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SPECIAL REPORT: THE GCC’S CHANGING EDUCATION LANDSCAPE

JUNE 2020

WE WILL RISE AGAIN

The regional economy has been battered by Covid-19. Can businesses defy the odds and stand tall?

p.34

Disrupting models: The companies redefining business

p. 40

Time to be seen: Why marketing is key right now

BD 2.10 KD 1.70 RO 2.10 SR 20 DHS 20


Gulf Business

CONTENTS / JUNE 2020

07

The Brief An insight into the news and trends shaping the region with perceptive commentary and analysis

43

Special Report: GCC Education The education landscape has seen some seismic shifts due to Covid-19. How is it coping and what’s coming next?

24

Cover Story: Economic upheaval How have the major pillars supporting the GCC’s economy been impacted? Are they ready for the post-Covid-19 era?

gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 3


CONTENTS / JUNE 2020

34 Disrupting the status quo How these companies are redefining ways of working

40 Marketing in crises How brands must communicate during tough periods

“Going through an airport, the whole travel experience, will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery” -Paul Griffiths, CEO, Dubai Airports

59

Lifestyle

Flying high p.64

Driving support p.66

Editor-in-chief Obaid Humaid Al Tayer Managing partner and group editor Ian Fairservice Group director Andrew Wingrove andrew.wingrove@motivate.ae Acting editor Aarti Nagraj aartin@motivate.ae aartinagraj Deputy editor Varun Godinho varun.godinho@motivate.ae varungodinh Senior art director Olga Petroff olga.petroff@motivate.ae Art director Ángel Monroy angel.monroy@motivate.ae angel__monroy Photographers Mustufa Abidi, Jitendra Jangir Cover: Ángel Monroy. Photo: Abdul Rahman Shakeel/Getty Images

Changing travel plans p.72

General manager – production S Sunil Kumar Assistant production manager Binu Purandaran Production supervisor Venita Pinto Chief commercial officer Anthony Milne anthony@motivate.ae Group sales manager Manish Chopra manish.chopra@motivate.ae Senior advertising manager Ravi Dutt ravi.dutt@motivate.ae Senior sales manager Tuleen Abu Soud tuleen.saoud@motivate.ae Group marketing manager Anusha Azees anusha.azees@motivate.ae Vol. 25. Issue 2. June 2020 Printed by Emirates Printing Press, Dubai

Follow us on social media: Linkedin: Gulf Business; Facebook: GulfBusiness; Twitter: @GulfBusiness; Instagram: @GulfBusinessMagazine

HEAD OFFICE: Media One Tower, Dubai Media City, PO Box 2331, Dubai, UAE, Tel: +971 4 427 3000, Fax: +971 4 428 2260, motivate@motivate.ae DUBAI MEDIA CITY: Office 508, 5th Floor, Building 8, Dubai, UAE, Tel: +971 4 390 3550, Fax: +971 4 390 4845 ABU DHABI: PO Box 43072, UAE, Tel: +971 2 677 2005, Fax: +971 2 677 0124, motivate-adh@motivate.ae LONDON: Acre House, 11/15 William Road, London NW1 3ER, UK, motivateuk@motivate.ae

4 June 2020

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THE FIRST BOOK THAT EXPLORES THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE UAE BY SAEED K. ALDHAHERI AND RANJIT RAJAN

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/motivate books

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Buying spree

The Brief 8 9 10 13 17

JUN

20

Millions

BP $827.8

Boeing $713.7

Facebook $522

Live Nation Entertainment $416.1 Marriott International $513.9

Walt Disney $495.8

Citigroup $522

SOURCE: PIF

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/SIMONE GOLOB

Startups Finance Retail Future Social

Saudi wealth fund PIF has bought Boeing, Citi, Facebook, Disney stakes this year

Building for the future

Developing sustainable cities is key to supporting growing demand while offsetting negative environmental effects p.16 gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 7


The Brief / Startups

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/DOOMU

According to a survey of 100+ startup founders conducted by startup data platform MAGNiTT, 59 per cent of founders said that their businesses had already been impacted by the crisis and 48 per cent mentioned revenue generation as their major concern while 41 per cent foresee lower-than-expected revenue growth rates in 2020. KEY SUPPORT

A N A LY S I S

Covid-19 impact on the startup ecosystem The pandemic has adversely affected the regional startup ecosystem. But there is help, writes Zainab Mansoor

E

ntrepreneurship in the GCC region, particularly in the UAE, has come a long way. In recent years, regional governments designed programmes and initiatives to support startups in a bid to reposition the region as an innovation and knowledge-based hub. But the impact of the Covid-19 virus outbreak has weighed down the local and regional startup ecosystems. The Dubai Future Foundation, in a report launched jointly with the Dubai Future Council for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, highlighted that many strong startups that have high burn rates will require government support to survive the crisis. “According to a recent survey of the startup community in the MENA region, companies have reported that the Covid-19 crisis is affecting their business, with revenue generation, fundraising and burn-rate being the most significant concerns,” the Life After Covid-19: Innovation and Entrepreneurship report read. 8 June 2020

Still afloat

Business affected by the current situation

The UAE government has announced stimulus measures specifically for the startup ecosystem in the aftermath of the pandemic. In March, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council announced 15 new initiatives under its Ghadan 21 scheme which included subsidising electricity connection fees for startups until the end of 2020 and exempting them of performance guarantees for projects up to Dhs50m ($13.6m). In April, the Dubai World Trade Centre Authority’s support came in the form of a three-month rent postponement for SMEs and startup tenants. In addition, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) pledged a $1m solidarity fund to help strained startups weather the tide of the Covid-19 crisis. The fund will be distributed through equityfree grants and commissioned projects. Dubai Future Foundation has also launched the ‘One Million Arab Coders’ Covid-19 hackathon to develop solutions for challenges that have emerged due to the coronavirus outbreak, such as access to healthcare services, education, social solidarity and supporting startups. The five award-winning projects will receive $50,000 through the initiative. In Saudi Arabia, InspireU, a programme launched by the Saudi Telecom Company (stc), confirmed its commitment to incubate startup projects in its sixth and seventh intakes despite the Covid-19 crisis. Additionally, Saudi’s Social Development Bank, with support from the National Development Fund, launched a SAR12bn ($3.2bn) programme, in which SAR2bn will be extended to 6,000 entrepreneurs enabling them to set up development projects. WHAT’S NEXT

Yes 59%

Too soon to tell 37%

No 4% SOURCE: LIFE AFTER COVID-19: INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP REPORT

The first quarter of 2020 saw $277m in funding for MENA-based startups, but the number of startup investment deals in Q1 – 108 – dipped 22 per cent from Q1 2019, MAGNiTT’s Q1 2020 MENA Venture Investment Report revealed. March alone recorded a drop of 67 per cent in transactions compared to the same month last year, reflecting the impact of the coronavirus on the ecosystem. With regional economies anticipated to reopen completely in the second half of this year, startups will also hope to start witnessing some form of economic recovery, with 2021 expected to bring better growth prospects. gulfbusiness.com


The Brief / Q&A INTERVIEW

Khalid Elgibali MENA division president, Mastercard

Explainer: Have contactless payments taken off in the GCC? The Covid-19 pandemic has made contactless payments more relevant than ever before. Has adoption in the GCC grown significantly?

T

he GCC countries have seen considerable growth in contactless payments over the years. According to Mastercard data, in 2019, the wider MEA region saw over 200 per cent growth in contactless transactions. Today, almost one in nine Mastercard transactions at pointof-sale terminals in MEA are contactless. The pandemic has certainly accelerated adoption of contactless payments, and increased awareness around its speed and security. Mastercard’s data for March 2020 versus last year, shows growth in contactless payments throughout the GCC, including over 100 per cent in the UAE. Contactless transactions in Saudi Arabia grew three times as fast as non-contactless transactions.

Sticky habit

80% of consumers in MEA will keep using contactless payments postpandemic

In a consumer study we conducted in April, eight in 10 respondents in MEA said they will continue using contactless payments post-pandemic, pointing to a long-term shift in behaviour. HOW DO CONTACTLESS PAYMENT SYSTEMS WORK?

Contactless uses an embedded chip with antennae. After tapping a contactless card or device at checkout, payment details are communicated wirelessly to the terminal. If using a mobile phone, consumers receive payment confirmation moments later. MANY CONSUMERS STILL HAVE SECURITY CONCERNS. HOW CAN THESE BE ADDRESSED?

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/KLYAKSUN

Contactless cards are designed to meet all the essential security requirements that often worry us – from protecting against fraud, to maintaining consumer privacy, and offering a good cardholder experience. While there have been rumours that fraudsters can easily electronically pickpocket your contactless card, these fears are largely unfounded. Even if someone does get access to your contactless card, the only information they can really harvest is the account number and expiry date, which is inadequate to make any fraudulent transactions. More importantly, they will not be able to get this information unless they are physically close to the card, specifically in a range of 0-4 centimetres. Another common misgiving is that someone can counterfeit your contactless card using the information they intercept. Again, this is extremely unlikely. Every time a contactless payment is made, a contactless device generates a one-time-only cryptogram, which is unique to that particular transaction. This number is generated using advanced encryption methods and it is extremely difficult to duplicate this advanced technology and create a functioning counterfeit version of a contactless card. Furthermore, given the purchase limit on contactless transactions, the incentive to attempt something like this is vastly reduced. Finally, there is the myth that fraudsters can gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 9


The Brief / Retail Shifting interests

Many consumers in the UAE have switched brands and retailers during Covid-19 0

make online or phone purchases using contactless card information. A contactless card does not send any information other than the unique code and the account number to the card reader, and an online or phone purchase requires much more information including the cardholder’s name, billing address, and the three-digit code at the back. Without these details neither online, nor phone, nor in-person transactions can be completed. A contactless card or device has the same security and authentication technology that is behind traditional credit and debit EMV chip cards. Moreover, with the advent of advanced technologies such as AI, financial institutions and payment companies are constantly monitoring account activity and can zero-in on potentially suspicious transactions with unprecedented speed. All Mastercard contactless payments carry a global zero liability guarantee, which means you will not be held responsible for unauthorised transactions on your debit or credit card. REGIONALLY, HAVE INDUSTRY PARTNERS MADE THE TRANSITION TO ENABLE CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS?

Yes, efforts by industry partners are facilitating wider contactless enablement, adoption and growth. Issuing banks are onboard, and central banks have been decisive in raising contactless payment limits – or the limit up to which a PIN is not required – for added consumer convenience.

Shopped new grocery store Changed primary grocery store Switched store brand Shopped new websites: non basics SOURCE: MCKINSEY & COMPANY COVID-19 UAE CONSUMER PULSE SURVEY 4/24-4/29/2020

COMMENT

10 June 2020

Panos Linardos Chairman, Retail Leaders Circle

Weathering the crisis Retailers regionally and globally have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. What are the steps they should take to stay protected?

A

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CONTACTLESS PAYMENT? CAN WE EXPECT NEW TECHNOLOGIES TO FURTHER REVOLUTIONISE THE INDUSTRY?

Covid-19 has led to an acceleration in contactless payment and this digital transformation will continue. The MENA region is home to a youthful techsavvy population that is constantly connected and on the go. Current spending patterns show that people in the region are turning to contactless payments to buy essentials like grocery, pharmacy and retail items, foretelling a shift in consumer behaviour that is likely to stick. Tapping is deeply engrained in many markets, thanks to the growth of tap-and-go at transit turnstiles. This has led cardholders to adopt contactless wherever speed and convenience is key – with small, everyday purchases such as groceries, fast food, and vending machines, accelerating the shift from cash to card. While it’s exciting to see the impetus for contactless right now, it’s also the result of investments, innovation and collaboration over a long period of time. The technology that will revolutionise the industry in future, might already be in its infancy today.

