2019 outlook: The Middle East is set for a promising, albeit challenging, year ahead

The Middle East has had a history of taking hits, and rising back bigger and better, writes Lubna Hamdan, editor, Arabian Business magazine
2019 outlook: The Middle East is set for a promising, albeit challenging, year ahead
The future integrating young talent with emerging industries will drive economic growth in the GCC
By Lubna Hamdan
Thu 03 Jan 2019 04:19 PM

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 gender-inclusive 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.


Lubna Hamdan, Editor, Arabian Business

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