Show analysis: The Biggest 5 ever?
With more than 2,700 exhibitors and upwards of 75,000 anticipated visitors, The Big 5 2014 is on course to be the largest iteration in the show’s history. Is this an affirmation that Dubai’s construction sector is back in business? James Morgan reports
In terms of exhibitors, this year’s Big 5 is the largest in the show’s history.
The Dubai-based construction event has sold out of exhibitor space for the first time since 2009 – the last time Dubai World Trade Centre expanded its capacity. Prospective exhibitors have had to add their names to a waiting list in order to secure stands for future shows.
“This year’s Big 5 is the largest ever,” explained group event director, Andy White.
“For the first time since the Sheikh Saeed Halls at Dubai World Trade Centre were completed in 2009, the show is completely sold out. That means every metre of space in the halls and very metre of space in the concourses.
“We even have a waiting list, which is something we’ve never had before, and something – quite frankly – we didn’t expect at all. It’s something we’re not completely happy about, I have to say. But that will change, hopefully, in 2016, when Dubai World Trade Centre builds a new hall for us,” he added.
White and his colleagues are currently playing host to more than 2,700 exhibitors from 60 countries, 25% of whom had never appeared at the show before. This represents an 8% increase over 2013.
Last year, the Big 5 attracted more than 74,000 industry professionals from 124 countries, but speaking at a pre-show press conference, the event director was confident that the 2014 iteration would surpass this figure.
“The programme has increased our audience appeal and attracts a more diverse group of visitors,” he commented.
“This year, there will be 55 CPD-certified workshops, allowing attendees to learn at the show and earn professional recognition,” said White.
The show’s organisers contend that the Big 5’s rude health is a reflection of the UAE’s resurgent construction sector.
“The Big 5 in Dubai has always been a reliable barometer of the industry, and year on year – even through the recent global financial crisis – the event has grown,” said Matt Denton, senior vice president for construction at the show’s organiser, dmg events.
“With this troubled period now behind us, we are set to see our strongest show yet,” he added.
Encouragingly for the region, dmg’s confidence isn’t limited to the UAE. Building on the success of the flagship Dubai iteration, the event organiser is continuing to push forward with shows in previously unexplored territories, tentatively slating a 2015 launch window for the Big 5 Egypt.
“In recent years, we’ve taken the brand abroad; first to Saudi, and more recently to Kuwait and India,” said Denton.
“Next year will see additions in Indonesia and, hopefully, Egypt,” he revealed.
This expansion forms part of dmg’s strategy to take advantage of the international nature of its Dubai show. Between 60% and 65% of those exhibiting at this year’s event hail from outside the GCC. Denton says that this growth has enabled his team to pursue regional spin-offs.
“It’s a testament to the strength and the brand values that we’ve created in Dubai,” he explained.
“The international construction community trusts and respects The Big 5 brand, and follows us into exciting new territories,” added Denton.
As for the Dubai show, White contends that his team has achieved a GCC “turnaround” over the last five years. Following the global economic crisis of 2008/9, the dmg focused on attracting international buyers to meet with UAE exhibitors. the Big 5 2014, meanwhile, features government-funded pavilions from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait – another first.
“Over the last five years, the construction market has changed considerably,” said White, who arrived in the UAE at the height of the crisis.
“[Dubai] was previously one of the biggest construction markets in the world, where any idea was possible. The new reality was that most projects had stalled, and there were very few construction products and materials actually being awarded or sold in the region.
“During that difficult period, we focused all our efforts on bringing in buyers from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Kuwait. Our short-term objective was to reduce our reliance on Dubai,” he recounted.
White contends that the good times have returned for Dubai’s construction market – an argument that is supported by the exhibitor make-up of the Big 5 2014.
“It’s perhaps ironic – in fact, it’s very ironic – that whilst we’ve spent the last few years trying to attract more buyers from other GCC countries to Dubai, next week’s event will – for the first time – see three large government-funded pavilions from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, looking to meet UAE buyers,” he explained.
“That really is a turnaround from where we were five years ago,” White added.
However, the appeal of this year’s show has not been limited to the Middle East. More than 30 international pavilions are currently vying for the attentions of UAE buyers. the Big 5 2014 has even succeeded in attracting exhibitors from struggling, farther-afield markets.
“This year’s event has attracted more international exhibitors than ever before,” revealed White.
“International companies see the Middle East – particularly the GCC – as a serious export market. Some of our largest international pavilions are from countries you might expect not to be active right now. Italy is our largest pavilion.
“We’re very proud to see an increasing number of exhibitors from countries where construction is slow. In Europe particularly – Italy, Spain, Greece – there’s very little construction. The companies there that are making construction products are looking at the Middle East and they’re exporting. They’re getting funded to do this, and they need to do this to survive,” he said.
This will come as no surprise to many, especially considering the growth that the region’s construction community has been experiencing of late. A Ventures Middle East report commissioned by the Big 5 suggests that GCC countries will award more than $196bn worth of construction contracts during 2014, a significant improvement over last year.
“This is up almost $34bn compared to 2013,” said Denton.
“Here in the UAE, Ventures forecasts a 4% increase in the country’s GDP this year. This is fuelled by the construction sector,” he explained.
Having gauged the views of exhibitors on the show floor, it’s difficult to disagree with Denton’s assessment. With expectations running high in the lead-up to the Expo 2020 decision, the mood at the Big 5 2013 was one of excitement. This year, it is one of assuredness.
Broader considerations such as the price of oil and political instability remain causes for concern, but those in attendance seem confident in the prospects of the Middle East’s construction sector, in and of itself.
If the Big 5 in Dubai is – as Denton suggests – a barometer for the industry, the regional forecast is looking pretty bright.