20

Shopped new websites: basics

63%

of UAE consumers are optimistic the economy will rebound within 2-3 months, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company in the last week of April

s the Covid-19 pandemic presents a global crisis without modern parallel, it has become clear that the consequences across geographic, demographic and economic areas will be profound. Undoubtedly, Covid-19 is the biggest blow the retail industry has experienced for decades. And retail leaders should respond promptly and with urgency to adapt and prepare for the “next new normal” that will follow. Retail and brand leaders have an obligation to safeguard their organisations, build new muscles to thrive in a world of turbulence and discontinuity, look ahead to anticipate and meet their customers’ new needs, and set the foundation to achieve sustained growth and performance after the pandemic is over. SAFEGUARD THE ORGANISATION

Protecting your people and customers from spreading the disease is the number one priority. On top of that, engaging and communicating with your staff on a frequent basis is key. Determine how much flexibility you can provide during this stressful situation. Be open, transparent, and receptive to your people’s concerns and priorities while reminding them that everyone will get through this as one strong team. gulfbusiness.com


The Brief / Retail COMMENT

FINANCIAL STRESS-TESTS

This is the time retailers are prompted to identify radical cost levers and check their liquidity positions, implement cash conservation and recovery actions, evaluate working capital requirements and credit solutions, delay discretionary capex, and negotiate flexible financing and leasing terms. How quickly retailers take action in these areas will determine their business readiness to thrive in the era of the next new normal that will follow. INSTIL COMMERCIAL URGENCY

Resilient retailers cannot wait for a rebound in the post Covid-19 era. Their frontline teams must sharpen their commercial focus to identify pockets of growth and quick wins wherever and however they can. By taking products from offline to online, unlocking new customer segments, finding creative ways to deal with excess inventory, re-creating the in-store experience online, or exploring collaborative industry partnerships, they can move proactively to seize emerging opportunities and capture market share while optimising resources across Q2-Q4 to meet the updated 2020 budgets. STAY CLOSE TO CUSTOMERS

The crisis is shifting consumer priorities and behaviours, which will most likely stick as habits after the pandemic is over. So how can retailers win the battle over customer relevance? Resilient retailers must

THE CRISIS IS SHIFTING CONSUMER PRIORITIES AND BEHAVIOURS, WHICH WILL MOST LIKELY STICK AS HABITS

make sure they engage with their customers wherever they are to ensure business continuity, reinforce loyalty by protecting and rewarding them, and extend their support to local communities. In the same way that Covid-19 will leave lasting emotional scars, it will also create lasting emotional bonds for long after the pandemic has passed. RE-IMAGINE THE SUPPLY CHAIN

Changing consumer behaviour is not the only shift retailers are facing. In this new reality, the industry is witnessing a dramatic restructuring of the global supply chain in which retailers have traditionally operated. And in the near future, we will see a substantial reworking on how retailers source, sort and deliver products across all sectors. Put simply, retailers need to act with agility and discipline to expand hybrid fulfilment methods that blend e-commerce and store resources – and these in turn will help the industry to pivot, scale, adjust and respond in the new reality. RETHINK THE BUSINESS MODEL

Retailers have an unprecedented opportunity to retool their organisation and adjust their operational model. This crisis is accelerating fundamental structural changes that were inevitable in any case, but are now likely to occur far faster than they would otherwise. Digital technologies will play an eminent role in enabling retailers to elevate customer experience in more meaningful ways. Removing friction from the customer journey and delivering differentiated, personalised experiences is key. It to also imperative for retailers to understand their customers, deliver intelligent supply chains, and empower employees. DON’T STOP INVESTING

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/DID GASON

It is too easy to suggest everything will return to normal once this pandemic passes, but make no mistake about it – a mindset shift is already happening. Retailers should use efficiency savings to leverage changing consumer needs and preferences as strategic indicators to reinvest in innovation, marketing, talent and organisational readiness. As the situation progresses, it will create a continuous shift in the preferences and expectations of consumers. These changes will impact how we live, how we consume, and how we use technology and will emerge more clearly over the coming weeks and months. We anticipate they will reshape consumer behaviour forever. Retailers and brands that rapidly adapt to this next new normal and retool their organisations will become more resilient and relevant and will succeed and emerge stronger once the Covid-19 crisis recedes. gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 11


The Brief / Gulf Business Academy

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/MALTE MUELLER

TAKING A POWERFUL AND POSITIVE APPROACH TO MANAGING YOUR WORK-LIFE BALANCE WILL PAY OFF AT HOME AND ANY OTHER PLACE YOU DECIDE TO CONDUCT YOUR WORK HOUSE RULES 1. Create your own list of rules for how you are

COMMENT

Mark Dickinson Gulf Business Academy trainer

A balancing act As many people work out of home, the lines between work and family time are blurring. Can people still maintain work-life balance?

I

had just sat down with my cup of coffee when the doorbell rang, which made my dog start barking uncontrollably, followed by a call on my phone, a WhatsApp message and a Skype call alert chiming on my computer. That day I was supposed to have delivered my project and it seemed like the whole world was going mad. Working from home (WFH as it is now officially called) is likely to elevate the demands on our time, as we are exposed to a variety of situations that are contrary to our normal working environment, so we have to learn how to manage ourselves. Work is supposed to be enjoyable, and you will perform really well in an environment where you feel productive and valuable. In order to create a great work-life balance it is essential that you figure out how your work fits into your life. Too many people give their work more importance than it should have, automatically upsetting the balance. By creating house rules when you are working from home, you increase the probability of keeping work in its perspective. 12 June 2020

going to work before you start sharing them with your family or co-habitants. 2. Set up fixed working hours with start and end times, pretty much like you would when you go to work. Remember you have a lunch break to schedule – you can make that a fun family time within your frame of work. Normally at work you spend time for coffee breaks – factor those in too. Create a clear separation between work and family so that everyone knows what to expect from you. 3. Stick to the times that you have set. 4. Figure out your workspace. You have to have a separate area dedicated to work. This allows those at home to know when you are not to be disturbed. 5. Give yourself the latitude to go with the flow. Time comes to us only once, use it wisely. Many who end up losing the work-life balance war are personally responsible for where they find themselves. By merely agreeing to work on something outside of your working hours, you have created a new norm. Your manager can now begin to expect that in a similar situation, you will respond in the same way. It is essential that you are clear that your work runs for the period of time that you are contracted. Work is wonderful, and sometimes a place to which you can even escape, but that is not what it is all about. Your work expects that you give 100 per cent of your time and energy and passion, during the time that it has paid you to do so. It may call upon you on occasions to give outside of your working time, which is fine, providing you manage those situations wisely. Taking a powerful and positive approach to managing your work-life balance will pay off at home and any other place you decide to conduct your work. Start integrating these ideas into your life, or at least whatever you think applies to you, and you will be well on your way to balance. gulfbusiness.com


The Brief / Future COMMENT

Creating inspirational banners around you, on your desk, on your screen saver, or on your calendar about what you want to achieve in life will cause you to think about your life more. As we think, so we become, so create signposts for your mind to follow so that you spend more time thinking about the things that you want rather than just thinking about what others want.

A N A LY S I S

If you are experiencing stress through angry outbursts, irritability, binge eating/drinking, aggressive behaviour, or you are imagining or making up negative or harmful unreal scenarios then you are experiencing an imbalance. It’s okay to feel this way, but what is not okay is not to do anything about it. You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.

Rehan Khan, Managing consultant for BT and a writer of historical fiction

You’re hired, said the machine If we introduce AI at the start of the hiring process, will we also do the same at the exit stage?

P

rocesses which require intense human effort are often difficult to scale. Think about hiring. Many organisations are faced with high churn rates due to employee dissatisfaction with the role, or perhaps lack of organisational-employee fit. Either way, recruitment is constantly on the mind of every manager. Every recruiter will tell you that perhaps the hardest part of their job is shortlisting suitable candidates. There have been countless times in my career when I asked for a list of suitable candidate resumes after the initial paper-sift, and lo-and-behold, not a single person was appropriate for the role. It’s not that they were all necessarily poor-quality candidates, it’s just that they weren’t matched to the role I was hiring for. This leaves the candidate in limbo, the hiring manager frustrated and the recruiter asking, “where did I go wrong?”. Is it time to automate the hiring process entirely and hand it over

gulfbusiness.com

to a machine learning algorithm or artificial intelligence (AI) engine? The HR team at Unilever thought so. They wanted to diversify the workforce and widen the pool of those who applied for entry-level roles. To achieve this, they implemented a new recruitment process so that in the first round of interviews, candidates were asked to play an online neuroscience game which assessed traits such as risk aversion. If they passed this phase, then in the second round, a video recording was made while the candidate answered more specific role-based questions. The AI examined the recording, assessing content, intonation and body language. The best candidates were invited to attend a third stage interview at Unilever offices with humans who made the final decision. As prospective candidates could easily access the system, applications in the US alone soared from 15,000 in the previous year to 30,000, with a broadening

of socio-economic diversity. In addition, the average hiring time went down from four months to four weeks and recruiters saved 75 per cent of the time from the hiring process. Unilever has said that it has saved 100,000 hours of recruitment time in the last year for their graduate hires, resulting in over $1m in savings. Other multinationals have used similar tools for entry level and graduate roles. As a hiring manager, I can certainly see some of the operational benefits, however I’d also have some concerns about the whole process: as the algorithms which run these programmes are designed by a limited – and quite often – homogenous group of people, there could be biases built into the programming of the AI. In addition, hiring by AI doesn’t come across as a very opaque process since it misses the soft human skills required to convey to a candidate why they weren’t selected for a role. But most of all, what concerns me is that if we’ve introduced AI at the start of the hiring process, will we also do the same at the exit stage? Will an AI tool be asked to fire someone as well? Will there be a version of an earlier incarnation of Donald Trump, the one on The Apprentice, who told would-be employees “You’re fired”. If that happens, how big a leap of the imagination would it be to find an AI unit sitting in the West Wing, doing a lot more than hiring and firing folk? Let’s hope that science fiction remains just that and, in the meantime, I receive a suitable list of candidates from my HR team.

June 2020 13


The Brief / Retail COMMENT

Alexander M. Ruchti Next Generation research analyst Bank Julius Baer

The e-commerce boost The coronavirus pandemic is providing a further fillip to the regional e-commerce industry

W

orldwide, e-commerce is a structurally growing business. Goods and services bought online have become a $2.2 trillion market with an annual growth rate in the double digits. In 2018, 1.3 million tonnes of cardboard were used in North America alone to safely ship the goods which were ordered online. In fact, e-commerce has often grown at the expense of physical retail, to the extent that terms like “retail apocalypse” and “Amazon effect” are often used to describe the danger that e-commerce presents to physical retailers. More than 9,000 retail stores closed their doors for good in the US last year, an increase of 60 per cent versus the previous year. Famous brands such as Sears Holdings, Toys R Us, Forever 21 and JC Penny have all had to declare bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Amazon accounted

THE AVERAGE GCC CONSUMER IS MORE THAN A DECADE YOUNGER COMPARED TO THE AVERAGE CONSUMER IN WESTERN COUNTRIES

Biggest slice of the e-cake Amazon accounted for a big share of US e-commerce sales in 2019

40%

Amazon

for almost 40 per cent of all e-commerce sales in the US last year. This shift of marketshare and the related demise of physical retail should continue and might even accelerate in the future. Companies that are operating in physical retail without a thought-through complementary online sales strategy are going to face even more headwinds going forward. While overall retail sales are in the trillions, global e-commerce penetration was only around 11 per cent last year, according to Euromonitor. This indicates 14 June 2020

that there is still quite a lot of room to grow. We would not be surprised if global e-commerce penetration were to reach 20 per cent in the mediumto long-term. When it comes to the product mix, we project that the short-term focus of e-commerce will likely be on goods that are non-perishable, such as electronics and books as well as apparel and footwear. As consumers often return every second piece of apparel or every second pair of shoes, this poses a big challenge to the logistics as well as the margins of some e-commerce companies. A bit further in the future, we assess that e-commerce will play a bigger role in the sale of perishable and fresh food products, even though this will require a much more sophisticated value chain. IMPACT OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

The main drivers behind the rise of e-commerce are the convenience benefits it offers consumers – such as saving them time and allowing them to compare prices between different stores. If you already know what you want to buy, why would you spend time going to a store, taking the risk that the store might not have the item available, while also not always getting a very competitive price on it? The coronavirus crisis has only further fuelled the shift from physical store sales to e-commercebased trade by adding health and safety concerns. Finnish researchers have studied the transmission effects of the coronavirus in confined indoor areas such as supermarkets. They found that if a person coughs, infectious particles can spread to different aisles and that they only eventually dilute over the course of several minutes. Hence airborne particles could potentially infect other shoppers even after the infected coughing person has walked away. THE POTENTIAL FOR E-COMMERCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

60%

increase in retail stores closures in the US last year, versus 2018

While the rise of e-commerce is a global phenomenon, the GCC is well positioned to see some of the most drastic sector growth rates. This is due to a mixture of three key factors – demographics, infrastructure, and base effects. The average GCC consumer is more than a decade younger compared to the average consumer in gulfbusiness.com


The Brief / Retail

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/MALTE MUELLER

COMMENT

Western countries. Younger people tend to be more tech-savvy than older generations. They are therefore more likely to adopt e-commerce and make use of technology as part of their purchase routines. The consumer in the GCC also relies on a solid technological infrastructure foundation – which is needed for e-commerce. The GCC states have some of the higher penetration rates when it comes to gulfbusiness.com

4%

of all retailing transactions in the UAE were done through e-commerce channels in 2019

internet, social media, and smartphones in the world. Despite these two factors, e-commerce in the GCC states is starting off from a low base and therefore has a lot of catch-up potential. While it is estimated that between 10 per cent to 25 per cent of all retailing transactions in the UK, US, France, and China were done through e-commerce channels last year, this figure is much lower for the GCC states. The average in the region stands at around 3 per cent, with the highest rate seen in the UAE at more than 4 per cent. One aspect that is currently holding back e-commerce in the GCC states is the difference in preferred payment solutions. The GCC states tend to have a substantially stronger cash preference compared to Western countries. Cash is a drag for e-commerce firms because it limits them to work with logistics companies that accept it as a form of payment. This leads to working capital pressure for e-commerce firms and higher rates of failed deliveries and return rates – which in turn increases the costs of doing business. By some estimates, cash-based deliveries are twice as expensive compared to prepaid deliveries. However, we project that the strong preference for cash will diminish over time in the GCC. When e-commerce firms manage to create a proven track record of consistently meeting customer expectations, clients will be more likely to trust them to a degree where they might choose prepaid solutions rather than cash on delivery. Furthermore, as more and more individuals shift towards digital payments in general, the preference for cash payments might diminish. Overall, we see a bright future for the e-commerce industry in the GCC. June 2020 15


The Brief / Construction

In recent times, GCC countries have taken several measures to adopt innovation and green practices in the construction space. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have a total of 242 and 52 LEED-certified projects respectively, the likes of which offer 30- 40 per cent savings in water and energy, a report by HSBC in collaboration with Ernst & Young revealed. These buildings can be leased at a rate that is up to 20 per cent higher than the average, the report stated.

