Emirates' Sheikh Ahmed: Dubai and the UAE economy 'will be back' once Covid-19 clears up

The chairman of the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee says he is optimistic about the outlook for the tourism and aviation sectors

Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum says the government’s approach, its quick response and the agility of the healthcare sector has been very positive. Pawan Singh/The National
Powered by automated translation

Dubai and the UAE economy are on good footing for an accelerated comeback once the Covid-19 pandemic eases but the world must synchronise its efforts to bring about recovery, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chairman of the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee, said.

"Because you have the infrastructure, the airlines, the hotels, this gives you a jump start," Sheikh Ahmed told The National.

"The government’s approach, its quick response, the agility of the healthcare services, co-ordinating with the private sector, has been very positive. The message that you will be attended to – this all means that you are geared because of the facilities that you have.”

When everybody opens up, and this disease clears up, then I think things will be back.

The pandemic brought the air travel industry to a standstill and has tipped the global economy into a recession.

Panic led to $17 trillion (Dh62tn) being wiped off stock markets worldwide, while governments have been forced to push out more than $8tn (Dh2.17tn) in stimulus packages as coronavirus restrictions affected companies, lending declined and unemployment surged to highs not seen since the Second World War.

Multibillion dollar events like the Tokyo Olympics and Expo 2020 Dubai have been postponed while the Hannover Messe, an annual trade event, was cancelled for the first time in its 73-year history.

On the prospect of tourism in Dubai – the hub of Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline – returning to pre-crisis levels and whether the emirate could still meet its target of 20 million visitors, Sheikh Ahmed said he remains optimistic but pointed to a number of variables at play.

“You cannot do it yourself; the world and countries need to open up to each other,” he said.

“When everybody opens up, and this disease clears up, then I think things will be back. In Europe now, they started to open up slowly, and they’re paying close attention to see what’s going to happen, and others have followed.”

Tourism accounts for about 11.5 per cent of Dubai's gross domestic product.

About 16.73 million tourists visited Dubai in 2019, 5.1 per cent more than the previous year.

The emirate was named the third-best city for capturing direct international tourism spending in the World Travel & Tourism Council's 2019 Cities Report.

“We have to be optimistic. If business doesn’t open, how will people be able to get their food? You can’t be in lockdown forever; the authorities monitor the situation and they open slowly, and there’s a protocol about how you go about it," Sheikh Ahmed said.

"But nobody knows yet when all of this will be over.”

Sheikh Ahmed, who is chairman of Dubai Holding, said he did not see parallels between today's crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, which was fostered by a real estate bubble that was felt regionally and led to the reorganisation of Dubai Holding and Nakheel.

He also dismissed the prospect of increased mergers or consolidation among companies because of the pandemic.

“Today the disease affected everyone – the baker, the butcher, the farmer, the pilot – it has become your problem even if it is not your problem," he said.

"It is completely different from 2008. This is a global problem. It's on an entirely different level, it affected everybody’s life.”

The International Air Transport Association projects that airlines will lose $314bn in revenue this year – 55 per cent less than 2019, due to the impact of the pandemic – and will require $200bn in government aid.

IATA has urged governments to quickly meet their pledges of financial support for airlines and issued a warning that 25 million jobs are at risk in a scenario where three months of travel restrictions are combined with the fall in air travel demand.

On whether the airline industry globally will sustain long-term damage or be able to stage a comeback, Sheikh Ahmed, who is also president of Dubai Civil Aviation and chairman and chief executive of Emirates airline and Group, said there are several variables that will determine the health of the industry and pace of its rebound.

“It can recover when countries open up. This disease is like anybody starting an airline without bilaterals,” Sheikh Ahmed said in reference to air travel agreements between countries.

“Today you want to go to points A, B, C, D but will they allow you to come in, or will you allow them to come in?"

Sheikh Ahmed said "we’ll get there ... we have to remain positive that this is going to go away. I remain positive on the way forward”.