Middle East

Exclusive interview with Informa CEO Stephen Carter, as Saudi Arabia’s Events Investment Fund acquires stake in Informa JV Tahaluf

Saudi Arabia’s Events Investment Fund (EIF), a part of the National Development Fund has acquired a stake in Tahaluf, the Saudi Arabian large-scale live events company created through a strategic joint venture between the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP) and Informa, the international event organiser and digital services group. 

SELA, the Saudi-owned event production company also intends to join the joint venture in the near future.

This investment aligns with EIF’s strategy to develop a sustainable infrastructure for the culture, tourism, entertainment and sports sectors across the Kingdom, by building multiple world-class venues by 2030. 

By leveraging Informa’s global expertise, Tahaluf will launch new B2B and B2C events focused on strategically important sectors such as technology, real estate, pharmaceuticals, food, health and beauty, tourism and hospitality.

Following the successful launches of tech events LEAP and Black Hat Middle East, and the artificial intelligence event DeepFest in the Kingdom, Tahaluf plans to launch further diverse original concept events, including the Saudi Maritime Congress, Global Health Exhibition and Inflavour, for the food industry. Tahaluf will also bring iconic Informa brands to Saudi Arabia including CityScape, CPHI and Cosmoprof, serving the global real estate, pharmaceutical and beauty industries respectively.

In a span of two years, the founding partners of Tahaluf – SAFCSP and Informa – together with the Ministry of Communications and IT, have turned LEAP into the world’s most-attended tech event with attendance reaching 172,000 in 2023. Tahaluf’s strategy is to supercharge other launch events at similar rates. 

The joint venture supports the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 with respect to diversifying the economy and increasing its share in the non-oil GDP within Saudi Arabia, by bringing global expertise and foreign direct investment into the Kingdom and creating economic and environmentally sustainable public/private partnerships. The development of the MICE ecosystem will support the contribution of the tourism sector to annual GDP, from its current rate of three percent to a target of more than 10% by 2030. 

The acquisition of a stake in Tahaluf, meaning ‘Alliance’ in Arabic, was formally announced with a signing ceremony at Informa’s headquarters in London yesterday, 26 July 2023. In attendance were Lord Stephen Carter CBE, the Group CEO of Informa PLC; Faisal Al Khamisi, SAFCSP chairman; Ahmed AlJasser, acting CEO of EIF; Alrayan Gadouri chief of staff of Sela; Muteb Al Qani CEO of SAFCSP; Mike Champion, CEO of Tahaluf, and other representatives of the JV group. 

Lord Carter said at the ceremony: “Tahaluf is a dynamic and ambitious initiative, and we are proud that Informa’s expertise is part of delivering world-class, sustainable events in Saudi Arabia. The incredible success of events such as LEAP have demonstrated the power of the Tahaluf collaboration, and this increased investment will accelerate its impact across sectors.”

Faisal Al Khamisi said: “By aligning our upcoming portfolio of events with Saudi Vision 2030’s objectives and partnering with the leading key players in the industry, the results can be efficiently transformative. This goes far beyond the shows and events to transferring knowledge, building talents, attracting business tourism, and showcasing Saudi Arabia as the leading destination for events across the entire region.”

Ahmed AlJasser, said: “We at EIF are honoured and delighted to be part of this joint venture with such an internationally renowned industry leader and look forward to working closely with Tahaluf as we develop the nascent MICE ecosystem in the Kingdom together and move forward in our mission to develop a world-class entertainment and events infrastructure. This will position the Kingdom as a global hub for international events in the region, in line with Vision 2030 plans.” 

Dr Rakan Alharthy, managing director and CEO of Sela added: “We’re passionate about delivering stand-out events and this is an exciting opportunity to expand our presence in this growing sector. We look forward to working with our partners in delivering another key milestone in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 blueprint.”

Mike Champion, CEO at Tahaluf, also said: “Tahaluf will scale up at a rate rarely seen in the events industry, as it continues to employ some of the region’s best events talent to deliver record-breaking, award-winning events like Black Hat MEA and LEAP. With EIF, SAFCSP and Informa as shareholders, the company is strategically positioned to deliver outstanding quality events, that help to transform and develop the Kingdom’s MICE sector.”

Main photo: L-R: Eng. Alrayan Gadouri, chief of staff, SelaFaisal Alkhamisi, chairman, SAFCSPLord Stephen Carter, Group CEO, InformaAhmed Aljasser, acting CEO, EIFMike Champion, CEO, Tahaluf

Following the announcement Stephen Carter gave an exclusive interview to EW’s editor Paul Colston:

Exciting times for the exhibitions sector as venues start to fill up again and organisers seem to be back at full speed planning their shows. Are you feeling the momentum building again?

Stephen Carter

Absolutely. We’ve seen both a high and sustained pace of return to live events and exhibitions. Interestingly, I think that as more of our working lives as professionals have moved online, and as more of our everyday work is being done via Teams and Zoom, it has only increased the value of leading exhibitions and events. The chance to get together in person, as a whole community in one place and at one time, and make real connections that lead to real business results, is even more valuable.