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/MARCO JEURISSEN

ENABLERS

A N A LY S I S

Green building blocks Regional governments are stepping up efforts to transition to sustainable building practices, writes Zainab Mansoor

T

he world’s urban population has grown substantially – from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018 – with expectations that it will rise further. The United Nations has projected that by 2050, 68 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. However, this trend toward urbanisation has brought to the fore the challenge of sustainability, even as nations look to mitigate the threat of climate change. In such a scenario, building sustainable cities is key to supporting growing demand while offsetting the negative environmental effects associated with traditional construction. Integrated policies for sustainable development are warranted to better the lives of urban and rural dwellers, simultaneously paving the way for environmental and socio-economic good. 16 June 2020

68%

of the world’s population will be in urban areas by 2050

The enablers that help foster the green building sector can be broadly classified into three categories, the report found: strategic enablers – covering policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks for green building projects; financial enablers – institutions and products that provide finance to underpin the green building markets; and market enablers – tools/ players that facilitate the development of a building entailing design, sourcing and construction. “All three enablers are equally important to help foster the green building sector in the GCC region. However, strategic enablers are pivotal – without the necessary regulatory and policy frameworks to either incentivise efficient buildings or set minimum standards, the sector would be subject solely to market forces,” Sabrin Rahman, head of Sustainability for HSBC in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey tells Gulf Business. “There have been strong steps taken across the GCC to raise the profile and urgency of sustainable buildings, such as through the Emirates Green Building Council that has mobilised cross sectoral collaboration. Additionally, energy and water subsidies in the GCC region, though slowly being decreased, act as a barrier to developing financial incentives for both new green buildings and retrofit projects. Financial enablers in the region are fairly developed with many local and international banks offering green-labelled financing and seeking to expand their green balance sheets,” Rahman adds. Green funding is slowly but surely gaining ground regionally. In the UAE, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) launched the Dhs100bn ($27bn) Dubai Green Fund to facilitate financing in clean energy and green projects. “Over the last couple of years, we have seen a marked increase in interest in sustainable finance, from issuers, borrowers and investors. What is becoming clear is that a post-Covid environment requires a new blueprint for the economy,” says Rahman. “Sustainability, specifically environmental and social issues, will be an even bigger factor to consider by governments and the private sector alike. As such, we expect to see sustainable finance scale up in the medium term across the GCC region.” gulfbusiness.com


The Brief / Social Fadi Khater Founder and managing partner of digital marketing agency Netizency

A N A LY S I S

Talking social Are social networks trying to capitalise on “social” distancing?

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/CENKERDEM

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hether working from home or just biding away the days, people by and large are spending a lot more time on social networks at present. The platforms, of course, are doing their best to seize this opportunity to grow and to leverage the significant uptake in traffic. For what feels like an eternity, social networks seem to have been locked in a battle for a bigger share of the pie. But the current pandemic seems to have levelled the playing field, forcing titans and newcomers alike to reinvent themselves to adapt to this new reality. Ultimately, it’s a race against time to innovate and find new ways to monetise and drive traffic. This is evidenced by some of the updates and new product launches from social networks in the past month. For starters, most platforms are trying to help brands navigate the waters of Covid-19 by offering resources and best practices to keep them advertising and spending money on social media. For instance, Facebook released a ‘Social Distancing Best Advertising Practices’ report for brands, Snapchat launched a ‘Covid-19 resource centre’ for brands

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THE CURRENT PANDEMIC SEEMS TO HAVE LEVELLED THE PLAYING FIELD, FORCING TITANS AND NEWCOMERS ALIKE TO REINVENT THEMSELVES to best adapt business ads, Linkedin is regularly updating its ‘Navigating coronavirus’ resource hub, and even Shutterstock got involved by launching a Covid-19 hub with resources for brand messaging. But all the resources in the world would be for naught, if they didn’t drive traffic, and perhaps more importantly, engagement. So, to keep users on social media engaged around the topic of coronavirus, i.e. to create a use for these resources: Facebook unveiled their new ‘Care’ reactions to share support during the pandemic Instagram introduced ‘Thank You Hour’, ‘Stay at Home’, and ‘Support Small Business’ stickers and shared stories WhatsApp released ‘Together at Home’ WHO stickers to help users check in on loved ones TikTok introduced ‘Small Gestures’, allowing people to share gifts from the platform’s e-commerce partners For those working from home, social networks have launched new features like ‘Quiet Mode’ from Facebook for screen time management and ‘Wanna talk about it?’ – a series of mental health awareness segments from Instagram featuring Netflix stars. LinkedIn is also expanding access to the ‘Events’ tool and launching an AI-powered video interview training tool for digital recruiting. Several platforms are also launching donation features to help support the battle against Covid-19, with Instagram introducing ‘Live Donations’ to raise funds for NGOs during livestreams, Snapchat rolling out a ‘WHO Lens’ to donate to Covid-19 relief efforts, and TikTok releasing ‘Donation’ stickers to raise funds for select non-profits without leaving the app. Additionally, and in the wake of video conferencing becoming the new norm, Facebook has also taken aim at Zoom’s market share by launching ‘Messenger Rooms’ for casual, free video calls, WhatsApp has expanded its end-to-end encrypted video call limit to eight people, and Google has made its video call service ‘Meet’ free for all until September 30. This flurry of new resources, tools and features begs the question of whether all of this is an opportunistic power grab or a genuine act of solidarity. But for all businesses, including social platforms, the current reality is to adapt or die; so, do the reasons for adapting really matter? June 2020 17


BRAND VOICE

Employee care in the time of Covid-19 In the Covid-19 era, employee healthcare analytics are more crucial than ever. Anas Jwaied and Marc Merheb of Micro Focus explain how Service Management Automation application can support employees, track potential company-wide health issues and bolster business continuity

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s businesses across the world lean into what has been termed the “new normal” they have been faced with challenges that no one could have predicted. From new security issues that come with ushering an entire workforce into a new “work from home” model, to business continuity challenges that arise as businesses try to avoid service disruptions, no business has succeeded in the Covid-19 era without robust IT solutions and accompanying partners. While the financial industry has long been transitioning to a model that relies heavily on technology to protect sensitive financial data and support an often widely dispersed workforce and client base, banks throughout the world have not gone unscathed. “An existing customer, a large bank with multiple branches, approached us in the midst of the early days of the Covid-19 crisis,” explains Anas Jwaied, managing director for Middle East and Africa at Micro Focus. “While they already had a number of Micro Focus ITOM solutions in place, they were keen to get the most out of their solution portfolio to support their business, staff and clients during this time.”

Micro Focus took a consultative and holistic approach to the bank’s request. “We utilised a top-down approach,” says Marc Merheb, presales manager for Middle East and Africa Region, “and identified five focus areas that are essential to the bank’s business continuity.” The five areas – services, staff, systems, sites and suppliers – were then further unpacked to highlight solutions that could be used to overcome current gaps with minimal investment, time and effort. “Our analysis revealed what many organisations have discovered since the start of the Covid-19 crisis,” recalls Merheb. “Employee care is essential for maintaining business continuity. Not only do employees need to feel supported, but their sensitive data also needs to be protected. They need to have the autonomy to report their own healthcare incidents, and the confidence that their privacy is respected.” A more confident workforce is only one benefit from robust employee

SMAX, or Service Management Automation X, is the first software solution for IT and enterprise service management and IT asset management that includes machine learning and analytics

Anas Jwaied, managing director for Middle East and Africa at Micro Focus


care. Tracking the healthcare requests of a workforce also allows organisations to adjust their strategies to meet the needs of their customers. Banks with many branches like Micro Focus’ client need to know when and where their employees are falling ill, so that they can balance employees between organisations and services to ensure business continuity. “When consulting with the bank, it was clear that healthcare requests and overall employee care were vitally important to them, but it was also apparent that they wanted 360degree visibility into their overall services, be they external, internal or infrastructure services,” says Merheb. In partnership with the bank, Micro Focus built a suite of bespoke SMAX applications, as well as a Business Value Dashboard that would both support employee healthcare, and give them deep insights into the data being created by their SMAX applications. SMAX, or Service Management Automation X, is the first software solution for IT and enterprise service management and IT asset management that includes machine learning and analytics. Employees are able to request healthcare services, report on their health status, and even request repatriation services if they fall ill while abroad. “In order to help the bank meet their goals, we proposed a solution based on SMAX that would provide a new employee care application, facility management access, a set of catalogue offerings and report generation that would provide insights into the realtime status of the staff’s healthcare status,” explains Merheb. The SMAX applications created for the bank included the New Employee Care application, which records and tracks each medical leave or health problem reported by employees; Facility Management Access which manages all employee requests to access

the office – a critical function during the Covid-19 pandemic; a set of catalogue offerings that give employees the ability to self-service through the SMAX portal, and; reporting capabilities that allow end users an overview of the healthcare status of their employees. “Applications that track employee health requests and facility access are key during these unprecedented times. SMAX gives both employees as well as the bank peace of mind Marc Merheb, presales manager for Middle East and Africa and could mean avoiding a disastrous outbreak,” says Merheb. shipments, reviewing critical staff requests While SMAX provides a new level of autonand observing the degradation in the availaomy for employees, to ensure business bility of internal or external business services. continuity, decision makers within the organiUsing the service availability dashboards, sation must be able to assess and analyze users can look into channels such as online the data to determine their workforce stratbanking and ATM services and determine egies. To that end, Micro Focus worked with the volume of users connected and the total their client to optimise their Business Value volume of transactions. Dashboard, a portal designed to give all bank With SMAX applications in place and the stakeholders “big picture” insights created by BVD customised for their needs, the bank SMAX and other existing Microfocus tools at experienced lower ticket volumes with faster the bank such as business service monitoring resolution times, improved end-user auton“A C-level at the bank can navigate to the omy and satisfaction and increased service main BVD and at a glance, he will have visibilquality all for a low total-cost-of-ownership. ity into the volume of users in the new “work Most importantly, both the bank and its entire from home” system, observe their satisfacworkforce can now address potential health tion with it, and correlate its infrastructure issues before they become problems that disperformance to assure the quality and conrupt business continuity. Microfocus solution tinuity of their external business services,” can be applicable to any customers from any explains Merheb. industry vertical that desires to achieve such BVD users can drill down further into tangible KPIs. their data, checking the status of credit card


The Brief / Infographics

A world on the move

Increasing but stable

The migrant population is growing but remains stable as a proportion of the world’s population Migrants as a share of the world’s population International migrants

Migrants play a critical role in shaping the economies of host countries, while bringing knowledge, skills and potential investment to destination countries

3.4%

3.2%

300

2.9%

2.8%

3.5%

3.4%

272m

258m

249m

3

221m 200

174m

192m 2

100

1

0

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2019

0

Mapping migrant flows Africa, India, Mexico, Philippines and China are the largest sources of migrants in the world in 2019 The thickness of the lines are proportional to the number of migrants

Africa

India

Mexico

Philippines

THE GCC

China

30m

migrants live in the region

China to NorthernAmerica 3.6m

China to Europe 1.2m India to Northern America 3.4m India to Europe 1.5m

11.8m TOTAL

India to West, Central & South Asia 2.2m

Africa to Europe 10.6m

Africa to Northern America 3.2m

China to East & Southeast Asia 4.7m

10.7m

Others 1.2m

TOTAL

40.1m TOTAL

Mexico to Northern America 11.6m Others 1.7m

Others 0.2m

Africa to GCC 3.6m

Others 0.5m

Philippines to East & Southeast Asia 0.7m

17.5m TOTAL

Others 1m

India to GCC 9.3m

5.4m TOTAL

India to Oceania 0.6m Within Africa 21m

20 June 2020

Saudi Arabia 13.1

Russia 11.6

UK 9.6

UAE 8.6

France 8.3

Canada 8

Australia 7.6

Italy 6.3

India 17.5

Mexico 11.8

China 10.7

Russia 10.5

Syria 8.2

Bangladesh 7.8

Pakistan 6.3

Ukraine 5.9

Philippines 5.4

TOP 10 DESTINATIONS OF WORLD MIGRANTS Millions (2019)

Afghanistan 5.1

TOP 10 ORIGINS OF WORLD MIGRANTS Millions (2019)

USA 50.7

Philippines to GCC 1.6m

Germany 13.1

Philippines to Northern America 2.1m

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Powerful engine

The Salah effect

Workers constitute a significant proportion of all migrants

35%

Migrant workers

63.57%

are high-skill workers with tertiary education or above

Mohammed Salah is not only scoring goals against football rivals but also anti-Muslim racism, say researchers from Stanford University, who found a drop in hate crimes around Liverpool since the Egyptian footballer signed with the club.

