How Dubai defied the odds to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis

How Dubai defied the odds to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis
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Updated 28 December 2020

How Dubai defied the odds to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis

This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the tallest structure and building in the world, in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, during a government-organised helicopter tour. (AFP/File Photo)
  • As COVID-19 forces many of the world’s best cities to lock down again, Dubai is pulsating with life
  • Beach clubs, hotels and eateries are reporting brisk business as tourists flock back to the UAE’s commercial capital

DUBAI: Few global cities will look back fondly on 2020, the year of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel bans. Many found themselves facing budgetary shortfalls and compelled to shut their gates to visitors. For most, the recovery is likely to be slow and painful, if warnings by experts are any guide. But Dubai, a city founded on trade, aviation and hospitality in a region reliant on hydrocarbon revenues, may be making a comeback sooner than predicted.

How the UAE’s commercial capital keeps defying critics is a complex story involving many different factors. But when all is said and done, Dubai appears once again to be back on its feet even as many of the world’s great metropolises struggle with the debilitating effects of repeated lockdowns. The “City of Life” has not only survived the worst year in recent memory but looks all set to thrive in the new year, when it also hosts the World Expo from Oct. 1.

Since Dubai reopened to international travelers on July 7, it has witnessed a steady uptick in visitors, who have given the city’s numerous hotels and beachfront resorts a timely cash-flow boost. Restaurants, bars and even nightclubs have reopened. Hotels that weathered the downturn have hiked room rates as bookings soar during what has always been the city’s busiest tourist season.

Peace dividend has done its bit. The UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel, announced in a joint statement in August, could not have happened at a more opportune time. Hebrew, the everyday language of Israel, can now be heard at hotels and restaurants throughout Dubai. A recent report in The Times of Israel said more than 50,000 Israelis have already visited the UAE since the Abraham Accords peace agreement was signed on Sept. 15.

There are now a number of daily direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai, and both countries have declared each other “green zones,” meaning quarantine is not required on arrival or return. Nearly 200 hotels and restaurants in the UAE now serve kosher meals.

A report issued by STR, a hotel management analytics firm, in December said the key hotel markets in the UAE had reached or surpassed 50 percent occupancy due to strong domestic and recent international demand, with Dubai at 65 percent occupancy for the week of Nov. 30 to Dec. 6.

 

“The UAE is probably one of the nimblest countries in the world with the ability to move at such an incredible pace,” Philip Wooller, STR’s area director for the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

“Decisions are made in hours that in many countries might take months, or more likely, years. With all emerging economies, there will be ups and downs, but if we focus on the hospitality sector, Dubai’s pace of growth has been nothing short of sensational.” 

Wooller wrapped up the emirate’s progress thus: “Just a few short years ago, Dubai had only a handful of hotels and a handful of visitors. Pandemic aside, the same Dubai is now the world’s fourth-most visited city with one of the largest hotel markets and a growing list of world-class venues.”

To be sure, social-distancing rules are still in force, mask-wearing is required even on beaches, and there are restrictions on gatherings of more than five people except for members of the same family. The precautionary measures are likely to remain in place for as long as the authorities in Dubai consider them necessary.

INNUMBERS

Dubai

* 200,000 - Travelers visiting emirate for Christmas, New Year holidays.

* 30% - Rise in share prices of Damac Properties Dubai Co. in December.

* 2021 - City to host World Expo from Oct. 1.

Also, if a recovery is indeed underway, it’s still early days. Even before the pandemic hit, Dubai was experiencing a general slowdown in economic activity. The pace of expatriate departures had quickened as many shops, businesses and companies struggled to stay afloat in a city that had grown accustomed to continuous growth almost since the discovery of oil.

Reports of even longtime residents returning to their home countries augured badly for the future of an economic model built on the presence of expats, who comprise about 90 percent of Dubai’s population.

With the onset of the pandemic came an oil price plunge, as collapsing energy demand worldwide resulted in crude prices hitting two-decade lows. Finance ministers of the Gulf countries sounded the alarm and central bank chiefs went for broke in anticipation of another global recession. The international media was filled with reports of blue-collar South Asian and Filipino workers leaving on repatriation flights.