That said, customer expectations keep growing. You have to keep investing in a high-quality experience, with excellent service standards, sustainability embedded as standard, technology and digital features that enhance and wrap around the event, and so on. Quality and all-round value have only got more important for live events after the pandemic.

Indeed, Informa was quick out of the post-Covid blocks with the acquisition of Tarsus in a mammoth $940m deal back in March, so you’ve obviously been confident about the future of quality events and quality partnerships?

As I said at the time, we had long admired the Tarsus business. It was and is a great business, very well run under Doug Emslie and his leadership team, and a great fit for Informa. That’s only been further confirmed in the three or so months since we have fully owned the business and have been working deeply with and inside Tarsus.  

It spoke to our focus at Informa: strong brands, operating internationally with events and teams located in major hubs, and serving specialist B2B markets complementary to our own, with very little overlap. The depth and closeness of customer relationships are also clear and key.

In May, we also announced the addition of Winsight to our Informa Connect business, which has all of the same attractive features: high quality, specialist media and research brands alongside strong events, including the flagship National Restaurant Association Show, a focus on serving customers deeply and great talent. It is early days for the combination but we’ve started positively, and bringing together Winsight and our existing teams in food and hospitality will significantly strengthen our position and create new opportunities in the specialist B2B Foodservice market.

Saudi Arabia seems to be very much in focus in terms of being perceived as a big emerging market for many industries, including the exhibition sector. (And dmg has recently heavily in shows there, including a major Water Expo, as we reported recently). What is it that you have found attractive in the region prompting this new investment?

We have long operated in the Middle East – for several decades in fact – and have progressively built relationships, positions, talent and operating capability in and across several countries.

Saudi Arabia is one of a number of countries and city-states who recognise the value that large-scale exhibitions and live events can bring to their economies and populations, in terms of international trade, innovation and the exchange of ideas, jobs and support for the supply chain.

Saudi Arabia has that focus, as part of its Vision 2030 diversification and transformation programme vision. It is also coupling that with tangible investment and support from a range of partners, funds and ministries.

We all know that to operate large-scale events successfully, you need the infrastructure, venues, airports, contractors and suppliers, and so on, to help stage the event, and all of those elements are being invested in and fully supported in Saudi Arabia.

Tahaluf of course has been working as a joint venture for a while, why is now the time for more major investment. Do tell us about the genesis of this project and why it is so important? What do you hope the investment will achieve in the short to medium term?

When Tahaluf was announced at the end of November last year, it was an Informa joint venture with the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones’ (SAFCSP) backing and support. The announcement 27 July, of EIF acquiring a stake in the business and Sela’s future investment, will supercharge Tahaluf’s expansion and impact.

We have significant ambitions for Tahaluf, centred around building a portfolio of thriving events and complementary world-class digital experiences in Saudi Arabia within five years. This plan is designed to maximise the opportunities to provide employment and training to local communities and support the promotion and accelerated development of strategically important industries in the Kingdom, as well as providing international businesses with access to new markets. All of the partners involved in Tahaluf share this vision for the business and its role in support of Saudi Vision 2030.

Which sectors in particular do you think will be reflected in future Tahaluf exhibition activity. Are they likely to be sectors of particular interest to the region and its economy or do you envisage some geo-cloning perhaps?

We are already seeing a range of B2B event brands launch and see significant interest. These are in globally important sectors such as technology, real estate, pharmaceuticals, food, health and beauty, tourism and hospitality and are attracting both international businesses and regional and national businesses.

LEAP 2023 for example was the most attended technology event in the world, with over 172,000 attendees, and was an entirely new launch, where we have also brought the renowned cyber security brand Black Hat to Saudi Arabia. Later this year, Tahaluf will be bringing our Cityscape Global real estate exhibition to the Kingdom as well as the Middle East editions of our CPHI and Cosmoprof brands, and will also be launching the new food and hospitality show InFlavour.

What does the new investment mean for staffing levels and opportunities for company growth?

The Tahaluf team, led by CEO Mike Champion, is currently a mixture of Informa colleagues with event and sector expertise and local talent. Tahaluf’s growth plans mean that there are significant career opportunities as the business builds at speed and I would encourage anyone interested to reach out to the team to find out more. It’s objective to make the most of the potential of young Saudi Arabian talent, particularly in the tech arena, so local recruitment is definitely a priority for the venture too.

Away from this news of investment, where else is Informa looking to expand and invest around the world in particular? Are more deals/investments imminent?

Across the company, we have a clear focus on growing our positions in specialist markets and doing more for our customers, whether that’s through new or improved services, greater value, more ways to connect, learn and grow, and you can expect that to continue to be our focus.

Which markets are you finding are performing best for you at this time? Presumably, you must be pleased to see activity resuming apace in China?

We’re seeing the full return of live and on-demand event brands in all major regions of the world and markets too. It has been great to see China return and our teams in China have been working at full pace and energy to serve that demand. Progress has been rapid since Covid restrictions started to be removed earlier this year, what’s being called ‘fast China’.

Source: www.exhibitionworld.co.uk

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