-18.9%

Distribution of migrant workers by sex 58.4%

41.6%

Male

Female

PRIME-AGE ADULTS CONSTITUTE THE VAST MAJORITY OF MIGRANT WORKERS IN BOTH GENDERS

86.7%

8.3% 15-24

25-64

LESS HATE POSTS The survey found that Liverpool supporters had halved their number of anti-Muslim tweets after studying 15 million tweets by UK football fans

The drop in hate crimes in England, since Mo Salah joined Liverpool FC in 2017

86.3%

5%

8.3%

65+

15-24

MUSLIM ROLE MODEL The survey of more than 8,000 fans suggested the reason was because Salah was familiarising his fans with Islam, through his observation of the faith, while his image as a bubbly father, friend and fantastic footballer was breaking down stereotypes of “threatening Muslims”

5.4% 25-64

65+

High-income

67.9%

An impactful presence Migrants contributed to 9.4% of global GDP

Income magnets Low-income

3.4%

Migrant workers are concentrated in high-income countries

$6.7 trillion

$3 trillion more than they would have produced in their origin countries

Lower middle-income

10.1%

90%

are voluntary or economic migrants, while 10% are refugees or asylum seekers

The global melting pots These cities are not only global hubs but the home of large shares of expats

$71.28 trillion

Upper middle-income

50%

18.6%

Dubai

86%

have moved from developing to developed countries

Doha

52%

Toronto

49%

30%

of US entrepreneurs are migrants, despite constituting only 13% of the population

Singapore

43%

Hong Kong

38%

5.8-6.3%

GDP contribution of migrants in developed destination countries

London

37%

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION WORLD MIGRATION REPORT 2020; CONNECTOGRAPHY, BY PARAG KHANNA (WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON); INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION GLOBAL ESTIMATES ON INTERNATIONAL MIGRANT WORKERS; THE MCKINSEY GLOBAL INSTITUTE’S PEOPLE ON THE MOVE: GLOBAL MIGRATION’S IMPACT AND OPPORTUNITY

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June 2020 21


The Brief / Lightbox

A dancer and a musician from the ‘Opera Ballet Vlaanderen’ perform ‘exit/awakening’ in support of health workers and patients, outside the ZNA Koningin Paola Kinderziekenhuis children’s hospital in Antwerp, on May 20, 2020, as the country eases lockdown measures 22 June 2020

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June 2020 23

PHOTO: JONAS ROOSENS/BELGA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

HOLDING UP STRONG?

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreck economies across the world, how are the main pillars supporting the GCC’s economy holding up? In our cover story, we analyse the impact of the virus on key regional sectors and evaluate how they will emerge post-pandemic

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e are now facing the grim reality of a severe recession of a magnitude not seen since the great depression.” That comment from Elliott Harris, chief economist and assistant secretary-general for Economic Development at the United Nations, is a stark view of the current economic crisis, which has been triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to ravage the world. In its mid-year economic forecast issued in May, the UN projected that the world economy will shrink by 3.2 per cent in 2020, racking up some $8.5 trillion in overall losses – wiping out nearly four years of output gains. “With the large-scale restrictions of economic activities and heightened uncertainties, the global economy has come to a virtual standstill in the second quarter of 2020,” added Harris. Countries in the GCC have also been adversely affected by the crisis, with shockwaves being felt by businesses across the economic spectrum – from trade, tourism and transportation to financial services and real estate. The historic rout in oil prices this year has further dampened regional economies. Most GCC sovereigns are expected to post fiscal deficits of 15 per cent to 25 per cent of GDP in 2020, according to a report by Fitch Ratings, assuming an average Brent oil price of $35 per barrel and full compliance with the OPEC+ deal to limit production. A further $10 per barrel decline in average prices would increase deficits by 4 per cent to 6 per cent of GDP on average, it stated. To minimise the impact of a catastrophic economic downturn, governments are rolling out fiscal stimulus measures that equal roughly 10 per cent of the world’s GDP, according to the UN. 24 June 2020

All the GCC countries have also announced economic stimulus packages, amounting to nearly 30 per cent of the GDP in Bahrain and Oman, more than 10 per cent of GDP in the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, and more than 7 per cent of GDP in Saudi Arabia, the Fitch report stated. “They consist largely of monetary and off-budget measures, for example loan repayment holidays to businesses. We estimate that the budgetary effect of stimulus will be smaller (at around 5 per cent of GDP in Saudi Arabia and 1 per cent to 2 per cent of GDP elsewhere), mostly relating to suspension and deferral of government fees and taxes, accelerated payments to contractors, increased health spending and salary support to the private sector,” it added. However, it’s not that everyone and everything is capsizing, stresses a report by consultancy Frost & Sullivan. “Some sectors in the GCC have made gains and exciting opportunities are emerging while careful risk mitigation strategies are helping others chart a new course for the future,” it states. “The duration and severity of Covid-19’s impact on economies and sectors will undoubtedly vary. However, companies would do well to set in motion a ‘look ahead, anticipate and adjust’ roadmap. Over the near term, companies should explore supply chain diversification and leverage new opportunities arising from changing customer demands. Over the long term, product and service portfolio diversification will be critical to ensuring resilience,” it adds. In our cover story this month, we analyse the impact of Covid-19 on four of the main pillars of the GCC’s economy – including energy, tourism and travel, trade and real estate. How are they faring currently? How can industry players remain resilient and what is the outlook for the future? gulfbusiness.com


ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/JORG GREUEL

COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

By Aarti Nagraj

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June 2020 25


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

Energy

Switch on or off THE ENERGY SECTOR CONTINUES TO BE THE BIGGEST PILLAR POWERING THE GROWTH OF GCC ECONOMIES. BUT AS IT REELS WITH THE IMPACT OF THE HISTORIC OIL PRICE DROP AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, IS THE OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE BRIGHTER?

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he year 2020 will go down in history books for several reasons, but for the energy markets, it will mark the historic year when oil prices plunged into negative territory. While the oil market has since recovered – specifically in May, after output cuts by producers across the world including the OPEC+ alliance, prices remain subdued as supply looks to realign with sluggish demand. Looking at the GCC, where oil and gas continues to be the main industry powering local economies, the double whammy of the oil price drop along with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow, with the revenue hit estimated at around $250bn during 2020, according to Sherif Elhaddad, executive director – head of MENA equities, Al Mal Capital. “This massive decline in revenues is taking place at the same time that governments need to inject unprecedented stimulus in order to keep afloat both private and public sector businesses. This combined effect is putting significant pressure on the reserves of regional economies,” he explains. “While the energy sector is still profitable, serious cost cutting measures are needed to reduce the total cost per barrel and increase the dividend paid to the governments. This impact will be more significant for the service providers, creating more competition with smaller margins. This will eventually lead to consolidation in the sector,” he adds. The first consequence of the current crisis is a possible restructuring of the oil and associated gas industry, agrees Dr Leila R Benali, chief economist and head of Strategy, Energy Economics and Sustainability at the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporations (APICORP). “This will accelerate both the closure of the lowest efficiency parts of the capital stock producing assets and companies, and mergers and acquisitions in the market. Barrels with high operating costs and limited storage access would shut in first. There are plenty of low-opex barrels competing for a diminishing market, and a large part of them are located in MENA.”

CHANGING DYNAMICS So far, the response from industry players to the crisis has largely been that of cutting costs – either in the form of new projects or by asking contractors to reduce costs on ongoing contracts. But there are a number of response strategies that the industry can consider for managing the situation, opines Abhay Bhargava, senior director, Industrial Practice, Middle East and South Asia at consultancy Frost & Sullivan. Those include digitalisation to improve production and reduce downtimes; going downstream to manufacture and export high value products for global markets; investing in decentralised and decarbonised energy generation; and focusing on sustainability. One major change that the regional industry has seen since the last oil price drop in 2014 has been digitalisation, concurs Georges El Mir, vice president of Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals, Industrial Automation Business at Schneider Electric.

The industry is seeing an increasing use of technologies such as ‘digital twins’ – a virtual replica of a physical asset which replicates geometry and all other data elements to help operators improve efficiencies

26 June 2020

“Since the last crisis that hit the oil and gas sector, the industry initiated a large transformation to become more agile by reducing drastically the operating costs and putting additional discipline on the capital spending. And given that digitalisation is the fastest way to efficiency and agility, that’s where the money will go.” According to El Mir, the industry is seeing an increasing use of technologies such as ‘digital twins’ – a virtual replica of a physical asset which replicates geometry and all other data elements to help operators improve efficiencies. Implementing such technologies will help reduce costs while optimising operations. gulfbusiness.com


PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

THE MAGIC QUESTION So, when will the energy market rebound? “If I knew that, I’d be a rich man,” quips El Mir – although uncertainty about the future is one thing all experts agree on, especially with lack of clarity around the coronavirus situation. “We reached consensus on many things, but there is no consensus on demand elasticities. This will be determined by the length of the lockdowns — and possible second wave — and by structural impacts on productive capacity in the wider economy, as well as structural demand behavioural changes post-Covid-19,” explains APICORP’s Benali. “Notwithstanding major differentials between crudes and discrepancies between physical and futures markets, one outlook for oil could therefore see Brent prices average $30-40 in 2020 and 2021 before reflecting a more balanced market.” Elhaddad from Al Mal is more optimistic. “Overall, we expect further supply cuts to take place and this would bring stability Dr Leila R Benali to the oil price from H2 2020 onwards. Due to massive production cut and some demand recovery, the market is expected to move from massive surplus in 2020 to even a deficit in 2021.” In terms of expansion, it is unlikely that large and complex new projects will see the light of day anytime soon, as these require longer runways while tying up much-needed capital, states George Hanna, CIO and portfolio manager at AD Investment Management. “It is becoming more likely that producers’ pursuit of rational gulfbusiness.com

economic returns in the wake of the scarring dual demand/supply shock could bring stability to the industry – albeit at lower clearing prices – as soon as the inventory glut is reduced but sooner than is expected by pure modelling of the demand side,” he states. “The longer low oil prices persist in the midst of a systemic reduction of maintenance and development capital expenditure, the larger the probability of a longer-term supply deficit when oil demand ultimately rebounds.” Long term, the indirect impact of the pandemic will lead to downward revisions of economic outlooks, says Benali. “We also expect governments’ opening up plans to be increasingly flexible and reversible. Therefore, the energy industry will have to adapt to a potentially long downturn with periods of volatility.” Adds Bhargava from Frost & Sullivan: “More diversity in the energy mix, increased focus on storage for resilience, increased downstream play, industry consolidation, and technology substituting manpower Georges El Mir are some of the prominent changes we can expect to see moving forward.” One positive outcome from this crisis could be the increased spotlight on sustainability. “No single event – be it a war, a recession, or previous pandemic – has had such an impact on CO2 emissions as Covid-19 has had in a few short months. Pre-pandemic, sustainability and energy efficiency were already on top of the agendas of oil and gas CEOs. Post pandemic, safety and sustainability will become the new licence to operate,” states El Mir from Schneider. June 2020 27


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

Trade

Linking the chain AS A KEY INTERNATIONAL TRADING PARTNER, HOW IS THE REGION PROTECTING ITS SUPPLY CHAIN DURING THE CURRENT CRISIS?

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rading has historically been an essential lifeline for the growth of the GCC region thanks to its central location – the bustling port at Dubai’s Deira area [pre-coronavirus] offered a glimpse into how wooden boats (or dhows) used the emirate as one of the main hubs to export and import goods in the past. Huge shipping yards and massive airports have since surfaced to carry forward that tradition, as they seek to cater to huge volumes of goods being transported from one region to another. Just looking at Dubai, the emirate’s non-oil foreign trade values rose nearly 6 per cent to reach Dhs1.02 trillion during the first nine months of 2019, while volumes also grew by 22 per cent to reach 83 million tonnes during the period. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has practically halted international travel, cargo and freight operations have managed to continue functioning – albeit with restrictions – to fulfil the demand for essential goods. The pandemic is expected to impact the global merchandise trade 28 June 2020

to the extent of 31.9 per cent under a pessimistic scenario and up to 12.9 per cent under an optimistic scenario in 2020, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). While most regions across the world are expected to see double digit trade declines between 12 to 17 per cent even under an optimistic scenario, the Middle East and Africa region is anticipated to see a more muted impact at 10 per cent this year, states Gopal R, global vice president, Transportation and Logistics Practice at consultancy Frost & Sullivan. “The impact is likely to be more in case of extended shutdowns, mainly triggered by lower imports, in a pessimistic scenario,” he adds. Looking at the GCC region, restricted movements in recent weeks have impacted the flow of goods by up to 60 per cent due to freight capacity limitations on land, air and sea routes. “Logistics and freight service providers are working on mitigation strategies to ease capacity limitations, which would help in improving the trade handling ability for the region,” Gopal explains. gulfbusiness.com


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

RESPOND, ADAPT With digitisation the new mantra across the economic spectrum to deal with the current crisis, trade and supply chain operators are also rapidly finding solutions via automation to continue functioning. The region’s busiest port operator – and among the largest in the world – Dubai’s DP World launched in late April new online logistics tools and services, covering sea, land, and air shipping around the world. The connected ecosystem of platforms will enable freight forwarders and businesses to book shipments of cargo from and to anywhere in the world, by any combination of sea, land and air. DP World, which has more than 150 operations in over 50 countries, said it accelerated the already planned roll-out of platforms to help companies meet the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis and keep trade flowing – including vital food and medical supplies. The launch came following DP World’s acquisition of digital cargo transport platforms SeaRates.com, LandRates.com and AirRates.com. The company also created the Digital Freight alliance, an online association to connect all freight forwarders globally on one platform. “Our new platforms are moving the The expected trade management of moving cargo online. It decline in the Middle will enable our customers to be more East and Africa region efficient and increase the visibility and this year predictability of supply chains. This will help them to grow their businesses, and ultimately keep countries supplied with the vital goods they need in the crisis,” said Mike Bhaskaran, DP World’s COO for Logistics and Technology. Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO, DP World added: “This technology is a direct business enabler. Digitising trade will help companies do more business, more efficiently.” Locally, DP World UAE is also ensuring that its operations adhere to precautionary measures by segregating workforces, increasing cleaning and disinfection, and arranging accommodation for employees near their place of work. Ship crews, arriving or departing at Jebel Ali Port are required to pass through thermal cameras, provide health updates and obtain the harbour master’s approval before boarding or deboarding vessels. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Ports also joined 19 of the world’s leading port authorities to sign a virtual declaration last month which calls on members to allow merchant ships to berth and carry out cargo operations to maintain the global supply chain. The Ports Authorities Roundtable (PAR) declaration also commits the maritime sector to ensure the safety of seafarers when dealing with coronavirus cases. “It is important for industry participants to adopt a Respond-ResetRebound strategy to counter and adapt to the current scenario. Key is to be able to sustain troughs and peaks with scalable resources, both capital as well as assets. This will be critical to be able to adapt to current as well as any future situations of similar nature,” opines Gopal. Respond: Focus on addressing current issues, keeping teams and capabilities in force, setting up quick response teams and tackling capacity challenges for clients. Reset: Put in place systems to gain advance demand visibility, understand the diversification of supply chain by customers and prepare for it, and adapt with digital connectivity solutions to compensate and improve productivity. Rebound: Evaluate source of future opportunities, re-strategise business models to create flexible solutions that can withstand contraction as well as scalability and build contingency plans.

