The future of trade fairs? The example from Dubai

Pratyush Sarup, spokesperson for Downtown Design, and Khadija Al Bastaki, Executive Director d3, explain how to deliver successful “phygital” events

Dubai Design Week 2020, Points in Common by Studio Iregular
Dubai Design Week 2020, Points in Common by Studio Iregular

The Dubai Design Week, held from 9th to 14th of November, have implemented the “phygital” in the real sense, with a hybrid program, physical and virtual. «For us at the Art Dubai Group (that owns and manages Art Dubai Fair, Global Grad Show, Dubai Design Week and Downtown Design), we were already consider the next phase of growth and evolution for cultural fairs. The pandemic accelerated our response. During lockdown we held focus groups with our network for designers, brands and industry leaders to establish how we could leverage our platform to support their objectives in this challenging year. Our “phygital” or hybrid format is a result of those discussions», says Pratyush Sarup, spokesperson for Downtown Design.

Pratyush Sarup, head of programming at Downtown Design
Pratyush Sarup, head of programming at Downtown Design

«Design and cultural events can’t really work in a fully digital environment – that sense of discovery, community and exchange are integral to them – and the way we have curated our hybrid programme allows people to connect with the region’s thriving contemporary design scene from around the world and vice-versa, through a wide range of programming».
The programme succeeds «because we dialed into the very DNA of our events. Downtown Design is a conduit between creativity and opportunity, it is a gateway to the design community in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, it is a platform for architects, interior designers, industry-leaders, journalists, brands and designers to come together during Dubai Design Week, and the hybrid programme does that quite effectively! Our digital fair was devised as a platform to support brands that have exhibited with us in the past. We had over 150 exhibitors including new brands that were keen to access the region this year».

Diversification in offerings and a move to online platforms are among the popular trends at present, «with precautionary measures imposed around the world causing significant growth in e-commerce sales», says Khadija Al Bastaki, Executive Director d3.

Khadija Albastaki, Executive Director d3

«We have a strong pipeline of new, local and regional concepts and our community is home to more than 50 retailers who opened their doors to the thousands of people who visited Dubai Design Week». The whole event is run in partnership with d3, by the Art Dubai Group and supported by the Dubai Culture and Art Authority: «The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development is working to identify ways to support the creative economy. At d3, we are currently commissioning a report that builds on findings from the first-ever Design MENA report launched in 2014. Furthermore, we have launched several initiatives to help SMEs in the creative sector tackle the current challenges and reduce the economic impact. Those initiatives include flexible payment terms and simplified procedures, among others, and aim at solidifying Dubai’s creative ecosystem and the emirate’s attractiveness to creative talent and businesses».

Dubai Design Week 2020, MENA Grad Show, Reconstructing Mass by Alina S. and Mary K.

And about the future of fairs, she adds: «Events in the design world are incredibly important, tactility is vital, but this cannot come at the expense of health and safety, so a hybrid model of physical and digital events has proved to be successful. The Emirate’s readiness and resilience – coupled with the safety measures put in place by the relevant authorities – should provide Dubai and the rest of the world with confidence that physical events can get moving again».