Incentive Travel Excellence in Abu Dhabi

A vision realised, a dream come true at Abu Dhabi Business Events Week

So here we are, all kitted out and ready for action at Yas Marina Circuit, one of Abu Dhabi’s many attractions that can be tweaked and tailored for incentive travel experiences.

We’re go-karting. This is where it starts for ALL F1 drivers, apparently. Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, they all started on tracks such as this, driving tiny vehicles that SITE President, Kevin Edmunds at 6’7” (almost 2m), manfully struggles to get into.

The SITE board of directors is lined up in black tracksuits against a red background, onsite at the go-kart track

It turns out Michael Dalton is SITE’s Lewis Hamilton, although Kevin Edmunds disputes this, claiming no one passed him during the 15-minute race. But numbers don’t lie (at least, not usually!). Upon completion of the circuit, each of us received a detailed analytical breakdown of our lap speeds and our place in the overall classification. It’s all there in black and white.

Last night we drank champagne in the Presidential Suite of the recently re-furbished Emirates Palace Hotel, discussing business positioning with Michael Koth, General Manager, and listening to his effusive descriptions of how this addition to Mandarin Oriental’s hospitality portfolio can create and deliver the ultimate incentive experience.

We oohed and aahed at the refined, elegant, ultimately understated, guest room refurb, a step away from the dazzle and bling that characterised an earlier iteration of the hotel. This is new luxury. It eschews ostentation in favour of authenticity and — just saying — we called this out as a trend in SITE’s Bangkok Manifesto (2019). 

The night before, we rushed like school kids to claim a prime spot on the iconic orange leather couch from “Friends” that’s set in front of the fountain from “Friends,” both located at the Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi where we enjoyed a great dinner at the Director’s Club after our educational sessions. This was all charcoal ovens, perfectly aged cuts and some delicious Malbec.

Prior to that we flitted between our magnificent hotel, the St Regis, Saadiyat Island and Manarat Al Saadiyat, the venue for Abu Dhabi Business Events Week and a beautiful, totally flexible exhibition/events space. There, we joined other business events professionals, adding our expertise as the “I” in MICE to Abu Dhabi Business Events Week (ADBEW) before delivering our own Executive Summit on “The Evolving Market” and “How the Gulf Region can win more Incentives.”

Outside of a packed day and nighttime schedule, some of us rose early to run 5km on the cart path of Gary Player’s Beach Golf Club or to take a dawn dip in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. One morning, six of us practised yoga under the tutelage of SITE’s immediate past president Aoife Delaney in a vast fitness studio that’s part of the St Regis complex. Such activities piqued our appetites for a bountiful breakfast buffet. After the first morning I declared it to be one of the best buffets I had ever seen, only to find out, next day, that I’d missed an entire section!

SITE and Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau (ADCEB) have had a strategic partnership for a number of years now. It started when a SITE delegation comprised of members of our international board, former members, and a UK-based buyer formed an ad hoc advisory board in 2018. We spent almost a week in Abu Dhabi providing educational input to ADCEB and partners and undertaking a deep-dive into the activities and experiences available for the highly discerning incentive travel market.

Since then, the senior leadership team at ADCEB has been involved in a number of virtual and in-person SITE events, and SITE provided faculty and speakers for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Business Events Week in 2021. This week, the entire SITE International Board of Directors came to Abu Dhabi for SITE Executive Summit, co-located with the second edition of ADBEW — explaining the activities and experiences described above.

I visited Abu Dhabi for the first time in the noughties on the invitation of Gillian Taylor, a fellow SITE board member and an associate, then, at the Abu Dhabi Tourist Board. I recall visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (completed in 2007) and listening afterwards to a presentation that set out the ambitious plan for Abu Dhabi as a hub for culture and heritage. There were some great hotels at that time but probably a lot more sand and empty spaces than concrete, glass and steel. I’ll admit now to have been sceptical — would the vision ever be realised?

Looking at the extraordinary infrastructural development that has risen up out of the sand since then the answer is emphatically, yes!

And for those interested in bringing a future event to their destination: the 2023 SITE Executive Summit will take place June 20-23 in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, but destinations interested in partnering with SITE for Summits in 2024 and beyond should contact Samantha Nicastro ( to receive a copy of our RFP.

 Michael Koth, GM, explains the incentive delights of Emirates Palace
The Fountain that features in the Opening Credits of Friends
Kevin Edmunds & Mark Swets on the early shift

Written by

Pádraic Gilligan

Pádraic Gilligan


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