10%

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Dubai’s DP World is increasing cleaning and disinfection measures

THE MAGIC QUESTION So, when will the trade sector rebound? “The Covid-19 challenge is expected to have an acute impact on demand and supply for close to three months and it will possibly take another three months to recover,” projects Gopal. Based on this, most companies will face an average of 40-50 per cent of lost business opportunities on an annualised basis. Hence reviving demand to ensure sustained growth will possibly require another two quarters. “From a supply chain and logistics perspective, things are likely to rebound in Q3 in terms of freight capacities across key trade lanes. Storage needs may nevertheless undergo shifts in location and pattern of requirement. It is likely the composition of future freight modes will also likely see changes as recovery sets in. The demand pattern will also see changes, both in consumption pattern as well as supply locations. These will need to be considered when realising the new norm,” he explains. Post-pandemic, the industry is likely to see long-term changes such as increased digitisation as well as greater reliance on autonomous applications and big data. “Digital connectivity will rationalise, replace and reinvent physical and social connectivity and accelerate innovation in new business models,” adds Gopal. June 2020 29


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

Tourism

Where are the tourists? THE TRAVEL AND TOURISM INDUSTRY HAS INDISPUTABLY FACED THE BIGGEST BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. ARE THERE ANSWERS ON WHEN IT WILL TAKE OFF AGAIN?

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Amaala, we will pay close attention to the lessons learnt this year. hen enticing pictures of emerald beaches and enchantWhat we can be certain of though, is that travel will return,” he says. ing desert temples were splashed across ad banners Looking at aviation specifically, the International Air Transport worldwide last year, few guessed that they were looking Association (IATA) estimates that airlines globally will lose $314bn at Saudi Arabia. And then the kingdom made headlines in revenues this year due to the coronavirus impact and will require worldwide as it opened its doors to foreign tourists for $200bn in government aid. For Middle East carriers, the forecasted the very first time. Luring visitors with the opportunity to discover revenue loss stands at $24bn, with UAE airlines alone projected to unseen sites, the kingdom welcomed thousands within the first few face a loss of $6.8bn and a passenger drop of 31 million. days of issuing tourist visas in September. “Covid-19 has systematically and absolutely battered travel And then came Covid-19. The tourism sector has been devastated across the GCC. The region was still arguably amidst by the pandemic, as countries closed internaits growth phase and now, it’s all come to a crashing tional and regional boundaries to curb its spread. halt,” says Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero International tourist arrivals dropped 22 per cent Research. during the first quarter of 2020, according to According to Robin Kamark, chief commercial the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). IATA estimates that officer at Etihad Aviation Group, the immediate conLooking ahead, the crisis could lead to an annual airlines globally will cern for all airlines is on remaining cash sustainable. decline of between 60 per cent and 80 per cent, post huge revenue Despite the UAE – similar to other nations – banwith “millions of livelihoods at risk”, the agency drops this year ning international travel in late March, Kamark says warned. not all of Etihad’s passenger aircraft have remained The importance of the travel and tourism sector Global on the ground. The carrier has been operating speis hard to understate – it accounted for one in four $314bn cial passenger, freighter and cargo flights. “These new jobs created in the past five years worldwide, include flights to destinations that we have never according to a report by the World Travel and Middle East flown to before, such as Oslo, shipping consignments Tourism Council (WTTC) and Oxford Economics. $24bn including medical equipment and pharmaceuticals Globally, the industry grew 3.5 per cent in 2019, not only inbound to the UAE, but also to other counoutpacing the global economic growth of 2.5 per tries in need of critical supplies,” he says. cent, the report found. However, the Abu Dhabi airline has been forced Looking at the GCC, the travel and tourism sector UAE to make redundancies to weather the storm. Dubaiaccounted for $245bn or 8.6 per cent of total GDP $6.8bn based Emirates, which has also been operating only in 2019, according to WTTC. Estimates released special flights, has announced massive salary cuts by the UNWTO in 2019 suggested that the GCC is and is also looking at ways to tighten costs. poised to attract 195 million visitors by 2030, above the global averAccording to Ahmad, airlines worldwide have slashed routes, age for any one region. withdrawn fleets, cut staff numbers, deferred refunds – all for cash “With the effects of the pandemic still being felt in the region, it is preservation. “Adaptations are taking place, but the reality is that difficult to know how significant the damage will be,” says Nicholas there will be casualties – and big ones,” he opines. Naples, CEO of Amaala, the mega-project coming up on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia. Dubbed the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’, Amaala is a key comTHE MAGIC QUESTION ponent of Saudi’s Vision 2030. Spread across 3,800 sqkm, the The situation is dire, but is there an end in sight? ultra-luxurious destination will include 2,500 hotel keys and more “In all honesty, it is impossible to say. One thing we do know is than 800 residential homes, alongside 200 high-end retail, F&B, just how resilient the travel industry is and that people’s desire to wellness and recreational outlets. “As we break ground this year at travel will not subside,” says Naples.

Big losses

30 June 2020

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Dubbed the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’, Amaala is a key component of Saudi’s Vision 2030. The ultra-luxurious destination will include 2,500 hotel keys and more than 800 residential homes

Above: Site where Amaala is coming up and a rendering of its yacht club

gulfbusiness.com

Below: Etihad planes at the Abu Dhabi airport

According to Muzzammil Ahussain, EVP of Consumer Travel at Saudi-based tourism agency Seera Group, domestic travel is expected to open up first in the kingdom. “We are creating attractive packages for Saudi travellers to discover their own country better. In Saudi Arabia, there are lots of regions that are waiting to be explored, far beyond the obvious main cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam,” he says. As for the UAE, staycations are sure to be on the rise, he adds. From an aviation point of view, Etihad’s Kamark anticipates a gradual resumption to normal operations. “Aviation will return to growth but the question is when. The reality is that the repercussions of Covid-19 will likely be felt in our industry for a very long time. At a minimum, travel demand may not return to what it was before this pandemic until the back end of 2021 and most probably, and highly likely, into the later part of 2022,” he says. Ahmad’s outlook is also not optimistic. “Sadly, the aviation industry still has not reached the bottom of the cliff. Delays to flights, longer waiting times, longer security and health screening as well as earlier check-in times means that the wider industry will not see any meaningful recovery until a vaccine or medicinal suppressant to Covid-19 emerges. Any meaningful recovery, if it ever emerges, will happen on the wrong side of 2022 or beyond. And that’s a rather bullish sentiment,” he opines. Longer-term, industry players will also need to contend with a changed set of requirements from consumers. “Travel in this new ‘normal’ will look and feel different, and we will need to adapt. People will want options that are closer to home that they can even drive to. They will want safer, lower density accommodation and for some, more affordable options. Industry players must adapt to the demands of this new environment,” says Naples. “It is key that businesses are clever in their approach of rethinking how we can define this reawakened world of travel.” June 2020 31


COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

Real Estate

Housing concerns HOW CAN REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS IN THE GCC ADAPT TO THE UPHEAVAL THAT THE CORONAVIRUS HAS CAUSED ACROSS THE REGION?

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eal estate has been a key driver of economic growth during the past few decades in the region. Although it was arguably one of the worst affected sectors during the global economic slowdown in 2009, with Dubai’s property market particularly hit, the industry has since matured, and was finally on the path to bottoming out this year in anticipation of Expo 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on real estate developers and homebuilders as they enter the second quarter of the year, normally a strong season for sales, ratings agency S&P said in a recent report. “Weakening economies and longer operating cycles resulting from social distancing measures should affect both offer and demand of newly built properties in 2020,” it said. “The real estate sector is an important part of the UAE’s activity. The current supply-demand imbalance in the sector, particularly in Dubai, has been exacerbated by the pandemic’s effects. We now expect to see international demand for property in the UAE to be subdued and the fall in residential prices to be steeper than we had expected, and lingering well into 2021,” the report added. In Dubai, transactions were rising with volumes up 41 per cent year-on-year in February. However, volumes for March dropped roughly 25 per cent year-on-year, pointing to a “significant yet logical contraction in the market as potential domestic and overseas buyers stay at home”, says Matthew Palmer, managing director with consultancy Alvarez & Marsal in Dubai in the Strategy and Performance Improvement practice. 32 June 2020

Dubai-based real estate platform Property Finder recorded a decrease in listing volumes and searches by consumers, states Lynnette Abad, director of Research and Data at the Property Finder Group. “Prices, however, did not move much during the Covid-19 situation. In fact, pre-crisis, we started seeing prices stabilise across many communities in Dubai and that has remained stable during the crisis,” she adds. Looking wider, the property sectors of the Gulf countries will see varied impact depending on In Dubai, transaction the local conditions and how long volumes rose the crisis lingers. year-on-year in “Some countries will see deeper February, but impact than others due to a dropped in March number of socio-economic factors. due to Covid-19 It also depends on how developers regain investor trust in each February country. Since Dubai is the most +41% 40 cosmopolitan city with the most regulated real estate market, we expect it to recover faster than 20 others. Demand in affordable March homes will also pick up faster than -25% that of the luxury properties,” 0 opines Josef Kleindienst, chairman of Kleindienst Group, which -20 is developing the $5bn Heart of Europe island project in Dubai. With “almost all of the units” sold out on the project, the company has not been under “too much pressure in terms of sales and cash flow”, he says. The project – which was initially slated to begin deliveries in 2018, now aims to handover the first phase in the fourth quarter of this year. Outside of residential real estate, Covid-19 has had a similar impact on retail which, in the short-term, may manifest as vacancies and loss of fixed and turnover rent for mall operators. “Fortunately, many operators have been supportive towards their tenants,” says Palmer. “Regrettably, inevitable job losses combined with economic

‘A logical contraction’

“There will be a new normal for everything, for how people search for properties, the type of properties they are looking for and how developers design their properties” gulfbusiness.com


PHOTO: KARIM SAHIB/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

COVER STORY / COVID-19 IMPACT

uncertainty will reduce demand for most asset classes in the near-term, with hotels in particular needing the triple stimuli of a relaxation of restrictions (at the appropriate juncture), and the return of economic confidence and consumer willingness to travel.”

ICONS: CREATED BY MOHAMED MBARKI FROM THE NOUN PROJECT

RATIONALISE PIPELINE, CONSOLIDATE Given the uncertain nature of the virus, how can developers best adapt to the current situation? “The most important thing for any business during the crisis is to remain consolidated, limit the damage and keep moving forward. As developers, we need to be focused on delivering previously launched projects,” opines Atif Rahman, director and partner at Danube Properties. Kleindienst also stresses the need for developers to ensure they have a sustainable business model by having limited exposure and risk. “The key for every developer is to be able to develop the units they have sold off-plan and to sell their inventory, collect the down-payment and deliver properties on time and with the best quality.” Palmer advises developers to adapt both externally and internally. “Until certainty returns and given the overhang of stock in the market, developers may be well served to pause or at least rationalise their pipelines until the size and shape of demand is better understood. Josef Kleindienst gulfbusiness.com

Regrettably, developers should also reprofile their organisations and cost bases, if they haven’t done so already,” he says.

