THE MAIN EVENT

Saudi Arabia 2019-2020 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Zohair Al Sarraj, CEO of the Specialist – ExiCon International Group, on long-term partnerships, the impact of Vision 2030, and plans for the coming years.

How would you position yourself within the business event landscape, and what are your main strengths?

We are a full-service events management company that can handle all event-related aspects from the pre-event preparation and marketing phases to onsite event logistics and post-event phases. We are a company that can operate as both the organizer were we have several event concepts that we initiate and also as the executor for events related to governmental bodies and corporate entities across the Middle East. I would say that our main goal through our events is to contribute to the development and reinforcement of the industries' performances and establish new grounds to work from. Being an organizer of events we initiate, the research, project management and scientific committee support we offer our clients and highly effective event marketing techniques are some of our strengths. Our main strength though is our team of professionals which I am truly proud of have.

There are various recurring events in your portfolio, happening on annual or bi-annual basis for example. Could you give some examples of these long-term partnerships and what benefits it offers for all parties involved?

Indeed, we always aim to have sustainable event concepts which can be done several times in different locations and maintain strategic partnerships. We started with the International Operations & Maintenance Conference (OMAINTEC) which was held 16 times before in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. The 17th edition will be held on November 19th to 21st 2019 in Dubai under the patronage of H.E. Dr. Abdallah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the Minister of Infrastructure Development. The OMAINTEC conference is actually an example of how initiatives made in a conference can transform into institutions where the Arab Council for Operations and Maintenance was established during the 3rd OMAINTEC in June 2004 at Beirut. We organized as well the Arab Desalination Conference (ARWADEX) 12 times, held previously in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt and always attained official patronage from officials where the event was held in. Also we are the proud executing party of the Saudi Law Conference organized by Burhan Almarifa & LexisNexis. The first edition was held in 2018 under the patronage of H.E. the Minister of Justice Dr. Walid Bin Muhammad Al Samaani. The 2nd edition was just announced as well to be held on November 3rd to 5th 2019 at the King Faisal Conventions Center under the patronage of H.E. the Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi.

A global trend in the event industry is technology, increasingly important to attract visitors and engage with the attendees and those that are following on distant. What is your approach on bringing technology in?

Technology is evolving greatly within the events industry and we are on constant look-out to keep up with the latest advancements. The use of digital marketing techniques and social media has become our main marketing channels for our events. As for engaging with attendees and as part of our all in one events management software, the use of electronic newsletters and the mobile app has proved to be very effective.

What do you estimate to be the impact of Vision 2030 on the events industry?

Saudi's 2030 Vision incorporates more than 500 initiatives within 18 ministries and public authorities, and the Specialist - ExiCon International Group has formed an alliance in respect of these initiatives. The events industry can help by producing on average at least two events per initiative. Within this time frame we can do 1,500 events to help reach the objectives of each initiative within the ministries. For example, there are healthcare initiatives relating to topics such as medical insurance, digitization, medication, and communication with patients at home. The Ministry of Health will take all the steps it can to reach these targets. To achieve this you need international exhibits, consultants, and user involvement, so you need a forum such as a big seminar or conference targeting, for example, the issue of medical insurance. This forum allows the sector here to listen to what other people and countries have done and exchange experiences with international medical insurance providers. There are many experiences from around the world—some are good for Saudi and we might customize some of those, and others are not so good or relevant. The Specialist - ExiCon International Group can create events to cover all these different areas. Digital transformation is another important topic. Today Saudi Arabia is ranked in the top five globally in terms of e-government transactions. There are a lot of digital transformation events we can do in Saudi Arabia. Smart cities are another objective and these relate to Industry 4.0—the new industrial revolution. There are many topics that can be discussed within Industry 4.0. Saudi Arabia is also moving to have its military manufacturing locally within the Kingdom. We also have big plans to do more exploration and extraction of minerals in Saudi Arabia, and we can collaborate with Ma'aden in this sphere.

What are your primary ambitions for the years ahead?

The Kingdom is developing greatly in all aspects as part of Vision 2030 and contributing to these developments through our events is our main goal. Vision 2030 is focusing on new technology and how to bring it to Saudi Arabia, which is another great sphere of interest. In all these projects there is a big push for the international contractors and consultants to involve Saudi engineers and employees and to make them part of the technology being used in these projects. We are now planning to launch a big project about digital transformation internationally and the technology debate to talk about how technology will help the people and to address their fears. Education and training should focus on redirecting people towards these new jobs. We also have a project with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), where we aim to improve their model of training by organizing some conferences about this new model. Also on a regional scale and adding to our offices in Riyadh, Beirut, Dubai, and London, we just opened our new office in Cairo where we are very keen to organize more events in Egypt and contribute to the economic development efforts undertaken by the Egyptian government.