Optimism in Oman: UFI hosts memorable and moving Global Congress 2022

A testament to the far-reaching footprint of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, set the stage for the must-attend event of the year – an impressive, collaborative gathering of industry leaders from around the world.

The 89th edition of the UFI Global Congress, the largest and most international event of the year, took place at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Center (OCEC) from November 14-17, with over 400 delegates attending to learn, network, discuss trends and challenges, boost business and get an industry preview for 2023. A large number of participants came from markets such as Germany, Italy, UK, USA, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council region (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates).

Oman’s Minister of Heritage and Tourism, Salim bin Mohammed bin Said Al Mahroqi, attended the opening of the congress and held talks with the UFI management, emphasizing the importance of the exhibition industry for the development of Oman.

According to Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI, the 2022 UFI Global Congress will be remembered for a long time.

“We are back in the Middle East for the first time in 10 years and we are seeing significant progression in the industry across the region, with more markets increasing their infrastructure and offerings for our sector,” said Hattendorf. “We rebalanced the mix of networking time and content, the networking areas were lively, our partners’ booths were busy, and we were excited to welcome many first-time attendees.”

Hattendorf outlined some takeaways and highlights of the event.

“When you bring together industry leaders from around the world, you get a good read on the state of our industry,” he said. “A key takeaway for me is the very positive and upbeat atmosphere despite the operational challenges we all face.”

Hattendorf continued, “My three sessions were Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s keynote, our new format, the Global Exhibition Industry Board meeting and our Next Generation Leaders session on our industry’s new workforce narrative.”

Speakers and content program

With approximately 60 speakers from around the world, the congress held a combination of keynotes and breakout sessions.

Keynote speaker (and two-time Oscar winner) Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoi showed the audience the power of story to transform the world. She helped audiences understand how the invisible can be made visible and how we all have the power to change the way we think and see culture. She received a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

UFI’s Class of 2022 Next Generation Leaders, Monika Baro, Jo Kowalsky, Justine Rebel, Daniella Galante, Maria Victoria Piñeres and Jon Yahirun, followed Obaid-Chinoi’s advice and presented their own powerful words – the story of a new narrative of career to attract global talent to the exhibition industry.

Sandy Angus, President-in-Office of the Montgomery Group, chaired the first edition of a new format for the UFI Global Congress, the Global Exhibition Industry Board Meeting. During the session, leaders such as David Doft (CFO, Emerald Expositions), Anne Lafére (CEO, Easyfairs), Derar al Manaseer (Director of Strategy and Investments, ADNEC), Christian Gerdau (CIO, Messe München) and Kevin O’Donoghue ( HR Director, RX Global) discussed today’s challenges and mid-term strategies.

Also taking place for the first time, a designated speed networking session ensured that inductees, as well as congress veterans, met a number of new people before the main program.

Through a combination of session formats, delegates could engage directly with topics of specific relevance to them. The xChange stage offered an additional segment with presentations from destinations and event technology companies.

UFI members can access all discussions and presentations in the members section of the UFI website.

Net Zero Carbon Events initiative

Sustainability continues to drive much of UFI’s work. Alexander Alles, executive director of The Joint Meetings Industry Council and Hattendorf reported on the Net Zero Carbon Events roadmap, which had just been presented by them and many industry leaders at the COP27 Global Climate Conference in Sharm El Sheikh on 11 November.

Many UFI members were among the first industry groups to join the pledge, and the congress honored their pledge. UFI is proud to be one of over 400 industry entities supporting the pledge.

Hattendorf encouraged others in the industry to take immediate action in the effort to combat climate change.

“Sign up and join the initiative!” he advised. “And download and use the many resources, especially the Quick Start Guide.” It’s full of tangible, actionable advice and quick wins.”

He continued: “And in everyday life in the industry, reduce waste, get energy from renewable sources and stop using single-use plastic. Everything helps in the beginning.

Memorable moments and experiences

The 2022 UFI Global Congress included many networking opportunities and special moments. The UFI Sports Club offered running, Pilates on the beach and Omani yoga. The Grand Night Out took place under the stars at magical Turtle Bay and included many local cultural experiences. Meanwhile, the post-congress one-day tours took around 200 participants to the Grand Mosque, Muscat Souk and other selected places in the Sultanate.

“So many people were literally blown away by the hospitality and beauty of Oman,” Hattendorf said. “It offers a different experience than the more popular destinations.”

He added that the event’s host venue, OCEC, is modern and well-connected and provides the right space for exhibitions and conferences in the region.

The new UFI president

At the end of the congress, Michael Duck, Executive Vice President at Informa Markets, officially took over the post of UFI President for the coming year.

Addressing the global UFI community, Duck spoke of the industry as a “catalyst”.

“It’s a wonderful way to bring people and communities together, our hopes and aspirations,” Duck said. “I am very honored to be in this position as president and will ensure that I work hard with the UFI team and board to bring our industry back from the challenges of COVID and other economic and geopolitical issues that have affected both our businesses and lives personal.”

Duck succeeds, Monica Lee-Müller, Managing Director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center (Management) Limited. In 2023.

The UFI Global Congress – Past, Present and Future

Open to more than 50,000 industry professionals globally who work for UFI member companies, the UFI Global Congress takes place every November and is known as the largest global exhibition industry meeting of the year, traveling to corners of the globe.

Recent hosts have been Muscat, Sultanate of Oman (2022); Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2021); Bangkok, Thailand (2019); Saint Petersburg, Russia (2018); and Johannesburg, South Africa (2017).

In 2020, due to global travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the congress went digital, with programming from Hong Kong, Dubai, London and Bogota.

In 2023, the UFI Global Congress will head to Las Vegas, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is hosting the event in the US for the first time. It will take place at Aria Resort and Casino from November 1-4.

Meanwhile, at this year’s congress, UFI unveiled the site for the 2024 UFI Global Congress: Cologne, Germany. It will be hosted by Koelnmesse and will take place from 20-23 November 2024.

The new Confex Congress Center at Koelnmesse, one of the most modern trade exhibition centers in Europe, will be the host venue.

“What a way for me to end my turn as President of the UFI – to be able to share the news that our association’s biggest event will return to Cologne, one of the 20 founding members of the UFI, in 2024,” said Monica Lee-Müller, former UFI. president. “Cologne won the bid against strong competition from around the world.”

The 2024 event will arrive in a landmark year, according to Gerald Böse, CEO of Koelnmesse.

“In 2024, we will celebrate 100 years of Koelnmesse, so it will be the year when tradition and the future come together in a very special way,” said Böse. “The time and place will be right for another major event for our industry.”

The Road Ahead

Following the 2022 UFI Global Congress, Hattendorf outlined UFI’s “5 Trends to Watch” for the coming year.

“For 2023, our headlines are: We must double our customer focus. The climate crisis will hit. Data is a key asset, as are staff. And change in the industry will accelerate.”

Hattendorf is confident that optimism will prevail in 2023 as the industry moves forward while facing the challenges ahead.

“There’s a lot to be excited about,” he said. “Our Barometer research predicts that prime markets around the world will surpass their pre-pandemic size as early as 2023. China will reopen at some point. We will see progress on the journey to net zero carbon events. And we will bring our UFI Global Congress to the US in November 2023.”

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