Jeff Johns and Ann Mugnier’s channel What Doesn’t Suck? sends up expat living. Courtesy Jeff Johns
Jeff Johns and Ann Mugnier’s channel What Doesn’t Suck? sends up expat living. Courtesy Jeff Johns

The UAE’s most popular video bloggers on what it takes to become a hit



Sampling desserts, tying headscarves and taking high tea. These are just some of the topics covered by Emkwan, a 32-year-old YouTube star who, from his base in Abu Dhabi, regularly vlogs – video blogs – on life in the UAE.

Attracting up to 300,000 views per vlog, Emkwan, real name Mohsin Khan, is one of dozens of residents broadcasting videos online, a trend that sees ­vloggers build intimate, unique relationships with subscribers from around the world.

But why take up vlogging? For Emkwan, he’s driven to upload regular content by the enjoyment he gets from sharing his gadget, car and watch reviews.

“I started experimenting with YouTube at university back when the platform was associated with time-wasting and cat videos,” he smiles. “I got into tech reviews where I learnt about the filming, editing and promotional aspects of running a YouTube channel.

“I now run two channels: ­Emkwan Reviews, which offers advice and suggestions related to technology, cars, watches and luxury, and Emkwan Vlogs, where I vlog biweekly on day-to-day life as expats, lifestyle and luxury,” he adds.

Emkwan launched this second channel to document his move to the UAE with his wife Nabeelah, and frequently posted videos for friends and family back in the United Kingdom.

“The channel was set to private, but I quickly realised that viewers from the other YouTube channel wanted to see more about life in the UAE. Both channels are now public, and it’s great to see the interaction they receive. On average, they get more than half a million minutes of watch time a month, which is incredible and ­humbling.”

Filmed on a Canon camera, usually a G7X or Legria Mini X, Emkwan’s lighthearted, upbeat vlogs cover a range of topics, including buying a Rolex watch, collecting a Bentley and enjoying afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab. He also answers subscribers’ questions, such as: “What’s it like working in the UAE?”

“I vlog on what I’m passionate about,” he says. “I feel that’s the best way to be – the audience picks up on your passion, and your energy online shows. It’s also easier to talk about what you love than it is about what you don’t.”

Hayla Ghazal, meanwhile, is a 21-year-old Syrian vlogger whose comedy and lifestyle posts regularly attract more than 200 million views. The ­Dubai resident, who is a business marketing graduate and was ­appointed a change ambassador to the United Nations in March, vlogs on fashion, beauty and life with her family, including restaurant reviews and fun takes on Eid ­celebrations.

From the age of 8, she dreamt of becoming a TV presenter, and started working in media at the age of 15, juggling her studies with acting in TV commercials and presenting.

“I absolutely loved speaking in front of the camera and wanted to be able to present anywhere, anytime and about anything I wanted,” she says. “So I started my YouTube channel in 2013, at the age of 18.”

With more than 1.6 million YouTube subscribers, 750,000 Instagram followers and 250,000 Facebook likes, Ghazal has been particularly successful. She attributes her popularity to having fun and being ­herself.

“There’s always a lot of jumping and dancing, and a whole bunch of bloopers,” she laughs. “In our part of the world, I do not need to scream from the rooftop to send a message. I need to speak a language people understand. Because people love to laugh, I use comedy to lightly highlight the unique habits that exist in our society to encourage social change.”

Ghazal’s vlogs have included family lunches in Dubai and experiences such as a Red Bull airplane flight over Abu Dhabi.

“YouTube is a global platform that anyone can be part of. I love that,” she explains. “Anyone anywhere can be part of this ­community without prior experience or specific ­qualifications.”

Jeff Johns and Anne Mugnier, the Dubai-based duo behind travel-and-lifestyle vlog What Doesn’t Suck?, also take a carefree approach to their work. From the United States and France respectively, the couple offer helpful information on where to go and what to do in and around the UAE.

Conscious of other vloggers who try to be “super serious publishers”, Johns and Mugnier devise original ideas that people can laugh at.

“We don’t take anything seriously and we reflect that in our videos,” says Johns. “While we love to provide useful information about all we’re doing, our most important goal is to make people smile.”

With 3,163 YouTube subscribers, What Doesn't Suck? is ­rapidly gaining in popularity. The 23 Things Dubai ­Expats Say video was particularly well-received, attracting more than half a million views across all online channels in its first month.

All four vloggers source content ideas from their day-to-day lives. Ghazal was once “dragged” to a wedding by her mother, and it was there that she decided to make a piece on types of dances at weddings. With more than six million views, the video became her most popular.

Emkwan also looks at what’s trending online and takes suggestions from fans, believing that subscribers and commentators are an important factor in helping to gauge what people are interested in seeing.

“The vlogging scene in the UAE has grown and changed a lot since I arrived four years ago,” he says. “At the time, there were a handful of us vlogging regularly. Since then, numbers have grown, but with more people making similar videos on similar subjects – for example, Dubai’s luxury cars and luxury lifestyle.”

His video Buying My First Rolex, for example, attracted more than 160,000 views, one of his most successful posts to date, but luxury isn't his only angle.

“I believe it’s important to show the world the depth and tradition the UAE has, alongside these luxury aspects,” he adds.

Emkwan, who has more than 23,000 Instagram followers and 25,000 Twitter followers, also believes the two emirates possess different vibes and ambiences. “Dubai is fast-paced. Abu Dhabi is a little slower. It’s great to capture on video,” he says.

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Stuck in a job without a pay rise? Here's what to do

Chris Greaves, the managing director of Hays Gulf Region, says those without a pay rise for an extended period must start asking questions – both of themselves and their employer.

“First, are they happy with that or do they want more?” he says. “Job-seeking is a time-consuming, frustrating and long-winded affair so are they prepared to put themselves through that rigmarole? Before they consider that, they must ask their employer what is happening.”

Most employees bring up pay rise queries at their annual performance appraisal and find out what the company has in store for them from a career perspective.

Those with no formal appraisal system, Mr Greaves says, should ask HR or their line manager for an assessment.

“You want to find out how they value your contribution and where your job could go,” he says. “You’ve got to be brave enough to ask some questions and if you don’t like the answers then you have to develop a strategy or change jobs if you are prepared to go through the job-seeking process.”

For those that do reach the salary negotiation with their current employer, Mr Greaves says there is no point in asking for less than 5 per cent.

“However, this can only really have any chance of success if you can identify where you add value to the business (preferably you can put a monetary value on it), or you can point to a sustained contribution above the call of duty or to other achievements you think your employer will value.”

 

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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