Coronavirus: Dubai business leaders optimistic of economic revival

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16 Jul, 2020

As published in The National

Leaders of retail, tourism and travel discussed ways to put the economy back on track


Green shoots of recovery are beginning to return to Dubai’s economy as business leaders took the stage for the first conference held at Dubai World Trade Centre since March.

The AI Everything event was an opportunity to discuss how leaders coped with the pandemic enforced disruption and preparations to put the economy back on track.

It has just been a few weeks since Dubai Mall reopened its doors for business.


An early nervousness shown by stay-away shoppers has shrugged off with 100,000 people visiting the mall daily.

But businesses still face a challenge.

“Retailers are doing around 50 per cent business of pre-Covid levels,” said Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties and founder of

“Things change very quickly but we are moving forward.

“We do not want to go back to the dark days and nights when we did not know where this attack on humanity was going.

“Some industries will do better than others, I am optimistic by the middle of next year we will be close to normality.”

Planning for a possible lull in business helped Emaar ride out the worst of the economic fall-out as international borders closed and residents were forced to stay home.

“The global economy was flying and we knew it could not last so we amended our debt to cash ratios and other aspects of the business to prepare for a possible downturn,” said Mr Alabbar.

“We got lucky as we did not know the virus was coming.

“If you run a successful mall you will be okay, if we do well the retailers do well.

“They are having a hard time but we will move upwards together.”

Mr Alabbar said Noon is committed to supporting local retailers and is preparing to launch a programme to help small businesses in the food and beverage sector by aiding their supply chains.



It has been a quick turnaround at WTC from a temporary field hospital to the usual conference centre.

The field hospital discharged its last patient on July 8.

That willingness to adapt and reopen Dubai for business impressed those speaking at the event.

Dubai is now backing itself to tap into the growing demand for global tourism as those locked down around the world look to book travel for the upcoming year.

“When we look at tourism in Dubai we see a great feeling and sense of positivity about reopening,” said Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

“A lot has happened over the past few months.

“There is a diverse tourism strategy in place as people visit us from all over the world and we are lucky enough to have that privilege.

“My team has engaged with 65,000 international travel agents and 3,000 trade partners to sell Dubai to the world, and there is a lot of interest.

“We are seeing that online and Dubai is always in the top five searches for travel, not just leisure tourism but also business.

“We need to build on the trust that has been built by the government during the pandemic.”

The travel experience is already very different as airports and airlines look to adapt to the new world left behind by the global pandemic.



Both need to change if the industry is to return to the thriving state it was once in, experts said.

Negative Covid-19 tests are likely to be required before travel for at least the next year, with enforced quarantine for those testing positive.

That should not stand in the way of people wanting to travel, according to the CEO of Dubai Airports Paul Griffiths.

“The impact on the airport was rapid and dramatic,” he said.

“We are going to have a rapid rebound when the world reopens so we are changing the dynamic to adapt.

“While we are in the eye of the storm we can be depressed but the future is very bright.”

Mr Griffiths said the airport went from 1,100 flights and 280,000 passengers a day to just 17 flights in three days at the height of the crisis.

In May, 44,000 passengers passed through Dubai, the normal number it would experience in four hours.

“We are in daily contact with Emirates as we are nothing without their activity,” said Mr Griffiths.

“The aim is to convince everyone we were early to act and have been pro-active to make people feel safe when they travel.

“This situation will pass and the opportunity to be bright again will remerge. We will have a better project with better value for money and a stronger reputation.

“We must all play our part to put Dubai on the map again to show what a great place it is to visit.”

Emirates recently returned its super-jumbo, the Airbus A380 to the skies.

Their gradual return to service is a positive sign, said Emirate’s divisional senior vice president, Boutros Boutros.

“We have been at the forefront of safety measurements and protocols, but we already had an advanced filtering system in place before the pandemic,” he said.

“It is the biggest challenge for a global industry, to restart operations and convince people it is safe.

“With the restriction on travel it becomes very difficult to fill an aircraft. Our main objective is to keep Dubai connected to the world.

“We are trying to provide a service so our prices are very low compared to our cost.

“Aircraft of the future will be the same aircraft we already have.

“Post Covid we want to go back to normal, but our economy is about filling the aircraft – that will not change.”