Dr Debbie Kristiansen, GM of EWB, tells EW about a rewarding first year of operation at the Middle East’s newest venue
Congratulations on completing your first year of operation! Can you provide an overview of the past year's highlights and achievements for Exhibition World Bahrain (EWB)?
We are extremely delighted to celebrate EWB’s inaugural year. Since its inauguration in November 2022, EWB has proudly positioned itself as the Middle East’s ideal venue for hosting major local, regional, and international events, being the newest and one of the largest exhibition and convention centres across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
In the span of nine months, EWB has hosted a total of over 138 events and is targeting multiple sizeable local, regional, and international exhibitions and conventions for the rest of this year.
For the first time in five years, the Kingdom of Bahrain has re-entered the top 100 in the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Global Rankings, claiming the 89th position for international events held in 2022 at EWB, which is considered the highest ranking for Bahrain in the last decade.
Bahrain’s re-entry into global rankings is a major achievement for the Kingdom and a clear sign of its impact and growing value as a strategic and appealing destination for business tourism. This is due to the tireless efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), with the launch of EWB in 2022 as a key factor in this recognition.
Moreover, EWB and the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA) were declared winners of the Eventseum Hall of Fame’s 2021 Global Innovation Award for Convention and Conference Centres in two separate categories: new construction and sole winner for the EMEA region during the IMEX 2022 Exhibition.
In addition, EWB has been nominated as the Middle East's leading exhibition and convention centre for 2023 through the annual World Travel Awards.
How has EWB performed in terms of visitor attendance and exhibitor participation during its inaugural year?
The venue recorded a robust footfall, offering an exceptional experience for all visitors, exhibitors, and event organisers. EWB has received more than half a million local and international visitors since opening.
EWB encompasses 10 versatile exhibition halls of different ceiling heights with a total area of 95,000sqm, all of which are equipped with the essential technical services and storage spaces, together with independent exits and entrances.
The Convention Centre at EWB includes an extraordinary Grand Hall that offers world-class flexibility in design with multiple configurations to incorporate and customise every type of event, from conferences to large weddings, graduations, theatrical performances, gala celebrations, and so much more. It features retractable seating with rows of multiple tiers, with up to 4,000 guests’ capacity, 19 translation booths, cutting-edge audio-visual services, and three dedicated bridal suites and VIP Majlisis.
In addition, the Grand Hall includes operable walls that allow the hall to be subdivided into up to five separate areas or utilised as one large area, fully adaptable and flexible to cater to any type of event. The venue also offers its own in-house bespoke catering and culinary services and a fully equipped kitchen that can accommodate any style of catering requirements. The Grand Hall is a venue for all occasions and will redefine weddings in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the region.
Can you share some insights into the types of exhibitions and events that were hosted at EWB over the past year? Were there any standout themes or trends?
EWB managed to host a fully packed agenda of large exhibitions, conventions, forums, and congresses with top topics that range from financial services, real estate, oil and gas, trade and retail, manufacturing, tourism, ICT, logistics, youth empowerment, sustainability, women's empowerment, agriculture, health care, education, and much more, serving varied regional and international audiences.
Our biggest success stories during the inaugural year were hosting Jewellery Arabia 2022, Scent Arabia 2022, and Cityscape Bahrain 2022 under one roof, which attracted over 69,000 visitors combined. The Autumn Fair 2022, the Kingdom’s most renowned retail fair, drew over 165,000 visitors and 650 exhibitors from 16 countries. Other events drew thousands of visitors, such as the Bahrain International Garden Show (BIGS), the Middle East Oil & Gas & Geosciences Show (MEOS/GEO), the Arab International Cybersecurity, the 146th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, and many others.
To date, EWB in collaboration with Al Dana Amphitheatre, has hosted three live concerts, collectively attracting over 12,000 local, regional, and international guests. Delivering an unforgettable live experience, Hall 5 hosted an impressive line-up of celebrities, including the internationally renowned singer-songwriter Halsey, Nabeel Shuail, and Miami Band from Kuwait, the renowned British funk and acid jazz band Jamiroquai, and the American singer-songwriter and record producer Charlie Puth at the end of September.
The world-famous Imperial Russian Ballet performed Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, "A Night of Three Tales, and other breathtaking world-class ballet shows at the grand hall for the first time in Bahrain. The Grand Hall allowed the troupe to host on its stage magnificent productions with complex scenography, scenery changes, and a grand orchestra.
How has EWB contributed to the local economy and business community during its first year of operation?
The MICE industry in Bahrain has undergone a quantum leap during EWB’s inaugural year, which has been a milestone for the Kingdom’s infrastructure development and part of a larger investment in key strategic projects that contribute to economic development efforts.
