How to start an events company in the UAE

Around the world, the events industry is booming.

Last year’s American Express Meetings and Events 2016 Forecast predicted the largest growth globally in spend since 2011, while Alpen Capital noted the ‘GCC hospitality industry remains firm on its growth trajectory.’

Focusing more closely on the UAE, the events industry here is very much in keeping with this global and regional trend. The Dubai World Trade Centre alone hosts hundreds of events – from international trade fairs and consumer shows to corporate functions and conventions – welcoming millions of global visitors annually.

And this is a picture that is reflected throughout Dubai’s quarter of a billion dirham events industry in particular. As far back as 2013, Dubai’s event management industry was predicted to be worth around AED 165m (USD 45m), and has seen growth of 25% per annum in the years since.

Now with Expo 2020 on the horizon this trajectory doesn’t look like it will be slowing anytime soon. Dubai is expecting to welcome around 25 million visitors to the event which is estimated to generate up to USD 23bn for the emirate – equal to 25% of the city’s GDP between 2015 and 2021.

Naturally such a thriving industry presents numerous opportunities for the savvy entrepreneur. As more and more businesses in the UAE look to get involved in the nation’s buzzing events scene, they are increasingly seeking the knowledge and guidance of event professionals. Needless to say, this has left many entrepreneurs wondering how to start an events company in the UAE.

As more and more businesses in the UAE look to get involved in the nation’s buzzing events scene, they are increasingly seeking the knowledge and guidance of event professionals.

Fortunately, the setup process is straightforward. First, you decide in which area of the events industry you wish to do business – and there are plenty of sub-sectors including conference planning and management, event production, hospitality management and consultation, performing arts management, event promotion and sports management. These are just some of the activities that can be conducted under an events management licence.

Once you have established your activity, it’s time to apply. 

How to start an events company in the UAE

So to help you on your way, here is everything you need to know about how to start an events company in the UAE.

Applying for your event management licence: While it is certainly possible to apply for a licence to conduct any number of event-related activities like the ones listed above, most entrepreneurs choose to apply for an event management licence which covers these activities and more. Once you have established your business activity, you will need to decide where you want to set up your business – on the UAE mainland or in one of its many free zones. Both have their advantages. For example, foreign entrepreneurs setting up in a UAE free zone do not require a local sponsor to do business and are allowed to own 100% of their company. However, free zone businesses are restricted in where they can hold events and exhibitions. Businesses that set up in a free zone must apply for a permit from every venue they work with and cannot hold events in public spaces such as beaches or parks. Mainland businesses meanwhile only need apply once to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and can then usually hold events anywhere throughout the UAE. 

Easy setup process: Whether you decide to set up in the UAE mainland or in a free zone, the setup process is extremely straightforward. If you wish to set up in a free zone, the first step is to find one that complements your business. There are several free zones throughout the Emirates such as Dubai World Trade Centre and Fujairah Creative City that are already home to event management companies and therefore could make the ideal hub. Once you’ve decided on your free zone, you can start. In most cases, this means sending an application form along with other documents such as passport and visa copies to the relevant free zone authority. Some free zones will process your application in as little as one week. When setting up on the mainland, the process is similar. However, rather than applying to a free zone authority, you apply directly to the Department of Economic Development (DED) who usually process applications within 90 days. 

Whether you decide to set up in the UAE mainland or in a free zone, the setup process is extremely straightforward.

Affordable setup: A major plus point for entrepreneurs wishing to start events companies in the UAE is the low cost to entry. Event licences are incredibly affordable, starting at around AED 17,500. There is also no requirement for paid upfront share capital for mainland events businesses or in many of the UAE’s free zones. And there are very few upfront costs outside of this – depending on your business activity, providing you’ve got a computer and a talent for the industry, you’re good to go. 

Plenty of visa options: The flexible visa options afforded by event management licences are yet another major factor in their popularity. Not only can entrepreneurs obtain their own visa but they also have the option to apply for more as their business grows and requirements change. The best part is that there is no upper limit. Essentially, event management business owners can apply for unlimited visas.

Office space requirements: Whether or not you require office space will depend on where your business is set up. If you opted to set up in a free zone then there is often no requirement to take on office space, though you absolutely can if you wish. On the mainland, however, office space is required. When choosing office space there are several factors to consider – do you need space to expand? Do you need to be close to local amenities? How long a lease do you need? And so on. Once you’ve laid out these requirements you can start looking for a suitable base. Here in the UAE, there are several office types available, from fully serviced offices through to shells that require full fitting and decoration. The option you choose will depend on your business’ activities and budget. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to engage a company formation specialist at this stage who can walk you through the leasing process in the UAE. 

Easy to arrange your corporate bank account: Once you’ve got your events licence, it’s quick and easy to open your corporate bank account. If you’ve established your business in a free zone, the relevant authorities are on hand to advise on the best bank to suit your needs – and can even arrange meetings in-branch for you, should you wish. For those setting up on the mainland, a company formation specialist can provide the same service. Or alternatively, you’re welcome to approach any local or international bank by your own volition.

You can sponsor dependants: An event management licence doesn’t just make it possible to obtain visas for you and your employees, it also makes it easy to sponsor dependants for their residence visas too. The application process is relatively straightforward – entry permit, status adjustment, medical fitness test, then Emirates ID registration, and visa stamping. But it’s a good idea to get advice from an expert in setting up UAE free zone businesses. They will help you make sure that before you start an application, both you (and those you’re hoping to sponsor) meet the entry requirements.

Set up with multiple shareholders: While many who set up in the UAE wish to go it alone, for those who don’t, events management is still a viable option. Regardless of whether you choose to set up in a free zone or on the mainland, it is possible to establish your business with multiple shareholders – both individuals or corporate entities. 

Regardless of whether you choose to set up in a free zone or on the mainland, it is possible to establish your business with multiple shareholders – both individuals or corporate entities. 

Starting your events business in the UAE

Naturally, when any industry experiences a boom here in the UAE, there are a raft of entrepreneurs just waiting to dive in and make the most of it. However, while setting up an events company may be easy, making a success of it isn’t. It goes without saying that only the best, most talented and dedicated entrepreneurs need apply when it comes to launching an events business in Dubai and the UAE.

Provided you have the skills, however, there has never been a better time to take the plunge. Events in the UAE are big business – and only set to get bigger as we get ever closer to the global spectacle that is Expo 2020. Organisations in the Emirates are crying out for events services and expertise – and within just a few short months it could be you that they’re contacting.

So, why wait? Talk to a company formation specialist and begin your events licence application today.

About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup
About the author: Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup

With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit.