Arabian nights

At the end of March this year, the annual Gulf Incentives, Business Travel & Meetings Expo (GIBTM) wrapped up another successful run. During the two-day event, some 250 hosted buyers from around the world, and representatives from up to 300 exhibitors, came together in Abu Dhabi to talk shop and cut deals. 

Each evening, after an intense workday, the show’s organiser, Reed Exhibitions, scheduled a networking party at one of the city’s landmark venues. It was not an easy crowd to please. Lois Hall, GIBTM exhibition manager,  said there were nearly 800 applications submitted for the hosted buyer programme but only one third of them were selected, leaving quite a few “bruised egos”. 

“We don’t want anyone who cannot sign a contract – they have to be decision makers,” she said. 

But even these discerning globetrotters could not help but be impressed. In the first evening, delegates were invited to Rosewood Abu Dhabi for a poolside networking party. 

Built on the 114-hectare Al Maryah Island, the new commercial centre of the UAE capital, the Rosewood property offers an open harbour view and looks out across the waters to Al Zahiyah, formerly known as the Tourist Club Area and one of the city’s original business districts. 

Upon entering the pool area, guests were met by a host of surreal and striking “globrellas”, (glowing, circular umbrellas no less) interspersed among palm trees. The evening kicked off and guests began mingling over cocktails and fine wines at the circular bar, while admiring Abu Dhabi’s sparkling skyline. 

Those who prefer a more intimate setting made use of the private cabanas set against one of the walls, and as the sky darkened, the globrellas began to shine against the Arabian night. 

Things stepped up a notch on the second evening. After the show wrapped up, delegates boarded buses headed for Yas Island, a man-made land mass to the east of Abu Dhabi that‘s home to Ferrari World and Yas Marina Circuit, the venue of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009.

Buses stopped outside the Main Pit Building of Yas Marina Circuit, and entering through the foyer, guests were greeted by the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi camel mascot and a lineup of race cars. Needless to say, there was some congestion thanks to the glaring photo opportunity. Eventually, the group moved on to the outdoor promenade in front of the team villas, where waiters offered trays of cocktails and glasses of wine. 

Yas Island Rotana catered the party, and food stations were set up to present some signature dishes from its collection of restaurants, ranging from continental to Indian and Middle Eastern. One of the creations from Blue Grill, “Tiger Prawns in its Shell” – a molecular presentation of shrimp bisque “Nitro” mango, shrimp cocktail and Boston lettuce – was a real stand-out.

Behind the villas, a luxury yacht managed by Safwa Marine, anchored at the berth, was open to delegates for inspection. Called M/Y Safwa1, the 26-metre De Birs boat can be chartered, with prices starting from AED3,000 (US$817) for an Abu Dhabi Corniche sunset tour of up to 15 guests. 

At around 10pm, some delegates boarded their buses to head back to their respective hotels, while others proceeded to Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi on the other side of the marina for the late night party at Rush Nightclub, the only nightspot in the world built above a F1 racetrack. From there, revellers drank and danced while admiring the view through the hotel‘s famous Grid Shell crafted from more than 5,000 pivoting, diamond-shaped LED panes. 

The following day, members of the press were taken to another landmark in the city, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This house of worship began as a vision of the Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. After decades of meticulous construction work, it was finally realised in 2007, and has since been marvelled at by the world. 

With a capacity of up to 40,000 worshippers, this sacred structure was built with materials sourced from many countries including Greece, Italy, Germany, China, Austria, India and New Zealand. Other than an array of murals
and grand white marble columns, there is also the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet in the main prayer hall, conceived by some 1,200 artisans over two years and measuring 5,700 sqm.

The group then made a quick stop at WTC Souk, which is built on the site of the original commercial district. The three-level structure showcases a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Arabian market, housing 250 outlets, stunning public squares, a central atrium with a retractable roof and beautiful rooftop gardens. The
half-day tour wrapped up with a lunch at Emirates Palace, one of the most famous hotels in the world. Here, journalists in the group gathered round the hotel‘s famed gold-plated vending machine in the lobby before heading to Le Vendôme Brasserie to enjoy a sumptuous international buffet and view of the beach marina.

GIBTM‘s action-packed itinerary of parties and sightseeing showed delegates that Abu Dhabi is steaming ahead as a city of the future, with a soul still steeped in Arabic tradition.

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