In the short term, the economic impact is critical, but one of our main reasons is that we are here to promote knowledge exchange. For example, if we host an international healthcare event, we are going to be attracting the best medical minds in the world. We have identified 120-140 international association members who are renowned in their field, all of whom are Omani. Attracting large-scale international conferences is quite a long process, as the lead-time for an international conference can be anything up to 10 years. We may have an attractive destination, but unless we have an active and local member who is going to put himself forward as part of team Oman, we are not going to bring in these events. We will also be looking to host exhibition events, small meetings, local corporate events, weddings, and even incentive programs. There is the flexibility for us to host a range of other cultural and entertainment events, which is an added bonus.
Focusing on exposure, what interest has the OCEC attracted internationally?
There are various criteria involved in the decision making process for those we target. We are focusing on international associations no matter where they are based, pinpointing the reasons for them to come to Oman. Our process starts with research. We look at international events that are meaningful to Oman, and that tie in with the nation's economy-based goals, outlined in the national strategy; Vision 2020 and the upcoming Vision 2040.
How do you see the center developing Oman's business tourism segment and complementing other countries in the region?
Oman is a relatively new area for international associations to come to. There is always the question as to what the objectives of international associations are, and it is likely that it is to drive membership in the respective region. Some conference subjects certainly have more potential than others in this region. For example, there is a high percentage of diabetes in the region, and consequently that is the type of event we aim to bring to Oman. There is a relatively low number of meetings' destinations in the Gulf region and the opening of our new Centre in Oman will compliment existing facilities in the region and give more choice to clients wishing to introduce events into the GCC.