At a time of global geopolitical uncertainty, fuelled by Brexit’s potential domino effect on the European Union’s cohesiveness, the feebleness of Italian banks, the as of yet non-decipherable polices of America’s President-elect Donald Trump and heightened strains between world powers, I envision the UAE emerging as a go-to safe haven for foreign and local investors.
Do not think I am one of those eternal optimists. I have never hesitated to put my money where my mouth is. Although I have recently acquired hotels in Europe and the US, the bulk of my investments and future investments are in the UAE.
Earlier last month, I was delighted to cut the ribbon to officially open the Al Habtoor City Hotel Collection — Dubai’s first St. Regis and W hotel as well as the largest Westin in the region. I also reopened the Metropolitan Hotel Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road, while I expect the grand opening of Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club early this year.
I have every confidence that the UAE’s economic trajectory is going nowhere but upwards, despite lower oil revenues impacting all major oil-producing states to varying degrees. Thanks to the government’s diversification policies, the country’s non-oil related sectors account for over two-thirds of GDP and rising.
Overall, forecasts — including the International Monetary Fund’s — predict growth of up to 3% this year and the widely quoted Capital Economics asserts that the UAE “is likely to be the best performing economy in the Gulf in 2017 - 2018”.
The Emirates may have risen from the sands, but our economy certainly did not; its foundations are rock solid, our successes flourishing amid a safe, secure and open door climate that values innovation while demanding excellence within both the public and private sectors. The country is renowned for its ease of doing business free of burdensome bureaucracy attracting numerous international corporations to relocate their head offices to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Hard lessons were learned from the 2008 global downturn, a shock that has led to numerous economic cushions being put in place by the government to guard against future harmful ripples. We had a rough ride but today we are ready to withstand the unexpected.
Among the sectors poised for expansion are tourism, manufacturing and exports.
The UAE’s rich cultural heritage, natural diversity and developed infrastructure are factors that make the country a strong competitor on the world tourism map. Tourism is one of the main pillars of the post-oil economy.
Tourism has been boosted by visas on arrival for Chinese nationals, increased flights to Indian cities, new leisure attractions for middle class families and Abu Dhabi’s thrust to become a hub for cruise ships.
People do not tend to associate the Emirates with manufacturing but you may be surprised to learn that manufactured goods account for over half of the UAE’s non-petroleum exports and is the second largest contributor to the nation’s economic health.
Latest statistics suggest trade is up by 3% on last year.
Of course, there will always be doubters, doom merchants and the media, especially the Western media, which loves to come up with negative headlines. But as a businessman who has a pulse on his country’s fortunes, all they do is make me yawn.
We who are privileged to live and do business here are appreciative of all the opportunities the Emirates offers.
The sky is the limit for those who dream big dreams and are prepared to work hard to make them come true… or perhaps not.
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is the chairman of Al Habtoor Group.