THE MAGIC QUESTION While experts are understandably reluctant to predict a definite answer to when the market will recover – since it is tied to the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, Palmer expects to see a cautious return towards the end of the year, potentially accelerated, if a vaccine becomes available sooner. Kleindienst similarly anticipates that the UAE’s real estate market will start picking up by the end of the current year. Looking ahead, the industry can expect to see significant changes. “There will be a new normal for everything, for how people search for properties, the type of properties they are looking for and how developers design their properties,” says Abad. Adds Rahman: “Developers, investors and property buyers will be cautious. I expect less off-plan property launches in 2020 and 2021. Investors will be very careful and will only invest when prices crash further, or wait for distress sales. We will continue to see greater focus on creating affordable solutions not just for real estate but across all industries. That’s what consumers will want with every pocket being affected negatively.” Matthew Palmer June 2020 33


34 June 2020

UP

T H ING S

S H A KING Disrupting, enabling, reinventing the system – whatever you want to call it, a shift in the status quo is alive and well in the UAE

FEATURES / INNOVATION

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there is no word that more accurately sums up the first half of 2020 than “disruption”. There has been disruption to our healthcare systems, public transport, economies and lifestyles – with most changes putting significant and negative strain on established systems. At the moment, reading the term in a news headline is to guess that the story inside will most probably not be positive. Paradoxically, for the last 25 years, disruption has been the ultimate ambition of companies straddling varied sectors, from steel to telecoms or cinema, and most geographies. Now – perhaps more than ever – disruption is a real and vital necessity for businesses that wish to flourish amidst upheaval. Over the past decades there has been discussion about how, exactly, it should be defined. A prevalent (if unnerving) trend is to avoid its definition whatsoever; a raft of businesses coming into the market will invariably have the ‘disruptive’ label duly slapped on them by their PR, used as a catchall term for being vaguely innovative. In a seminal article from 1995, Harvard Business Review makes the useful distinction between disruptive and “sustaining innovations”, offering examples for the latter such as the addition of a fifth blade to a razor, or a mobile phone provider that offers better reception. Both are useful examples of an incumbent company offering value-add to its customers, but neither is particularly disruptive. A disruptive company, the article posited, would not look at adding helpful features or exceeding the demands of its customers. Instead, it would do the very opposite: ignore the majority, and focus on technologies that did not address the needs of most of its customers. After all, “the large photocopying centres that represented the core of Xerox’s customer base at first had no use for small, slow tabletop copiers… IBM’s large commercial, government, and industrial customers saw no immediate use for minicomputers,” wrote Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen. It was not that these technologies were particularly new or intricate from a technological standpoint, posited the authors. It was that they presented a “different package of performance attributes – ones that, at least at the outset, are not

36 June 2020

NOW DISRUPTION IS A REAL AND VITAL NECESSITY FOR BUSINESSES THAT WISH TO FLOURISH AMIDST UPHEAVAL

ARGUABLY,

FEATURES / INNOVATION

valued by existing customers.” It was this heady combination, of performance attributes and rapid market improvement, that would unseat established incumbents and add new players into the mix. So who are these new players in the UAE, and how are they defining themselves? Uber is a company often assigned the descriptor of “disruptive” – a reasonable assumption, given that it exploded into the market and changed the way that we thought about travel. But some thought otherwise; an article in the Harvard Business Review written in 2015 argued that: “disrupters start by appealing to lowend or unserved consumers and then migrate to the mainstream market.” Originating in San Francisco, where residents were already using taxis with few qualms, Uber went in exactly the opposite direction, said the authors: “building a position in the mainstream market first and subsequently appealing to historically overlooked segments.” If disrupters begin by appealing to unserved customers, it stands to reason that Careem – a ride-hailing service that originated in Dubai and quickly spread its wings to other parts of the Middle East that included Palestine and Baghdad – could easily be labeled a disrupter. Beginning in 2012 and receiving $1.7m of seed funding in a round led by STC Ventures a year later, the service made both financial and cultural waves. Women were employed as drivers in countries including Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan – with women in Saudi Arabia comprising 80 per cent of the company’s customers. “We often heard people from Saudi Arabia say that there’s a pre-Careem Saudi and a post-Careem Saudi,” said the company in a blog. There was no doubt that the service gained foothold in a market whose rockface did not just have relatively few footholds – but was entirely sheer. But to term it a disrupter, said the company, was to misunderstand its ideals. “As a company that started out as a ridehailing service, it’s easy to see why people associate Careem with disruption. In other parts of the world, ride-hailing companies have disrupted established orders, but given how Careem started out and where in the world we launched, Careem is something different – an enabler.” gulfbusiness.com


Cafu delivers fuel anytime and anywhere using technology

Gulf Business disruptors award In recognition of the new era that ‘disruptive’ companies are heralding across the region by forging novel working models and empowering change for the better, Gulf Business is introducing a new Disruptors category at our annual Gulf Business Awards. The shortlist will be revealed later in the year and will include a list of pioneering companies from across sectors.

Fodhil Benturquia, CEO and founder at Okadoc

The company pointed to its transformative effect on the lives of women in Saudi Arabia and the launch of peerto-peer credit transfers in the works as examples of technology that “empowers people in the MENA region to realise their full social and economic potential.” However, the pandemic has curtailed operations in recent weeks. In early May, the company laid off 536 employees, representing 31 per cent of its workforce, as well as stopping new initiatives such as its mass transportation business Careem Bus, which was just 18 months old. gulfbusiness.com

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hough the “disruptor” terminology can be questioned, there is no doubt that the automotive sector in the UAE is ripe for innovation. According to a report from research firm TechSci, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the biggest Middle East markets for vehicle volume, with the UAE recording 1.96 million passenger vehicles and 610,000 commercial vehicles on its roads in 2018. The volume of drivers – coupled with a high smartphone penetration and comfort with on-demand services – led Rashid

“WE OFTEN HEARD PEOPLE FROM SAUDI SAY THAT THERE’S A PRE-CAREEM SAUDI AND A POST-CAREEM SAUDI”

FEATURES / INNOVATION

Al Ghurair to develop Cafu, a refuelling service that allowed drivers to skip busy fuelling stations. “At Cafu, we have completely transformed a sector that has been very conservative for nearly half a century,” says Al Ghurair. “By that I mean the way people have serviced and refuelled their cars remained unchanged for the longest time. We are now using technology that enables us to deliver fuel anytime, anywhere and that has the potential to make brick-and-mortar gas stations a thing of the past.” Founded in Dubai as a self-funded project in 2018, the service has over 180 trucks on the road equipped with AI-powered tracking technology to predict peaks in demand and identify areas where this demand will occur. “We have delivered more than one million fuel-ups in the UAE, which equals more than 60 million litres of petrol,” says Al Ghurair. “Our safety tested trucks that are driven by trained pilots, can deliver over half a million litres a day and will reach most customers in less than 30 minutes. In the first year, we had over half a million downloads of our app.” Like many other disrupters, the aim of the company was not overly complicated. “The idea was simple – how can we use existing technology to fuel cars at the touch of an app while giving back customers their time spent at the fuel station. We have been the first company to offer this service in the MENA region and I am happy to see that Cafu has not only changed people’s lives but also disrupted and transformed the refuelling industry. We see this trend only going upwards and onwards.” Another startup that has ‘disrupted’ operations within the transport and logistics sector is TruKKer, a digital freight platform which was founded in the UAE in 2016. Currently operating across the GCC and Jordan, it enables instant booking, real time demand and supply matching, cargo tracking and digitisation of document processing for land freight. The company, which has over 15,000 member trucks, raised $23m in Series A funding in November last year, led by Saudi Technology Ventures (STV) with support from International Financial Corporation (part of The World Bank). June 2020 37


FEATURES / INNOVATION

+50%

of consultations globally can be replaced by telemedicine

HEALTHY TRENDS A central tenet of disruptive companies is their ability to build systems that are entirely different to their predecessors. A sector often pointed to as ripe for disruption has been healthcare, where systems can be archaic and under-reliant on technology. The UAE’s healthcare sector has some unique pain points that technology was apt to fix, says Fodhil Benturquia, CEO and founder at Okadoc. “Patient no-show currently stands at 37 per cent in the UAE and 40 per cent in Saudi Arabia. In comparison, the US has about a 20-22 per cent no-show rate,” he says. To combat these no-shows, Okadoc developed an instant doctor platform directly integrated to healthcare

providers’ information system, where patients can view doctor availabilities in real-time, instantly book appointments, receive reminders, reschedule, cancel or request reminders for earlier availability. Its platform connects patients to over 1,000 doctors across every emirate and 70 specialties, from dermatology to pediatrics and mental health, covering approximately 10 per cent of bookable doctors across the UAE. As well as easing the bookings process to see a doctor in person, telemedicine will be a vital tool during the Covid-19 pandemic, adds Benturquia. The company closed its $10m Series A funding round in February to launch telemedicine in the UAE and Indonesia and to expand into Saudi Arabia.

“Research shows over 50 per cent of consultations globally can be replaced by telemedicine,” says Benturquia. “What makes our telemedicine platform different from others is that Okadoc connects patients to doctors within clinics or hospitals. This means that patients can virtually connect with their own doctor or connect with any doctor they wish who is available.” By offering virtual visits, healthcare providers can offer a cost-effective and safe way to deliver medical care. “The recent pandemic has proven that people are more willing than ever to use video conferencing,” says Benturquia. “We believe governments and regulators could consider making telemedicine mandatory as a backup in case of future pandemics.”

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ealthcare and food are proving two vital sectors in the fight against the pandemic. With food supply chains disrupted as restaurants falter and hotels remain shuttered, individual demand is at an all-time high. “It is now common knowledge that by 2050, we will need 70 per cent more food to feed the roughly 9.5 billion people on the planet in order to avoid widespread food shortages and the problems that come with that,” says Sky Kurtz, cofounder and CEO of Pure Harvest. Based in Abu Dhabi, the agrotech firm is well poised to address food security in the region; it set up its first farm in 2018, and in April 2020, secured a multi-year $100m commitment from Kuwait’s Wafra International Investment Company.

Healthy timeline

The rapid growth of UAE startup Pure Harvest

Dec 2017

Secures $5.6m in seed funding, assembles team

Apr 2018

Starts construction

38 June 2020

Aug 2018

Construction complete and planting underway

Nov 2018

Starts sales to customers

Aug-Oct 2019 Innovation and testing

Feb 2020

Mar 2020

Secure $20.6m and $100m commitment

Partners with Alliances for Global Sustainability, gets 30 hectares of land

Future

Expansion across GCC

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ILLUSTRATIONS: GETTY IMAGES/LYDIA WHITMORE

Pure Harvest’s farm in Abu Dhabi


“BY 2050, WE WILL NEED 70 PER CENT MORE FOOD TO FEED THE ROUGHLY 9.5 BILLION PEOPLE ON THE PLANET”

FEATURES / INNOVATION

gulfbusiness.com

“We have successfully created what we believe to be the highest yielding (per square metre) high-tech greenhouse in the world – harnessing the abundance of light in the Middle East to locally produce year-round, sustainably-grown fresh produce anywhere,” says Kurtz. “Using water-efficient irrigation solutions, we have developed a solution that enables us to grow efficiently in some of the harshest places in the world.” He adds: “We don’t need to wait until the food security challenges compound into an unmanageable, de-stabilising force – the future is now.” In its pilot farm, Pure Harvest produces 17 varieties of tomatoes that are sold to major retailers including Carrefour, Spinney’s and Waitrose. Although grown in a greenhouse, the energy consumption is far more efficient than the alternative of importing, says Kurtz. “We are also experimenting with solar power integration later this year and believe that it has significant promise both in terms of cost and sustainability,” he adds. “Our solution will integrate well with a solar independent power producer (IPP), as the IPP’s peak production of power is during our peak consumption (long summer days with lots of sunlight).” To disrupt in agriculture, companies must factor in that the sector is an industrial process, says Kurtz. “This is why technology can help tackle inefficiencies – to increase yields, reduce costs, and reduce resource utilisation. The difference is that farming is even more important – the cost of failure has a profound impact on humanity.” Despite the varied offerings that these companies bring to the table, there are similarities, both in their ambition and process. An appetite for on-demand services – be it for fuel, a ride or a doctor – have fuelled the growth of companies such as Cafu, Careem and Okadoc. For Careem and Pure Harvest, a connecting ambition to empower their region proves vital to their existence – whether they would define it as disruptive or not. And for all of them, it is a new idea that binds them. A farm in the desert. A doctor in the Indonesian jungle. A taxi where none had existed before. They may not be traditionally disruptive – but who’s to say they aren’t life-changing? June 2020 39


FEATURES / MARKETING

With the world bracing for a recession, many organisations and brands are slashing costs across the board. However, despite the tough situation, it is very important for companies to continue investing in communicating their message to consumers and clients. In this feature, senior regional marketers from across various industries reveal why and how they are marketing in the current situation

40 June 2020

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FEATURES / MARKETING

TIME TO BE SEEN gulfbusiness.com

Sweta Kanoria Regional manager – Digital Marketing, Huawei Enterprise Business, Middle East

Our customers are looking for ways in which technology can help them find solutions to some of the challenges they may be facing today, be it in terms of connectivity or remote collaboration. Hence, continued investment in marketing is key for us, especially in the current situation, so that we can continue to engage with our customers and the wider ecosystem, even though virtually. We are now investing more on social and digital channels, such as webinars, to share knowledge and information with the ICT community online.

Sharad VK Director of Marketing, Century Financial

It is natural for businesses to cut back on marketing spends during an economic downturn. But historically, if you look at all the past economic crisis situations, companies that were most visible have recovered the fastest. We at Century Financial believe that it is important to maintain the marketing budget, subject to driving higher ROI during such unprecedented times. Hence, while the share of our advertising budget devoted to traditional media has shrunk, the share of more-measurable marketing channels has increased. These include email and digital lead generation campaigns supported by well-planned content marketing that is relevant to the current context.

