FIRST WORD

With a for­ward-think­ing men­tal­ity and ac­tive changes, the Mid­dle East is set for a promis­ing, al­beit chal­leng­ing, year ahead

Arabian Business English - - BUSINESS - Lubna Ham­dan, Ed­i­tor Lubna.Ham­[email protected]

“The UAE is a good ex­am­ple of a mar­ket that flour­ished fol­low­ing a prop­erty cri­sis in 2009, only to suc­ceed in boost­ing diver­si­fi­ca­tion and for­eign in­vest­ment”

ANY­ONE FOL­LOW­ING NEWS from the Mid­dle East in 2018 would at­test to the re­gion hav­ing had a tur­bu­lent year. It stands to rea­son, that with trou­bles rang­ing from pub­lic debt, civil wars and un­em­ploy­ment, it would con­tinue to suf­fer in 2019. In our an­nual pre­dic­tions is­sue, the re­gion’s big­gest busi­ness bosses ex­pect just as much, that 2019 will see a global eco­nomic slow­down af­fect­ing in­dus­tries in­clud­ing avi­a­tion, re­tail and real es­tate among oth­ers.

How­ever, the Mid­dle East has had a his­tory of tak­ing hits, and ris­ing back big­ger and bet­ter. The UAE, in par­tic­u­lar, is an ex­am­ple of a mar­ket that flour­ished fol­low­ing a prop­erty cri­sis in 2009, only to suc­ceed in boost­ing diver­si­fi­ca­tion and for­eign in­vest­ment in the years that fol­lowed.

At­tract­ing in­vest­ment

This month, the UAE an­nounced it had be­gun im­ple­ment­ing the 100 per­cent for­eign own­er­ship law for ex­pats and in­vestors, as well as the long-term visa for pro­fes­sion­als, first an­nounced in Septem­ber, in a bid to fur­ther en­cour­age in­vest­ment in the re­gion and re­tain a tran­sient ex­pat pop­u­la­tion. In his piece, UAE law firm Baker McKen­zie chair­man, Dr Habib Al Mulla, pre­dicts res­i­dency laws will re­lax fur­ther with mi­nor al­ter­ations, mak­ing the coun­try even more ap­peal­ing to in­vestors.

Fadi Ghan­dour, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Wamda Cap­i­tal, pre­dicts that 2019 will be the year of ex­its by Mid­dle East start-ups and SMEs, when funds will fi­nally start reap­ing re­turns for in­vestors, en­cour­ag­ing new ones to believe in and in­vest more in the re­gion.

So in fact, the year ahead might be bet­ter than the one which has passed. Badr Al Olama, Head of Mubadala Aero­space, be­lieves as much; the next 12 months, he says, will prove trans­for­ma­tive for man­u­fac­tur­ing, with new in­no­va­tions, a more gen­der­in­clu­sive work­force and a strive for more re­spon­si­ble in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion giving the re­gion much to look for­ward to. Even in the field of en­ter­tain­ment, things are look­ing up, par­tic­u­larly in Saudi Ara­bia, which is plan­ning 350 cin­e­mas by 2030 fol­low­ing a decades-long ban on cin­e­mas. In his com­ment, Im­age Na­tion Abu Dhabi CEO Michael Garin sees op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­duc­tion houses to play a more crit­i­cal role in pre­par­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of lo­cal con­tent cre­ators to com­pete at a global level.

Other in­sights in­clude Vince Cook, CEO at Na­tional Bank of Fu­jairah, who points out the im­por­tance of in­te­grat­ing youth into bank­ing to en­sure they are equipped to con­trib­ute to na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

Robin Ka­mark, CCO at Eti­had Avi­a­tion Group, en­sures con­sumers will most likely al­ways “find a seat on your de­sired flight” de­spite an ex­pected flat avi­a­tion mar­ket in the re­gion in 2019.

In mo­bil­ity, Ca­reem co-founder and CEO

Mu­das­sir Sheikha hails the tech com­pany’s part­ner­ship with the Roads and Trans­port Author­ity (RTA) to im­prove mo­bil­ity op­tions for Dubai’s three mil­lion res­i­dents, but urges other mar­kets and busi­nesses to fol­low suit to en­sure ev­ery­one is in­cluded in the new way of dig­i­tal liv­ing.

Even in the ar­guably sat­u­rated re­gional hos­pi­tal­ity mar­ket, Si­mon Al­li­son, CEO of Hof­tel, says chal­leng­ing years ahead should not stop own­ers from tak­ing ad­van­tage of value-added as­set man­age­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ni­cholas Maclean, Manag­ing Direc­tor at CBRE Mid­dle East, pre­dicts fur­ther op­por­tu­nity in the lo­gis­tics and ware­house prop­erty space in 2019, as well as a rise in the com­mer­cial real es­tate sec­tor in the UAE and Saudi Ara­bia due to com­pli­men­tary of­fer­ings in both coun­tries for large cor­po­rates.

While ques­tions re­volve around ex­ter­nal fac­tors such as Brexit and the out­comes of the Trump pres­i­dency, as well as its pos­si­ble im­pact on the Mid­dle East in the year ahead, one thing re­mains cer­tain for the re­silient re­gion: progress is in­evitable in 2019, and hope­fully, ev­ery year there­after.

Q THE UAE IS A PAR­TIC­U­LARLY GOOD EX­AM­PLE OF A MAR­KET THAT FLOUR­ISHED FOL­LOW­ING A PROP­ERTY CRI­SIS IN 2009, ONLY TO SUC­CEED IN BOOST­ING DIVER­SI­FI­CA­TION AND FOR­EIGN IN­VEST­MENT IN THE YEARS TO FOL­LOW”

Q THINGS ARE LOOK­ING UP, PAR­TIC­U­LARLY FOR SAUDI ARA­BIA, WHICH IS PLAN­NING 350 CIN­E­MAS BY 2030 FOL­LOW­ING A DECADESLONG BAN ON CIN­E­MAS”

The fu­ture In­te­grat­ing young ta­lent with emerg­ing in­dus­tries will drive eco­nomic growth in the GCC

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