What is Dubai’s business temperature?

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I just came back from a two-week trip to Dubai to meet with a variety of marketing and PR directors in the following sectors: hospitality, finance, government, real estate and media. My aim was not only to make new business contacts but to understand how Dubai had changed since 2008. At the end of 2008, I wrote a dissertation entitled: Dubai: miracle or mirage? Is Dubai’s reputation sustainable? The research was conducted by arranging seven semi-structured interviews with governmental, resident and journalist bodies. Results showed that Dubai’s reputation was highly vulnerable in 2008. So in 2013, what is Dubai’s business temperature?

1.    Dubai’s growth is less frenetic. It is clear to the eye that there are many more buildings, malls and infrastructures than a few years ago. However, many projects have been put on hold, including the entertainment complex Dubailand, the Lagoons, the Arabian Canal and the World. There are two speeches about Dubai’s economy. Officially, Dubai is out of the global financial crisis. In reality, it is still recovering and constructions take place in phases, depending on funds allocated to support the project.

2.    Dubai has matured since the global recession. This is visible in almost all sectors. Do not get me wrong, Dubai will still make your head spin, it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the world but it is less frenetic than a few years ago. Government and hospitality specialists I met explained that the city has learned from its past mistakes. In the property market for example, Dubai has put in place tighter regulations to prevent volatility and a new ‘bubble-burst’ cycle.

3.    The relationship to money has changed. I noticed an evolution in the way people are willing (or not willing for that matter) to spend money. Marketing directors are more than before eager to understand the impact of any PR spending on sales. I was often asked: “how many customers can I get with your PR campaign?” Employees face real pressure from their managers. This tension is very visible in the financial and communication sectors.

4.    An evolution in business meetings. One of the most striking moments I had was standing around a table for a short and straight-to-the-point meeting. Meetings do not come with coffee and pastries, they do not go on for hours and they are not as chaotic as I was told. Also, they are not interrupted by phone calls or random visits. This was a pleasant surprise. The money topic was also brought to the table in most cases which is rarely the case in France.

5.    Communication and language. I was warned that someone saying: “yes” in the local culture usually means “possibly”. However, I was quite surprised when in most meetings, professionals often used “no” or “probably not”.

6.    The days of very high salaries are long gone. In a way, the quality of life is not as it used to be before the crisis. For many, the attraction of tax-free earnings means that they can build up savings for the future. In reality, the costs of living, increased price of houses and the ‘eating out culture’ leave very little money aside.

7.   Expats vs Emiratis. Expats make up over 88% of U.A.E. population. The government has put in place measures to encourage employment opportunities for nationals (Emiratisation) and 2013 is officially the year for creating jobs for U.A.E. nationals. This has huge impact on the employment market.

8.    A complex relationship with Abu Dhabi. People from Dubai do not speak much about Abu Dhabi. The gap between the two continues to strike. Dubai is still the place for fast growth and Abu Dhabi the conservative big brother. In 2014, Dubai is supposed to start paying back the bail-out loans it received from Abu Dhabi in 2009.

While Dubai »s temperature is still soaring, the city’s business temperature seems to have cooled down since the recession. The crisis has given the city a great opportunity to mature and develop a more resilient and sophisticated economy. Stay tuned as a new era of change could be at Dubai’s doorstep. The city is a front-runner to host the World Expo 2020 which could create 277,000 jobs between 2013 and 2021 and attract over 25 million visitors.

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