Clare Holburn-Archer Chief marketing officer, Cafu

Covid-19 has caused a shift in consumer priorities as well as impacted the entire marketing landscape. While it is natural for companies to cut back on marketing spends, it is also important to stay present and – if possible – build brand awareness and affiliation. While relevance is important, brands June 2020 41


FEATURES / MARKETING

Sandra Skairjeh Head of Marketing, Emerging Markets, Micro Focus

Focussing on digital marketing is inevitable in the current scenario and content that cuts through the noise will be critical. Businesses will need to strategise around digital tools and platforms, such as webinars, virtual events, social media, syndicated content, tech cartoons and augmented reality. However, we must resist overloading customers with content by being succinct and relevant in conveying a value proposition. In the technology industry, our customers are particularly receptive to solutions that are ‘keeping the lights on’ – such as cloud solutions for remote working, business continuity, testing, and security for applications and data.

Ajit Johnson Head, Strategic Business – Marketing, Lulu Financial Group

Selling when few are buying can be a challenge. However, the best organisations understand that they need to place trust in the value delivered by their product, whatever be the situation. We identified an urgent need among customers for mobile-first solutions and accordingly increased our marketing efforts in recent weeks to build brand loyalty by promoting our mobile remittance application, Lulu Money. We opted for traditional and digital marketing channels and the results have been extremely positive. Our experience shows that this layover time provides scope for organisations to assess their customers’ needs better and realign marketing strategies accordingly. 42 June 2020

Claire Roper-Browning

Afreen Aslam

Head of Marketing and Student Recruitment, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

Director – Marketing, MEA, Julius Baer

During unprece dented times such as these, while it’s natural to attempt to contain costs, it is critical that marketers nimbly adjust strategies in response to changes in demand. One must always remember that loyal customers are at the heart of everything we do and therefore investing in marketing is essential in reaching out to them. This is also the time to build and maintain a strong brand to reduce business risk and stay resilient, and continued investment in marketing and engaged activities is one of the best ways to achieve that.

Rashmikant Dhanrajellu

The Middle East, especially the UAE, is one of Julius Baer’s core growth markets and we believe it is important to continue investing in our brand in the region. While we have adapted our marketing strategies to enable real-time response to the crisis, it is essential for us to plan for our longer-term growth. Our top priority is to remain closer to our clients by providing them with information on how to keep the current news in perspective and we see an opportunity to deliver quality content via various marketing channels. We also continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that we support each other in these trying times.

Senior manager – Marketing, Danube Home

Sarah Bentley

A business’s lifeline is its relationship with the customers. But that relationship has never been as significant and critical as it is today. It is important for brands to send out unambiguous messages of reassurance and support. As a marketer, you have to walk a fine line between information and irritation. You cannot afford to look exploitative and end up upsetting your customers – especially when there is a crisis going on. You should experiment with new ways of reaching out to customers but remain careful, helpful and creative in your messaging.

Managing director, Flume Marketing

It is crucial that marketing efforts continue in order to keep the entire region’s cogs turning. We recognise that we need to be smarter, think long term and consider the best way to reach our client’s audience now that they are mostly working from home. Now is the time to raise awareness in the region through integrated digitalised ABM (account-based marketing) campaigns and lead nurturing to build a healthy pipeline to get through this period and hit the ground running once normal business resumes.

Mai Huang

Abhilasha Sharma

Chief marketing officer, OPPO MEA

Marketing lead, Casa Milano

Marketing is always at the forefront of interacting with customers. The impact of the Covid-19 epidemic is inevitable as consumers hold a cautious attitude towards consumption in general. Despite the changing dynamics, we believe in the power of sincerity and in engaging with people in a way that genuinely connects and even moves them. We will continue to invest in content that is targeted and authentic.

The world is facing a pandemic as well as an economic downturn. People are concentrating more on their health, rather than spending money. In this scenario, marketing doesn’t have to be direct – we should relate our brand with the current global pandemic scenario while keeping the right message. As Henry Ford said, a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time. gulfbusiness.com

ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/PRESSURE UA

also need to keep consumers informed and engaged while also showing empathy, care, and authenticity during this time. Businesses must reassure their customers that they are there for them and that their technology will make lockdown easier – Cafu, for instance, launched its contactless fuel delivery service to allow people to order fuel at their homes.


ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/CSA IMAGES

S P E C I A L R E P O RT

GCC EDUCATION


SPECIAL REPORT

The Covid-19 effect: Chalking up new modules BY ZAINAB MANSOOR

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enjamin Franklin said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Recognising education as a fundamental stepping stone to economic and social development, several nations worldwide have invested heavily in their academic spaces. Effective collaborations between the government, the private sector, and educational institutions in developed countries have helped curate thriving academic ecosystems to further develop technologically advanced and sustainable economies. Regionally, the Gulf states have also recognised the significance of creating a progressive academic infrastructure and earmarked a sizeable chunk of their budgets for educational purposes. For 2020, the UAE government allocated Dhs10.4bn ($2.83bn) towards public, higher education and university programmes. Of that amount, the estimated costs for public education programmes stands at Dhs6.7bn ($1.82bn) while higher and university education is expected to cost Dhs3.7bn ($1.01bn). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia allocated a whopping SAR193bn ($51.38bn) for the education sector in 2020, amounting to 18.9 per cent of the annual budgeted expenditure. “Sector priorities for 2020 budgeted expenditure are consistent with recent years, with education, military and healthcare accounting for more than 50 per cent of total allocations,” a KPMG report read. “The education sector plays a vital role not only in increasing the employment rate in Saudi Arabia, but also in increasing the desired skills for the labour market. The Ministry of Education has taken numerous initiatives to improve the education sector such as the Teaching Staff Proficiency Development project that aims to raise teaching and leadership competencies of the teaching staff,” it added. In Oman, social spending covering education, healthcare, housing and social welfare continues to increase and totals 40 per cent of public spending in 2020. “According to the latest statistics by the Statistical Centre for the Cooperation Council for the Arab Countries of the Gulf (GCC-STAT), in the academic year 2017/2018, there were a total of 35,250 schools in the GCC compared to 31,515 schools in 2014/2015, recording a positive CAGR of 3.8 per cent,” Aditi Gouri, associate partner, Strategic Consulting and Research, Cavendish Maxwell notes. During the academic year 2017/2018, Saudi Arabia had the highest number of schools in the GCC comprising 87.2 per cent of the total schools followed by Oman at 4.2 per cent. In the UAE, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE), the total number of schools stood at 1,262 during the academic year 2018/2019, of which 619 (49 per cent) were public and 643 schools (51 per cent) were private. The total number of students enrolled in private schools accounted for 74 per cent (810,537 students) while those enrolled in public schools accounted for only 26 per cent (288,794 students).


ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/CSA IMAGES


SPECIAL REPORT Factors such as a growing expatriate population, high proportion of wealth and income levels, and demand for quality English-medium education from expats and locals has led to the proliferation of private schools offering international curriculums, explains Gouri.

Distance learning protocols Similar to how technology has changed the way we live, gadgets have altered the way we learn. As the concept of e-learning gained momentum in recent years, several edtech (education technology) companies and tools surfaced, effectively digitising physical classrooms. While e-learning was still finding solid ground in the region’s dynamic academic space, it was thrust into the spotlight by the recent Covid-19 virus spread. The pandemic altered, among other things, the way education was imparted, forcing institutions to adopt and improve distance learning methodologies. In the wake of the UAE government announcing that e-learning would continue until the end of the current academic year, over 1.2 million school and university students across the UAE entered their virtual classrooms on March 22, Cavendish Maxwell’s Education Market Report 2019-2020 revealed. “There is no denying the fact that online learning got its moment due to Covid-19. In our opinion, post-Covid-19, blended learning will dramatically increase. Remote teaching and learning have the potential to cater to the needs of all kinds of learners as it enables them to study at their own pace and level. It is easier for individuals to access a range of relevant, engaging and motivating educational programmes and to select the options that best suit their specific needs,”

“Remote teaching and learning have the potential to cater to the needs of all kinds of learners as it enables them to study at their own pace and level” 46

notes Majid Mneymneh, vice president, Higher Education and Corporate, Pearson Middle East. Lamia Tabbaa Bibi, co-founder of Little Thinking Minds, an education resources company, concurs: “Schools and governments have accelerated their investment in e-learning solutions recently due to the circumstances – this has shown the world how important it is to keep the learning process alive, whether students are in classrooms or not. “We believe the appetite for education technology will keep growing, at a slightly slower pace perhaps but growing, nonetheless. Today we have seen how important technology is to engage students and the learnings will remain with us and will only help us advance and flourish. “More importantly, today a school can’t afford not to have an edtech solution for all their subjects, should another crisis take place or should schools move their models to a more blended learning one, with students attending some subjects at school and continuing work at home. This is a model that is being discussed globally,” she adds. Little Thinking Minds’ products are being used by over 140,000 children in 300 schools in 16 countries, with over 3,000 teachers using its Arabic educational resources to enhance their classrooms, the co-founder notes. In the wake of the pandemic, as distance learning protocols came into effect, parents scrambled to scour for homeschooling content to productively engage their children and effectively educate them too – this granted several e-learning pioneers a window of opportunity. In March, YouTube launched Learn@Home, a website populated with educational resources and content for parents and children. Meanwhile, registrations for early e-learning hub Khan Academy’s online classes grew 20-fold in recent weeks and its YouTube traffic increased 80 per cent, Bloomberg reported in April. Cody Claver, general manager, iCademy Middle East expands on it: “The pandemic has forced traditional schools to completely change their interactions with students and families. Students are now sitting at home awaiting the lessons from their teachers. Direct instruction is almost negligible, and in some cases, non-existent. Students and parents are left to try and figure out how to keep kids engaged in learning activities for extended periods of time.” Claver foresees the opportunity for schools to re-make themselves and creatively educate students in a way that is both rigorous and flexible. “Schools that adopt a fully digitised curriculum will have a USP in that their education will be available to students at anytime from anywhere. In essence, schools can become pandemic proof,” he adds. According to Claver, iCademy Middle East is the only licensed online school in the UAE. “iCademy Middle East is like any other school just without the trappings of the brick and mortar space. The school is NEASC accredited. We have fully certified teachers assigned to every student. The curriculum is aligned to US state standards and US Common Core State Standards. iCademy Middle East is


ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES/MALTE MUELLER

SPECIAL REPORT

licensed by the KHDA which includes us teaching Arabic language to both native and non-native speakers, Islamic Studies, UAE Social Studies and Moral Education. iCademy also provides full counseling services to students,” Claver adds.

Embolden digital offerings In its wake, the Covid-19 virus has altered the world – academically, the pandemic socially distanced students and teachers, prompting them to shun traditional methods of learning and interaction, and adapt new ones at an unprecedented pace. But on a positive note, it has also enabled schools to step up efforts to embolden their e-learning strategies and techniques to avoid disruptions in imparting education during the outbreak as well as for future academic purposes. “For school education, the habit created by online learning through Covid-19 will help many schools adopt technology quicker, especially those that might have been historically resistant,” says Philip Bahoshy, founder and CEO of startup data platform MAGNiTT.

Governments have also played a key role in supporting the transition for students and facilitators. “After a successful pilot programme, the UAE’s MoE announced the launch of its ‘Learning from Afar’ distance learning programme for students for the full duration of school closure. To ensure that teachers too were ready for this transition, the ministry, in cooperation with Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart University, extended a free e-training course to more than 42,000 teachers and academic staff. The How to be an online tutor in 24 hours course was designed to teach the skills required to manage classrooms remotely and utilise other digital teaching tools,” Gouri notes. Several digital education providers also spearheaded the role of leading the move to this alternative academic ecosystem. “During the past few weeks while children are learning online and teachers are using remote learning, many of them for the first time, we are running free webinars for all teachers to show how they can use the various features on our platforms to serve them during this distance learning phase,” Tabbaa Bibi opines.

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What’s brewing? While e-learning and supporting educational technologies have gained momentum in the aftermath of the virus, technological advancements, in the recent past, have paved the way for new educational models such as a flipped classroom. A type of blended learning, this model facilitates the seamless integration of digital resources into a traditional classroom setting. Inverse to the convention of introducing new content at school and then assigning tasks to students for home, a flipped classroom model introduces content to students at home which they then practice at school, allowing for a more personalised learning experience. “As a region with one of the highest mobile phone penetrations in the world, accompanied with the shortage of qualified teachers, deploying education technology inside and outside the classroom is a no-brainer. Technology has given teachers access to endless resources and new teaching techniques such as flipped classrooms, which allow students to get creative and become engaged,” Tabbaa Bibi opines. While the jury is still out on whether e-learning in the post Covid-19 era will or should continue in its holistic form, there is no denying that social distancing in recent weeks and investment in the region’s edtech space has hinted at its significance and continued growth in the coming years. As many as 222 edtech firms currently operate in the GCC while in Q1 2020, $2m was invested in edtech startups in the GCC, MAGNiTT revealed. The pandemic may also have triggered growth in existing education models such as homeschooling, prompting parents in the region to take it upon themselves to educate their children, given its financial benefits. “Homeschooling has been on the rise globally for the past few years due to its affordability and flexibility amongst other reasons. E-learning tools have been a major factor of that boom and will still play a huge part as parents take it upon themselves to teach their children in the convenience of their homes,” Tabbaa Bibi adds. “I believe that those who have always homeschooled will continue to do so. Parents who have experienced the lifestyle of online learning now realise they have a choice. Parents will first make that choice based upon the safety of their children. Secondly, they will put into context their economic position and what they can afford for schooling. Parents will need to develop a relationship and build trust with their online teachers and school. Online schooling will need to meet the rigours of licencing and accreditation so that students graduating from the programme are ready for university,” Claver adds. However, what is clear is that e-learning won’t replace schools and that children still yearn for social engagement, argues MAGNiTT’s Bahoshy. “Another revelation, though, is the use of e-learning platforms by adults to learn new skills. In previously hectic lives, adults did not have the time to learn new habits. These times have brought awareness to the adult e-learning industry as well,” he adds.