 

For Dubai, the existing economic problems were exacerbated by the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the global travel and tourism industry, which came to a shuddering halt. A strict 24-hour lockdown implemented in April forced businesses with already bruised balance sheets to close or lay off staff.

Foreign migrant workers bore the brunt of the cost-cutting measures, with many seeing their salaries slashed, delayed or frozen. Oxford Economics estimated that as many as 900,000 jobs could be lost in the UAE and 10 percent of its residents uprooted.

Anxiety bubbled away just beneath the surface in Dubai, a cosmopolitan city known for its entrepreneurial energy, boundless ambition and unlimited shopping opportunities. And after March, two of the emirate’s biggest strengths — the aviation and hospitality sectors — proved to be its greatest weaknesses amid a pandemic blamed on a highly transmissible and deadly virus.




This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Atlantis The Palm, luxury hotel resort located at the apex of the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago off the Gulf emirate of Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

Now, with the launch of the UAE’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, those grim days could soon be regarded as a forgettable page in Dubai’s history. Hotels are busy adjusting their business strategies to cope with the new influx of visitors. The Jumeirah Group, which manages the world-famous Burj Al-Arab hotel, has established a series of pop-up experiences, including SAL — a chic new pool and beach club that is regarded as a cutting-edge concept.

“Dubai’s nature is to be entrepreneurial and radically adaptive to changing environments, and these characteristics have allowed it to navigate the crisis and come out stronger,” Danielle Wilson Naqvi, owner of boutique travel agency Unique Family Travels, told Arab News.

It is not just the big companies who are betting on a brighter future. Anecdotal evidence of green shoots of recovery can be found in the upbeat mood of many small business owners who experienced stress and uncertainty during the lockdowns.

“Despite a challenging few months before the summer, footfall to Cassette has been the strongest we have ever had,” said Haider Madani, owner and co-founder of Cassette DXB, a cafe-restaurant that opened in February 2019.

“Thanks to our higher number of customers, we have been able to increase the size of the team, helping a lot of great talent in the market looking for work, as well as expand our food and drink offering.”




A picture taken with a fish-eye lens on July 19, 2020 shows Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure and building in the world ahead of the launch of the UAE “Hope” Mars probe. (AFP/File Photo)

While only time will tell how deep the recovery is, if it is real then Dubai has pulled it off just when the outlook could not have been bleaker. “Pre-pandemic Dubai faced economic challenges — its real estate and hotel sector were perhaps oversupplied,” said Wooller. “In some ways, the pandemic has allowed Dubai to take stock of the situation and provided an opportunity to change direction where needed.

“I think it is too early to talk about a second boom, but Dubai feels pretty good at the moment. The handling of the pandemic has also been a credit to Dubai, and I fully expect the city to go from strength to strength in 2021.”

In the last two months, the UAE government has adopted a raft of measures aimed at boosting the economy and attracting skilled talent from around the world. These include a groundbreaking amendment to the UAE Companies Law that permits 100 percent foreign ownership within the onshore jurisdiction of the UAE, which previously required 51 percent Emirati ownership in businesses operating outside the free zones.

In November, a major overhaul of the country’s personal laws allowed unmarried couples to cohabitate and loosened alcohol restrictions. For its part, Dubai launched in October a remote working program that makes it possible for digital nomads and their families to relocate to the emirate on an annual basis for just $287 plus medical insurance costs.




A recent report in The Times of Israel said more than 50,000 Israelis have already visited the UAE since the Abraham Accords peace agreement was signed on Sept. 15. (AFP/File Photo)

The amended legislation followed the approval in October by Dubai of an extra $136 million (AED 500 million) economic stimulus package to support the local economy, which brought the year’s total stimulus measures to $1.8 billion.

Property dealers are hoping that small fluctuations in the Dubai real-estate market are the harbinger of an eagerly awaited recovery. According to the UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, every major city experienced price rises except Dubai in 2020, whose market went into decline during the pandemic due to a lack of liquidity and is therefore “fair valued” from an investment standpoint.

