How has Covid-19 impacted Dubai?

Posting date: 01 July 2020

Around the world, countries have been impacted by and responded to Covid-19 in different ways. While Switzerland chose to rely heavily on testing and offered support to businesses, the United Arab Emirates implemented a travel ban, cut interest rates and rolled out a stimulus package.


As a travel hub with many expat and temporary workers, Dubai has been presented with unique challenges during the pandemic. Now as individuals and businesses start to recover and now look to the future, what can we expect for the city, and how might the economy recover?


Travel plans have changed

Dubai came to a standstill in April as the UAE government imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. Now, the emirate is opening the economy back up, and a significant part of this is travel.


As one of the world’s most significant travel hubs, Dubai was heavily impacted by lockdown measures. It's a city reliant on tourism, hospitality and aviation, so the grounding of planes and imposition of strict travel restrictions have had a major effect on the economy. March’s complete halt of passenger flights has contributed to passenger travel through Dubai dropping by a fifth in the first quarter of 2020, though special repatriation flights still operated to ensure travellers and contract workers could return home. The transport and storage sector, which includes aviation, land, air and water transport, made up 18.5% of Dubai’s GDP in 2017 and was its most active economic driver in the first half of 2019, so such a significant halt could be detrimental to the wider economy.


However, there is now good news for the aviation and hospitality sectors with the resumption of travel from to and from Dubai by July 7. Airports and national carriers are resuming large-scale operations whilst maintaining strict health and safety measures, which may help to accelerate the predicted economic recovery. We can therefore expect to see more opportunity for investment in the travel and tourism sector over the coming months.


Staff consider their options

While the UAE did roll out a stimulus package to help its economy in the midst of the pandemic, Dubai hasn’t seen the same level of support that other parts of the world has when it’s come to securing businesses. With no furlough scheme, some employers have been forced to reduce headcount and salaries to ensure survival during and after Covid-19. As the nation is made up largely of expats, many residents are making the decision to return home, and Oxford Economics estimates that the UAE could see 10% of residents leave its shores. However, with job losses and tanking economies an issue worldwide, those in stable industries may choose to stay on in Dubai rather than facing an uncertain future back home.


Some nations in the GCC are actively looking to reduce expatriate worker numbers, with Kuwait and Oman looking to fill a higher percentage of key positions with national candidates. As international flights resume and restrictions ease, we anticipate there will be more employment opportunities within the UAE, particularly within the healthcare, distribution and logistics and technology industries. E-commerce is thriving throughout the pandemic, so specialist skillsets in this area will be highly sought after.


 Oil and gas take a hit

We know that the commodities market has taken a considerable hit in 2020, not just with Covid-19 but with the oil price wars as well. Supply has outweighed demand and we saw storage facilities reach maximum capacity, resulting in a record low oil price that created significant disruption throughout the global industry. However, the past two months have seen the market recover somewhat, and there are predictions that the second half of the year will see oil prices rise back to $50. As lockdowns continue to be lifted around the world and the mobilisation of people and supplies resumes, we hope this sector continues to strengthen and more job opportunities will emerge.


Investment shows confidence

There are clear signs of opportunity and optimism in the UAE already. One such sign of confidence is the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announcing a $20.7 billion energy infrastructure deal with global investors, operators and sovereign wealth and investment funds. It’s one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions and is positive news for the UAE’s gas market – and indeed, clients and jobseekers. Emiratis are optimistic about an economic recovery, according to Mckinsey, and the relaxation of lockdown rules should speed this up. Dubai has maintained its position as among the top three destinations globally for greenfield foreign direct investment, thanks to its ease of doing business, location and security. This should help the city to recover economically, perhaps more quickly than other areas.


Flexibility into the future

Through this crisis we’ve seen many clients in Dubai and UAE implement remote working, reducing business travel as much as possible and placing projects on hold. We can expect to see some of this continue long into the future, particularly regarding employer flexibility, potentially creating more opportunities for workers who may not otherwise have been able to work full time in an office location.


As 22% of UAE employers say working from home has increased their business’ productivity, many organisations may introduce new remote and flexible working policies to allow employees to work from home on a permanent or part time basis. Unnecessary business travel will likely be reduced or eliminated entirely, with a focus on working – and hiring – locally. That’s not to say there won’t be opportunities for global workers to take up lucrative contracts in the UAE, however. For the right candidate, opportunities will remain.


Established in 2007, Swisslinx’s Dubai office is focused on banking and finance, oil and gas, and technology. We have a multilingual team of sector experts who are committed to matching the right candidates with the right roles, providing ongoing support before, during and after the recruitment process. View our latest UAE jobs or contact us to talk about how we can help you.

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