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Five minutes with… John Martin St. Valery, chairman, British Business Group in Dubai

Five minutes with… John Martin St. Valery, chairman, British Business Group in Dubai

The BBG is seeing greater interest in face-to-face interaction in Dubai

Have you seen an increased interest in face-to-face social interaction in the recent months? What has prompted this?

We are seeing a huge rise in attendance for networking events.

As part of our member-led events programme, we do factor in a summer slump on attendance but we keep the events available to support our members consistently throughout the year. We were however pleasantly surprised this year as we saw record numbers of registrations, three times higher than last year. The events attract attendance from existing BBG members and individuals new to Dubai and the BBG, giving us confidence that the pace of business is more consistent than ever.

Our aim is to provide members with greater access to market information and to provide opportunities to learn best practice across industries. Our networking series, free to attend for BBG members, is wonderfully unpredictable and because of its open invitation element, every event attracts a different mix of industries.

Speaking with our members at these networking events, we have had a real insight to the intensity of preparation for a busy last quarter of the year with schedules already full of strategic planning, collaborations and Expo 2020 planning.

From your experience, what matters most to making an event successful?

The BBG holds a variety of events: business briefings, training, networking, social and collaborations. For all of them, location is key.

For our networking evening events, we try and alternate between Marina and DIFC ends of town to cater to most and for our business briefings (usually mornings), we try and stay close to Sheikh Zayed Road for accessibility.

For the social events, the location could be less important than the choice of F&B and entertainment.

For topic-specific events, the speakers really must be crowd-magnets. If the speaker is relatively unknown but vetted to be outstanding, then it’s our role to position this in our event marketing and sponsorship involvement. The correct positioning, promotion and placement of the events is key too – particularly for a target audience, we would first work within our own membership with priority to the members and then we would leverage industry contacts.

The next phase would be to work with our media partners and partner companies with their own databases and networks. Our events are updated regularly on our website and also communicated in our weekly e-newsletter.

Tell us about the Great British Day Out. How has the event evolved over the years?

The Great British Day Out has been running in various forms since 1994. The idea came because the expat community at the time were looking for a way to celebrate the Queen’s 70th birthday in Dubai. A total of 3000 people – expats and their families – attended. Tickets were sold at Dhs10 and they ran out of beer twice. The event raised 120,000 for a hospice in Kent.

Over the years, the event was run as a day out to celebrate “all things British”. Many of our members look forward to this social event as an opportunity to relax amongst the business community in an informal setting for networking, with their families.

Our sponsors also see it as a huge profile opportunity. This year we have attracted more sponsors than ever and we believe more are seeing it as a platform for advertising to the expat community.

What else does the BBG plan to focus on this year and in the longer term?

Expo is a huge focus for the BBG, as are the trade missions that are coming out ahead of it. We are seeing an interest from the UK in education and training for the UAE as well as a response to the call for more renewable energy and sustainable offerings and we will be supporting them alongside the DIT (Department for International Trade).

We also plan stronger relationships with other UAE and UK business councils, our key event sponsors and our regular members.

Our marketing team has an open-door policy for new ideas, collaborations, events or business trainings and make it clear to members that the BBG is there to help. We have also better aligned our value proposition with the DIT, working with the industry sector heads on joint initiatives and awareness in the form of round tables, content and wider industry event participation.

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