“This was on top of an already undervalued real estate market,” Taufiq Rahim, a UAE-based senior fellow at the New America Research Institute, told Arab News. “Dubai’s assets were already at a low and it had to adjust to a low base. Now you have an increase in visitors, in people looking for property and for residency.”




This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Dubai Frame landmark in the Gulf emirate of Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

At the end of November, the Dubai Land Department (DLD), in cooperation with Property Finder, launched the seventh edition of Mo’asher, the emirate’s official sales price index. It showed that demand for villas and townhouses was at an all-time high, with growth of over 500 percent since May 2020.

More good news arrived last week in the form of the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech-manufactured COVID-19 vaccines flown into the UAE by Emirates SkyCargo for Dubai Health Authority. Praising the “effective management of the pandemic by Dubai’s visionary leadership,” Nabil Sultan, a senior executive of the carrier, said: “By transporting COVID-19 vaccines across our extensive network, we look forward to helping people around the world get back on their feet after the devastating impact of the pandemic.”

The emirate’s current mood is one of cautious optimism and confidence. “You need to be very brave to take on Dubai,” Wooller, of the hotel-management analytics firm STR, told Arab News. “It is a city that is extremely quick on its feet.”

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
Updated 09 December 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
  • Value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined

MANAMA/DUBAI: A multinational naval coalition said it seized over 67 tons of drugs worth more than $189 million in operations near the Arabian Gulf in 2021, a record for the task force.

The value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined, said Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) that oversees the task force.

The haul including 6,550 kilograms of heroin, 4,052 kilograms of methamphetamine and 56,834 kilograms of hashish was all destroyed, he said.

Commander of CTF 150, Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Brendon Clark, said the drugs came from a number of countries around the region, without specifying.

“It’s all about maritime security operations ... preventing illicit activity from non-state actors in the region,” he said.

“We do that so that we can have legitimate commercial shipping, legitimate commercial fishing, can transit and operate in the region free from these non state threats.”

CTF 150 is part of the CMF naval partnership in which 34 nations patrol 3.2 million square miles of international waters. The New Zealand navy took command of CTF 150 in July.

Meanwhile, the US seized two large caches of Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, intended for the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The US justice department on Tuesday said navy troops seized the weapons from two vessels in the Arabian Sea while conducting routine maritime security operations.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, orchestrated the arms shipments, which were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen,” the statement added.

Approximately 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products were also seized from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea while en route to Venezuela, the justice department said.

“The actions of the United States in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The seized petroleum products were sold for over $26 million, pursuant to a court order, with the proceeds directed, “in whole or in part, to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.”

The operation represents the US “government’s largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran,” the statement noted.


Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
Updated 09 December 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
  • The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement

DUBAI: The Arab coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communication system in the Al-Bani district and a weapons depot in Sanaa. 
The coalition said the communication system was being used to launch cross-border drone attacks. 
Coalition forces earlier intercepted and destroyed two drones in Yemeni airspace, one of which was monitored and launched from Sanaa airport.
Clashes between the Iran-backed Houthis and the coalition have intensified in recent months, specifically in Marib where it destroyed a Houthi missile defense system.
On Wednesday, the coalition carried out 16 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib in the past 24 hours. It said 95 militants were killed and 11 Houthi military vehicles were destroyed during the operation.
The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement.


UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
Updated 09 December 2021

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
  • Two incidents in the past week, one in Basra and the other in the north of the country, left dozens of people dead or injured
  • Council members pledged their continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and in opposing Daesh in particular

The UN Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned recent terrorist attacks in Iraq that killed or injured dozens of people. Daesh has claimed responsibility.

At least four people were killed and 20 injured in an explosion in Basra on Dec. 7, and at least 13 died in an attack in the north of the country on Dec. 3.

The members of the Security Council offered their condolences to the families of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery. They also reiterated their support for the “independence, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, democratic process and prosperity of Iraq.”

They urged all states to “actively” cooperate with Iraqi authorities to bring to justice the “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism.” Such cooperation, they stressed, is in line with obligations under international law and Security Council resolutions.

Council members “reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

Pledging its continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and particularly Daesh, the council “reaffirmed the need for all states to combat by all means — in accordance with the charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law — threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”


Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts
Updated 09 December 2021

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

TEHRAN: More than half of Iran’s fleet of civilian aircraft is grounded due to a lack of spare parts, the deputy head of the country’s airlines association has said.

