S&S sits down with Sameer Rahman, director of sales & marketing for Revibe Entertainment, to discuss how the regional industry has flourished in the past 10 years, the need for stricter H&S laws and how a high school hobby led him to establish a well regarded event production solutions provider.
How did you come to Revibe Entertain ment?
It all started out in high school to be honest. I had a great drama teacher and form tutor and they pushed me into the performing arts. I was on stage for a bit and did a bit of acting. I then had this creative teacher who was really into doing different lighting schemes and one thing led to another.
I did that for a couple of years and really found myself getting into that aspect of performing arts. I was really amazed by what was available and once I got out of school I got more involved in the industry and met a few people along the way who mentored me.
They gave me opportunities to work with them and learn a bit about lighting and sound—I just loved what I did and I learned a great deal from these incredible individuals. That’s how it finally lead to Revibe.
My business partner, Kaushal Prithwani, and I just decided to put together something and devote our time 100% into doing things the way we like doing it, following the same passion and dedication, but allowing ourselves to make money in the process.
What is your professional opinion on the current state of the regional events industry?
The event production industry in the Middle East has boomed tremendously from when it first started out.
Being on the sidelines of it when I was still in school, I’ve actually seen it boom because, at the time when I first started, there were only about three major event production companies in total and they were doing 80% of the work—most of which was government related shows and weddings.
But with the property boom and launches and all the multi-nationals coming in from 2003-07, that’s when you saw a lot of these big production companies coming in from overseas and setting up.
And it’s reached a scale that, because you have to pay a minimal amount of income tax, people currently have a huge stock of high quality inventories of equipment over here from all over the world.
At the same time the infastructure, for example venue power and transport, is also able to support an industry that is still flourishing. I really do believe that the UAE has placed itself on a global scale in terms of the events industry.
You have the world’s largest productions in certain cases (the world’s largest fireworks display, for example). That is a huge feat, considering the geographical location of the UAE and the geographical location of Dubai.
All in all, this area is absolutely tiny, compared to the other countries which have been doing it for the past 20-30 years. It did slow down after the economic crisis. However, it is growing at a very fast paced due to the international artists coming to the MENA region.
But there is still a lot of room for improvement. You’ve got your basics: labour, machinery and premises. The premises are sort of taken care of and machinery, everybody can buy equipment. But in terms of labour, having everyone up to date in terms of using the machinery safely and having a governing body that oversees the industry on a whole—this aspect does require a lot of development.
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Going off of what you said, regarding the need for a governing body and an overall development of the labour within the industry, what do you feel as though needs to improve within the regional industry itself?
One thing that they need here, that they have in places like the US and UK, is a governing body and set of rules and regulations—an overall way to test the individuals who are utilising all of this equipment.
In the UAE, you have certain certifications for operating equipment, for example using a cherry picker you need a permit, which is fine. But at the same time, you need to have people who are qualified technicians and a governing body to check up on this, making sure that these qualifications are in place.
The second thing is health and safety (H&S). H&S is something that companies will enforce on their own accord; however, there’s no black book on H&S or a checklist that each company has to follow.
And that becomes tricky because in an economy like the UAE, it’s so easy to purchase equipment and setup a company—the UAE really does have one of the most lenient business setup laws in the world, so it’s a very nurturing environment in that respect.
But at the same time, you can’t just have anyone starting up a company and believing it’s “plug and play” without being willing to learn the appropriate practices and making sure Health & Safety is enforced.
So do you see this happening any time soon?
This is an evolving process. I remember when I was 16, one of my first freelance jobs at the DWTC, there were absolutely no rules and regulations in terms of rigging or in terms of H&S. However, within the span of a nine month period (or one season) the next time I was down there, there were H&S officers on site, ensuring that workers were wearing safety harnesses, people who were operating cherry pickers had a permit, etc.
Even now you have qualified safety officers whose job it is to come and inspect. They really do know what they are talking about.
That said, the government really does need to be a bit more involved and they need a governing body that handles events and event productions. This will ensure there’s some kind of regulations and everyone is following a standard. Right now it’s very self-regulated.
This does work well for responsible companies. That said, there are always going to be people willing to cut corners to save cost—when you’re in an industry where you’re hanging very heavy equipment above people’s heads, the last thing you want to do is cut corners on H&S.
That said, where do you see the industry in the next five years?
Five years from now I see Dubai establishing itself as one of the leading showcases of event production technology. Yes, we do have a limited expat population, so our festivals will have 7,000-10,000 people whereas abroad you’d have 150,000 people.
Regardless, our stages and setups are just as big because we have the technology and the people to supply it. So I believe that all of that is just going to continue to grow. There are a lot of people who love what they do and they have the right platform and the right infrastructure.
Add in very low taxes to import equipment, that all helps to establish and grow the industry further. In addition, manufactures are basing their Middle East offices in the UAE, and Dubai especially, which is certainly helping to grow the regional industry.