By Kathi Everden
A golf challenge on the opening day, VIP evening preview, lunch time closures and public days … it was all very different when Arabian Travel Market kicked off back in 1994 as Multaqa, the Arabic meeting place.
Although many of the potential exhibitors were familiar with the parent show, World Travel Market in London, no-one was quite sure just how either the regional or international travel trade would respond to the launch of its first overseas event – in an untested, somewhat surprising location in the Middle East, in Dubai.
The answer was happily positive – and in fact, the first ATM was larger than the first WTM back in 1980 with around 250 exhibitors, compared to 221 for the inaugural London event.
Encompassing more than 5,500 sq metres – more than double the envisaged size – the show featured regional destinations, global hotel groups, airlines such as Lufthansa (the first to book), Emirates, British Airways, Gulf Air, Air France, Qantas, Air Lanka and Cyprus Airways, as well as car hire, travel agencies and tourist authorities from the UK to Uzbekistan, as well as Seychelles, India, Australia, Turkey, France, Germany, Hungary and China.
Coming just as Dubai and the whole region was poised on the brink of a new travel and tourism identity, Arabian Travel Market seemed bound to succeed, although it was not so evident at the time.
Dubai had just 12 deluxe and 19 first class hotels, and only two major beach resorts – the Jebel Ali Resort and Chicago Beach (the site of what is now the Jumeirah Beach Hotel) – with a couple of beach clubs operated by the Metropolitan and Hilton (the latter, a prime location now occupied by the Four Seasons).
The Royal Abjar and the JW Marriott had launched in the vanguard of a parade of global hotel names; the 242-room Forte Grand Jumeira Beach was just about to open – later to morph in to the 504-room Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa – and, taking advantage of the spotlight on Dubai, management at the Crowne Plaza on Sheikh Zayed Road brought forward the launch to coincide with the show, while Hilton had just announced plans for a luxe beach resort.
Already, some of the lofty ambition of the emirate’s rulers could be seen in the establishment of three championship-standard golf courses – following the Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek, the latest was a modest nine-hole complex called the Dubai Golf & Racing Club, which was to be transformed in to the magnificent Meydan Race Course, home to the Dubai World Cup.
But, it was very early days. Even more so for the media side of things.
A nearly total communications blackout – no Internet, no laptops, no digital photography, and not even mobile phones. Think landlines, faxes, 35mm film …
For Middle East Travel – the region’s leading travel trade publication of the time and the ATM media sponsor – the show was a huge bonus, developing interest in the region and providing a showcase – as well as bringing together readers and advertisers in a regional location.
So, after completing the bumper May issue, the suggestion was dreamt up for a daily show newspaper to keep visitors and exhibitors up to date with news, events and other trivia surrounding the Arabian Travel Market (In fact, I did have experience in this type of venture, having worked on the show daily at the first World Travel Market, as well as the Boat Show in London, although the logistics of overnight production was a mystery…).
Looking back, it’s just a huge surprise that anything at all rolled off the presses, given the limited technology of the day combined with the lack of today’s professional PR network – then, public relations was generally associated with hotels and strawberry festivals …
There was no finger-snapping digital photography – so after the scrum of the opening ceremony where both local and international photographers were on hand to record HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum cut the ribbon – film had to rushed off to a downtown developing lab, which of course closed between 1pm and 4pm, so the processed pix were not available until early evening.
There were also hiccoughs in the (very basic) computer technology, and we worked long in to the night on typesetting copy, laying out pages, proofreading and then passing for press … to enable overnight printing and collection from the printers early on the following day.
And, then, repeating the process the next day – as well as taking in the whole exhibition culture of launches, press conferences, receptions, dinners, parties and general networking.
Some things never change…