“The number of inactive planes in Iran has risen to more than 170 ... as a result of missing spare parts, particularly motors,” Alireza Barkhor said in an interview with state news agency IRNA.

The shortage represented more than half of the civilian aircraft in the sanctions-hit country, he said in an interview this week.

“If this trend continues, we will see even more planes grounded in the near future,” Barkhor was quoted as saying.

“We hope that one of the priorities of the government will be helping to finance airlines so that they are able to provide the spare parts to refurbish the grounded planes,” he added.

According to the Iranian economic daily Financial Tribune, national carrier IranAir currently operates a fleet of 39 planes, the majority of them Airbus jets.

Iran’s economy has struggled under sanctions that were lifted after a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 but reimposed again after the US withdrew from the pact in 2018.

In 2016, following the lifting of sanctions, Iran concluded deals to purchase 100 Airbus jets, 80 Boeing planes and 40 ATR aircraft.

But the Islamic republic received only 11 planes as deliveries were interrupted following the reimposition of sanctions, according to the daily.

Meanwhile, Iran has voiced criticism over new US sanctions imposed on a dozen Iranian entities and officials accused of “serious” human rights abuses.

Washington announced the sanctions late on Tuesday, adding to already stringent measures against the Islamic republic.

They came just before talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers are to resume on Thursday in Vienna, according to Iran’s main negotiator.

“Even amid #ViennaTalks, US cannot stop imposing sanctions against Iran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted.

“Washington fails to understand that ‘maximum failure’ and a diplomatic breakthrough are mutually exclusive,” he added.

“Doubling down on sanctions won’t create leverage — and is anything but seriousness and goodwill.”

The new US measures target government officials and organizations involved in the repression of protesters and political activists, and prisons where activists have been held in brutal conditions.

After a pause of several months the nuclear talks resumed in Vienna last week but paused on Friday.


Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
Updated 09 December 2021

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
  • Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008

GAZA CITY: Specialists in the besieged Gaza Strip are mixing psychiatry and music in therapy sessions designed to improve positivity among the Palestinian enclave’s war-weary population.

And 12-year-old Reem, whose family home was bombed in May during the latest clashes in the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, has been one of those to benefit.

The youngster was left traumatized after an explosion at her house in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, an experience that has since regularly reduced her to tears and caused her to feel isolated and depressed.

But after getting involved in a music therapy scheme run by the Sununu Association for Culture and Arts and funded by the German GIZ organization, her stresses and fears have been significantly eased.

Reem listens to music without words during her weekly psychological support sessions organized as part of the Enjoy Your Life with Music initiative.

Program coordinator, Rania Al-Shurihi, said Reem’s mental health had improved dramatically as a result of her treatment, adding that the association also held group sessions for Gazans suffering from the psychological effects of years of war and economic hardship.

Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and it is now used to treat a range of conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, heart irregularities, and blood pressure issues.

Al-Shurihi pointed out that sometimes exposing people to sad music helped them shed negative energy through crying but added that happy and relaxing music incorporating the sound of rain and waves could have similar positive outcomes.

She noted that psychological pressure often generated the need to listen to music or readings from the Holy Qur’an for relaxation.

Mental health specialists also use therapeutic methods such as writing, cooking, sailing, and breathing exercises to relieve tensions.

“Despite society’s inherited and negative view of mental health center visitors, the success of the music therapy experience has greatly contributed to changing these concepts,” Al-Shurihi said.

Experts believe that many children living in Gaza suffer from psychological damage related to the conflict including depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, urinary incontinence, and nervous mood swings.

According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008. The aid organization said the deadly conflict in May had a devastating impact on many youngsters after schools, health facilities, homes, and offices were damaged or flattened in missile attacks.

Al-Shurihi said it was important that music therapy continued to be offered in Gaza not just to tackle the effects of war but also the daily pressures of life faced by Palestinians.

“We all need psychological intervention to varying degrees. And through music, we seek to help the neediest people to overcome difficult circumstances and not drown in a sea of psychological crises,” she added.