By its key role in placing greater attention on Bahrain as the region's newest destination to attract the world's most prestigious events, EWB complements the Kingdom’s great appeal and adds to its business tourism offering, leading the way to becoming a regional leader for MICE.
Hosting over 138 events in less than a year has achieved direct economic returns and has had a positive impact on the tourism and hospitality industries. With plans to attract more international events, this will ensure Bahrain continues to rank higher each year and, more crucially, will make it easier for the Kingdom of Bahrain to benefit from more trade and investment.
EWB will contribute to the achievement of the Tourism Strategy 2022-2026 and Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 objectives by diversifying income and relying more on the non-oil sector to keep the economy moving towards larger horizons of growth and prosperity, building on Bahrain’s appealing investment features of ease of doing business, advanced infrastructure, 100% foreign ownership and gateway to the GCC’s $2.1 trillion trade market.
Steered by the national efforts to empower Bahraini youth as the first choice in the labour market, EWB has had a positive impact on creating new jobs for many well-trained Bahraini talents in various professions and sections, who thrive on the excitement of developing events that create opportunity and connection. And we are proud to hire Bahraini meticulous planners, innovative thinkers, relationship specialists, and acutely experienced business leaders who are highly passionate about their MICE work.
Are there any success stories or notable achievements from exhibitions or events hosted at EWB that you would like to highlight?
The inauguration of the centre coincided with the launch of three major annual exhibitions that the Kingdom hosted for the first time on the centre’s new grounds. These include Jewellery Arabia 2022, the largest jewellery exhibition in the Middle East; Scent Arabia 2022, which was held for the first time in the Kingdom of Bahrain; and finally, Cityscape Bahrain, which is also one of the largest real estate events in the Middle East.
Jewellery Arabia, the Middle East's premier jewellery and watch event, celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with 54,000sqm of exhibition space. This five-day show has a 30-year track record of success, bringing together the world's most desirable brands and extraordinary designers with discerning buyers.
For the first time since the event’s inception, EWB welcomed the 12th Youth City 2030 at its venue, opening its doors for a full month of events, offering more than 100 programmes and 2,740 training opportunities.
Looking ahead, what are your future plans and goals for EWB in terms of expanding its portfolio of events and reaching new milestones?
EWB is set to ring in the new year with a full calendar of regional and international events, from large conventions and exhibitions to live concerts, galas, banquets, graduation celebrations, and other events.
Based on the higher demand for large-scale wedding venues and Bahrain’s new endeavour to become the leading regional spot for large bridal occasions, EWB and BTEA have developed direct contacts with top wedding planners and bridal event stakeholders, offering special wedding services and promoting Bahrain’s distinctive elements in wedding planning to attract more potential wedding couples and families regionally and globally.
Can you share any sustainability initiatives or efforts that EWB has undertaken to minimise its environmental impact?
In line with Bahrain's drive to generate clean energy, EWB a solar power project in the Sakhir area and has installed solar panels at various sites to generate renewable energy, which would contribute to a decrease in traditional energy expenditure. The EWB was also constructed with several environmental factors and high-quality insulation standards in mind.
Are there any specific sectors or industries that EWB aims to target for growth in the coming year?
Guided by the Bahrain Vision 2030 targeted non-oil sectors, EWB aims to target various industries such as: healthcare, technology, artificial intelligence, micro-electronics, cybersecurity, downstream, aluminium, renewable energy, tourism, sustainability, manufacturing, logistics & transportation, financial services, sports, education, food security and agriculture, telecommunications, water utilities, automotive, beauty, fashion, and design, and the luxury market. All these sectors offer opportunities for profitable events, conferences, exhibitions, and investments in the Kingdom as the tourism industry continues to expand.
Moreover, the Tourism Strategy 2022–2026 is focusing on seven main pillars: MICE and business, sports and recreation, maritime and waterfronts, leisure and entertainment, media and film, medical and wellbeing, and culture and heritage, for the sake of increasing the tourism contribution to the GDP, diversifying tourism products, and promoting Bahrain as an international tourism hub. Our devoted teams are tirelessly working around the clock to attract the largest international exhibitions and congresses that serve all sectors of the Kingdom.
Lastly, what message or invitation would you like to extend to potential exhibitors, visitors, and partners for the upcoming year at EWB?
With its state-of-the-art amenities, spacious halls and contemporary design, EWB is the next destination to host world-class conventions and exhibitions. Thus, we welcome all types of businesses and MICE planners to Bahrain in search of an outstanding experience rich in effective knowledge-sharing, productive networking, memorable enjoyment, and fruitful outcomes.
EWB also provides event clients with a variety of branding options and digital screens that can be hired out not just during events but also throughout the year.
EWB is introducing a new industry to the Kingdom, and we are all about generating a long-term legacy for Bahrain and elevating its MICE offering by focusing on delivering exceptional MICE experiences and ensuring success for all event organisers every time.