Shock proof: What the Big 5 Saudi has in store
As markets stumble and traders fret, the frenetic activity at Saudi Arabia’s largest construction exhibition shows no sign of abating
The Big 5 Saudi trade exhibition in Jeddah arrives as everyone is talking about a downturn in the Kingdom, particularly in construction, but you would not know it from the event’s uptake.
Nathan Waugh, the portfolio director at DMG (the organiser of The Big 5 event series across the region), reveals that this year’s exhibition (7-10 March) will prove to be not only bigger, but more attractive to visitors.
This revelation is surprising to hear given the Kingdom’s recent announcement that its expenditure could decrease by 14% to $224bn in 2016, with a deficit of $87bn, according to low-end estimates by market observers.
However, Waugh affirms: “We will have a full show with 500 national and international exhibitors in attendance, and our pre-registration numbers are showing a 25% increase in visitor numbers year on year.
“In Saudi, the construction market is still by far the biggest in the GCC. If anything, it’s times like these when visitors are more inclined to visit, increase their knowledge, network with peers and industries, and find products that will save them time and money.”
Saudi Arabia is still a market that people want to be a part of, according to Waugh, despite the drop in oil prices and industry anxiety over the country’s finances.
“Equally well documented is the Saudi government’s response, which has confirmed continued support for and expenditure on social infrastructure projects such as housing, education and healthcare, and the intention to go ahead with many previously scheduled mega projects,” Waugh notes. “I was very fortunate to visit the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Jeddah, which is fully under way with much of it is already operational, and which once completed, will be the size of Washington DC.”
Recent announced plans for KAEC will also see the associated port increase its container capacity by four million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) in 2016 to rank the facility among the top 10 ports worldwide.
Waugh reiterates: “When you are there in Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, you will see an active construction market, with new cranes coming up and constant changes to the skyline, no question about it.”
Waugh also believes that the recently announced Saudi white land tax will give housing projects a boost as the Kingdom looks to invigorate its non-oil economy.
He comments. “It’s fantastic to see that Saudi Arabia is now refocusing on new taxation, doing away with relaxed energy subsidies, and opening its markets to privatisation and investment, which will all help grow and strengthen the construction sector.”
To entice visitors to this year’s show, DMG has continued to increase its investment in educational content for the 2016 event.
“What we found popular last year were the certified workshops so we increased their number,” highlights Waugh.
CPD-accredited certifications are provided free of charge to workshop attendees who grab this opportunity to increase their value to their employers and clients with UK-certified competency in specialised fields. Waugh details: “We are offering just under 30 workshops, spread over four days, plus we have a full day of seminars comprising panel sections, case studies, and one-on-one sessions on the second day of the event.”
With workshop topics ranging from project management techniques, to concrete repair techniques and LEED certification, attendees are able to cherry pick the topics of interest to them and their job functions, but also ones which are in keeping with market trends.
“When it comes to free educational content, it’s very important for us to be purely educational and non-commercial in our offering,” says Waugh, explaining that DMG intensively researches its content for the event through a series of roundtables over the year attended by market consultants, sector experts and Big 5 visitors to identify the hot issues that should be covered.
Evidence of this is found with this year’s focus on safety, Saudisation, the project management office (PMO) law, FIDIC contracts and other pertinent topics.
Waugh continues: “We are limited in size in Jeddah, where we build an 8,000m2 temporary structure, but we still have over 30 countries represented at the exhibition.
“The venue works well for us, being well located, easily accessible to both the airport and hotel and where parking is plentiful.”
However, Waugh reiterates that the strength of The Big 5 Saudi lies in its content, and in the quality of experts and exhibitors.
“It’s really important to invest in content because it’s what attracts people to the event and keeps them there longer,” he asserts.
“You can add another 20 exhibitors or another 100 leading products, but the winning formula has proven to be giving access to free and meaningful content.”