PALME, the Middle East pro audio and lighting industry's preeminent annual trade convention, returns to Dubai in April, with organisers promising an expanded focus on the booming live events production sector. John Parnell recently caught up with Palme 2008 exhibition director Alexander Heuff in Dubai.
What will be the main point of difference at this year's Palme exhibition compared to previous years?
One of the things we're most excited about is the large number of local distributors who are set to introduce new product lines at the show, particularly those manufactured by third-party distributors.
The amount of floor space being booked by some of the region's biggest distributors suggests this year's show is going to be the largest yet. We're also expecting 20% more visitors to attend this year compared to 2007.
We are planning a number of worthy additions this year, including a larger number of live attractions, educational seminars and associated programmes.
What will be some of the highlights on the exhibition floor?
FogScreen projection displays will be positioned at the entrance points of halls five and six. The company's flagship product is a dry fog projection screen, which boasts quite a remarkable design.
On the pro audio front, Yamaha is creating a temporary venue complete with a stage, while Pioneer has promised to build a huge DJ rack where show visitors can try out the company's products.
Where are the majority of the show's exhibitors based?
Around 60% are from the UAE, with the remainder based in international markets. There is a strong European contingent this year and a much larger number of companies from Asia, particularly China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Most tend to be involved in the pro audio and lighting sectors, with a strong focus on architectural lighting and digital signage. These companies are often more competitive and they tend to do very well in Dubai and the surrounding region.
Which industry sectors do you see providing the greatest opportunities for growth in the future?
Install is the fastest growing show within Palme. This is a result of the massive growth of the commercial and residential AV sectors. As more hotels are built, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of bars and nightclubs which will drive demand for AV technologies. Infrastructure projects such as the Dubai Metro will also drive growth within the industry.
You are also planning to expand the Event 360 live events component at this year's show?
That's correct. The growth of the live events sector in the Middle East prompted us to rethink our strategy for Event 360 this year. We have taken the decision to re-launch the event to target events management companies as well as venues.
Last year, we had around a dozen exhibitors involved directly in this sector whereas this year the figure should be closer to 40. First-time exhibitors include Purple Fire and Centre Stage Management, who have previously only attended the event as visitors. Alongside the exhibition we will be running the Event 360 conference for the first time. It will focus on the major issues impacting events management companies including security concerns, legal obligations and so on. We are also staging the Event 360 Awards, which will recognise excellence in the events management and live production sectors.
What other major industry issues will be addressed by this year's conference programme?
Our aim is to showcase the technical features of various projects in detail. We will also host various seminars led by experts in the field.
A representative of [AV trade organisation] CEDIA UK will again be on hand to provide technical advice, and we are looking to attract the involvement of various other internationally-renowned industry experts and project managers. Meyer Sound and PMK Consultants will be staging seminars as well. We are currently recruiting a number of consultants to educate delegates about topics ranging from technology issues to project-led initiatives such as nightclub refurbishments.
How much competition is there among venue operators in the Middle East at the moment?
The market is quite competitive at present, which will only intensify with all the hospitality developments in the works, particularly projects such as Bawadi in Dubai, which will add an additional 30 hotels to the emirate's hospitality sector.
Many venue operators are also acutely aware that while they might be running at full capacity at present, the influx of competition will impact the dynamics of the market dramatically. PALME will be ideally positioned to provide these newcomers the opportunity to showcase their products and services to potential clients in the region.
Furthermore, a large number of major multinational corporations such as Nike and Coca-Cola have their own in-house event management divisions. These are the type of companies that will come to the exhibition in search of new venue partners.
Is there one particular industry sector that is showing greater interest in exhibiting at the show than others?
We have received a number of enquiries from companies that specialise in portable power supplies for outdoor events, such as large-scale generators.
My belief is that this is connected to the growth of line array sales among equipment rental companies in the Middle East.
Lighting manufacturers are also showing increased interest in exhibiting at the show, which is largely due to the massive number of major lighting projects currently under consideration in the region, as are digital signage specialists.
What factors are influencing the growth of the live events sector in the Gulf region?
Well, most governments in the region love staging major events, whether they be sporting, cultural or religious.
Generally, GCC countries have relatively small populations with a high percentage of expats and significant levels of disposable income. A large number of international companies are fast realising the commercial potential of these markets.
What are the major factors that differentiate the Middle East pro audio and lighting sector from more established markets overseas?
The biggest issue relates to distribution. International manufacturers are still a little tentative about entering the market because they're not always clear about the various distribution opportunities available and the main players involved. Many of these companies take their time negotiating with local players before settling on a strategy that suits their ambitions.
Dubai remains the epicentre in terms of product distribution, mainly because it's the major regional base for redistribution and a significant market in its own right.
So Dubai remains the core focus for the PALME event?
Well, Dubai has a massive international profile, which makes it an ideal venue for our show.
It also has a number of major AV installation projects in the works, such as the Burj Dubai and the Dubai Mall, as well as the various facets of Dubailand.
These projects are putting the city on the map and creating worldwide interest. This in turn is having a knock-on effect for international pro audio and lighting equipment manufacturers, who are fast realising they need a presence in this market.
Do you think the show's significant growth in recent years could be seen as a barometer for the industry in the Middle East?
I'm not sure it's a barometer for the region but it definitely mirrors the fortunes of the UAE. Other markets in the region are lagging behind Dubai at present, but Abu Dhabi and countries like Jordan and Kuwait will eventually catch up. The scale of some of the projects their leaders have announced could potentially eclipse some of Dubai's landmark developments.