An eye on the future GCC nations are investing in their academic spaces to drive innovation and create knowledgebased economies Ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP 0

0.5

1

1.5

0.2%

Oman

2.2%

0.8%

Saudi Arabia

1.7%

0.9%

UAE

0.1%

Bahrain

2.5

Gap to OECD average: 2.3%

0.3%

Kuwait

2

1.6%

2.4% OECD Average

Research priorities in 2018 SAUDI ARABIA

UAE

1. Engineering 2. Medicine 3. Computer science 4. Materials science 5. Physics and astronomy

1. Engineering 2. Computer science 3. Medicine 4. Energy 5. Physics and astronomy

Dubai’s education landscape Public

2018/2019

Private

SCHOOLS

209

STUDENTS

29,387

71

289,195

PRIVATE SCHOOLS BY CURRICULUM IN DUBAI 41% UK

6% Ministry of Education 2019/2020

8% International Baccalaureate (IB) 11% Others

18% American

16% Indian

SOURCE: PWC ADVANCING ACADEMIC RESEARCH IN THE GCC; CAVENDISH MAXWELL EDUCATION MARKET REPORT 2019-2020

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SPECIAL REPORT

Higher education: Future of tomorrow BY ZAINAB MANSOOR

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ICONS BY LUTFI GANI AL ACHMAD FROM THE NOUN PROJECT

T

he GCC region has regarded education as a key element for sustained development. As regional governments pursued economic diversification in a bid to leverage non-oil-based sectors and develop knowledge-based economies, they held higher education as a priority. Regional educational initiatives not only aim to leverage the potential of the GCC’s youth population - projected to grow to 65 million by 2030 – they also endeavour to prepare an entire generation of professionals with deep technological skills, essentially bridging the gap between existing skillsets and those that employers require in the future.

This transition towards innovation and sustained development warranted near- and long-term investments in human resources, infrastructure, and technology to keep up with the pace of science and technological revolution. To this end, regional governments have exerted concrete efforts to achieve qualitative and quantitative growth in the higher education space. Through licenced institutions and well-articulated programmes, the higher education landscape of the UAE and other Gulf states aims to be more responsive towards the needs of local economies and contribute towards greater economic good. “The UAE is becoming more competitive as an international education hub, competing with some of the more established education markets such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Over the past few years, we have witnessed an increase in the quality of education, a greater variety of tertiary education options for both local and international students and an increase in international branch campuses within the Emirates,” says Professor Mohamed Salem, president, University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD). “In a short span of time, the GCC countries have elevated their positions on a global scale. This is not only due to the rapid developments in their economic infrastructures but also due to the groundwork that’s in place to promote trade and tourism. Education is one of the sectors that has witnessed a significant transformation, mainly because of the internationalisation of higher education along with countries reforming the industry so that they are on par with global trends and best practices.” Technological disruption, automation and other new skills have led to the manifestation of many new job opportunities across high-growth professions that warrant dynamic skillsets. The demand for ‘digital’ and ‘human’ factors is propelling growth in the professions of tomorrow across seven key professional clusters – data and AI; care economy; green economy; engineering and cloud computing; people and culture; product development; and sales, marketing and content, according to the World Economic Forum’s Jobs of Tomorrow: Mapping Opportunity in the New Economy report. Combined, these professions are set to generate 6.1 million new job opportunities in the coming three years, the report revealed. “Increasing demand for high-growth professions has further driven the value of a range of distinctive skill sets that underwrite these seven professional clusters and their promise of growth and prosperity in the new economy. These in-demand skills can be divided into five distinct skills clusters: Business skills, specialised industry skills, general and soft skills, tech baseline skills and tech disruptive skills,” the report added. “Up to 80 per cent of the learners in the Middle East believe that they need to develop their soft skills along with the traditional STEM knowledge, as per the findings of the 2019 Global Learner Survey by Pearson. Employers will be hiring people with uniquely human skills like creative thinking, reasoning and collaboration, strong interpersonal communication skills, EQ skills, diversity and cultural intelligence, and those who embrace and celebrate change,” opines Majid Mneymneh, vice president, Higher Education and Corporate, Pearson Middle East.


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Why upskilling is key in the current environment

Professionals will benefit enormously from learning new skillsets, says Ammar Kaka, provost and vice principal of Heriot-Watt University Dubai

T

he business landscape today is rapidly shifting and changing. The digital revolution has permeated every aspect of our lives, consumers are more demanding than ever before, and the workplace now offers an extremely diverse choice of careers. What does this mean for businesses and the workforce? Firstly, organisations will need to invest in technologies that will help a remote workforce function effectively. Managers will require skills to support and develop this remote workforce. There will be serious consideration given to mental health in view of the decline in social interaction. But most importantly, while the Covid-19 outbreak may be temporary, it will have a long-term impact on the economy globally. Therefore, much of the focus now is on overcoming the anticipated post-Covid challenges, such as changes in demand for products and services, businesses closing or reinventing themselves and careers being displaced with people seeking different jobs with diverse skills. Upskilling as a concept has been around for some time now. It refers to the process of individuals picking up new skills. However, in the present scenario, it is more relevant than ever before. The changing circumstances caused by the pandemic have forced businesses to recognise that the road ahead is new, and that there is a learning curve that has to be navigated. That means the workforce must now learn new skills and competencies to help them. There are several advantages to upskilling. For employees, developing new skills will help you stay relevant and improve employability – an example is acquiring the skills now needed to harness the power of the latest digital technologies. The upskilling journey could also enable the discovery of new passions and interests which could lead to new career possibilities. In the process of upskilling, you will meet people and expand your professional network, and this could have a positive impact on your career and your perspectives. And finally, with times being uncertain, upskilling can help future-proof your job by increasing your value to your employer. Equally for employers, investing in upskilling your employees can benefit you in several ways. Talent acquisition is time-consuming, and as an employer, it is far simpler to retain existing employees by upskilling

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Ammar Kaka, provost and vice principal of Heriot-Watt University Dubai

them for a changing environment than to hire new talent. Another reason is driving employee satisfaction – some studies have shown that 91 per cent of Gen Z employees (born 1990-1999) factor in professional training opportunities when choosing an employer. Upskilling boosts the productivity of employees, which ultimately benefits the bottomline. It can create a significant competitive edge for businesses, especially advantageous in times such as these. And finally, in these difficult times, if businesses downsize, they will need to train the remaining employees to be multi-skilled and take on others’ roles. Similarly, some of these employees may need to step up and play more leadership-oriented roles which could fill gaps created as a result of savings. At Heriot-Watt, we have significant experience in delivering postgraduate education and the majority of our students are full-time working professionals who choose our courses for the flexibility and pace of study they offer. Additionally, our programmes allow students to focus on building a specific need or skillset – professionals can enroll in any of the vast number of subjects that we offer across our programmes while learning through real-life experiences and local as well as global best practices. Up to 95 per cent of our graduates are employed or begin further studies within six months of graduation, making our programmes an ideal choice for those seeking upskilling in these unprecedented times.

The upskilling journey could also enable the discovery of new passions and interests which could lead to new career possibilities


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Higher education institutes in the UAE have tailored their programmes or added new ones, offering education that attends to the needs of growing market segments and industries. “UOWD’s programmes are aligned with national priorities. One of our recent additions was the Global Executive Master of Luxury Management (GEMLux) degree, which gives students an international insight into the luxury goods and services market, with study tours to some of the world’s most iconic luxury shopping capitals. Students will also graduate with a dual qualification from UOWD and the internationally renowned MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy,” Professor Salem notes. “Our Bachelor of Nursing is a two-year bridging programme that will enable nurses to maintain their licence to practice nursing in the UAE healthcare sector. We also have a Masters of Nursing degree which is designed to position nurses at the forefront of innovation and best practice in the nursing profession. We have also introduced shorter executive education courses to help working professionals upskill and reskill in these times – we offer a three-day programme on Internet of Things (IoT) with a focus on IoT as a leadership opportunity and how to use it as a mechanism to transform businesses. Other programmes in these formats include Digital Content

Marketing, Logistics Analytics and Simulation, Business Intelligence and Data Mining,” he adds. Industrial revolution, digital advancements and a shift in consumer needs have not only created millions of job opportunities, but have also scaled the demand for technical and cross-functional skills. “AI and automation are constantly on the rise and the report by the World Economic Forum reveals that about five million occupations will cease to exist by 2030, as artificial intelligence and robotics replace human intervention. Ten years from now, we will witness a lot of jobs spin off from technologies that are emerging today — drones, alternative energy, VR and augmented reality, cybersecurity and blockchain developments,” Mneymneh opines. “Although the future jobs are still not known, we are supporting educational institutions to increasingly adopt a curriculum that caters to a blend of practical and soft skills such as data analytics, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, cognitive ability and creativity, to provide students with the right skillset to work and collaborate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, according to PwC research. Given the potential of

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disruptive technologies, regional governments have embarked aggressively on a strategy to build knowledge-based and technologically advanced economies. While Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot in 2017, the UAE has launched the world’s first graduate-level, research-based AI university. The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) in Abu Dhabi will offer Master of Science (MSc) and PhD level programmes in essential areas of AI – Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Natural Language Processing – while empowering students and engaging businesses to advance AI as a force for positive transformation. The university’s first academic year is scheduled to start in January 2021 and it has received applications from over 80 countries. The university will provide all admitted students with a full scholarship plus benefits. Another university in the UAE capital that is offering AItailored courses is Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. In January, the university inaugurated the Sorbonne Centre for Artificial Intelligence focused on developing fundamental and applied research, and around the research centre, it is launching two executive training programmes including one on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence and another on Actuarial Specialist in Data Science.

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Meanwhile, Ajman University also announced a Master of Science programme in Artificial Intelligence, scheduled to start in the academic year 2020-2021. Also targeting regional executives interested in AI is Microsoft, which launched its AI Business School a year ago. Its AI Business School, run in collaboration with INSEAD, offers free online course materials including brief written case studies and guides and videos of lectures, perspectives and talks that executives can access.

Bahrain is preparing the next generation of cloud professionals, equipping them with skills needed for the future of business


SPECIAL REPORT These academic initiatives are in line with the UAE’s vision to bring this discipline to the forefront, leading the nation into a new AI-empowered era. The UAE ranked 19th on the Government Artificial Intelligence Readiness Index 2019 compiled by Oxford Insights and the International Development Research Centre. Oman ranked 59th while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ranked 78th and 79th respectively. Meanwhile, Bahrain is aiming to prepare the next generation of cloud professionals, equipping them with skills needed for the future of business. In 2019, University of Bahrain announced that it would introduce a one-year cloud computing certificate, and a full cloud computing bachelor’s degree – in collaboration with AWS Educate’s Cloud Degree initiative. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud platform, and its global initiative, AWS Educate, aims to provide students and educators with resources to expedite cloud-related learning. Meanwhile, in the UAE, Al Dar University College offers a Bachelor of Information Technology in Cloud Computing for students keen to work in areas such as network infrastructure, storage technology, data-centre and virtual server administration. Such offerings are in line with the growing requirements of regional organisations, who are seeking individuals with deep technology skills. Almost 73 per cent of UAE-based firms are already deploying some form of cloud-based solution, research by the International Data Corporation (IDC) that was commissioned by Microsoft reveals. Meanwhile, over 90 per cent of UAE-based organisations are undergoing digital transformation initiatives. To support this ecosystem, Microsoft has launched its Cloud Society initiative, which offers training and engagement opportunities with cloud experts and has over 256,000 members across the Middle East and Africa.

Digital transformation Regionally, the Covid-19 outbreak may have expedited distance learning, but higher education institutes were already graduating towards a more blended academic approach. “Digital transformation has been ongoing for a number of years now. Our current circumstances have mandated many educational institutions to use distance learning as a learning delivery system, however, its viability has been present for some time. The more technology advances, the more we will witness institutions adapting to educational and student needs,” states UOWD’s Professor Salem. “Through distance learning, we are able to educate a higher number of international students as more and more students look for greater flexibility and accessibility to education. It particularly serves students who are employed full-time or are remotely based and do not wish to compromise on gaining high-quality accredited education. Additionally, we are also able to virtually offer education fairs to let students experience our offerings from the comfort of their own homes,” he says. But does digital transformation for higher education institutes have a slightly different bearing in terms of a deeper shift in their operating models and value propositions? Perhaps yes, as it would potentially impact all business segments. But as

Research to lead the way

O

ne of the key aspects of building knowledge-based economies is developing the right research ecosystem, which can be curated off the back of strong local contribution. In the last decade, there has been considerable growth in academic research in the region. In 2018, Saudi Arabia published more than 23,000 academic papers, followed by over 7,000 in the UAE, a PwC report suggests. In 2018, Saudi’s King Abdulaziz University, with 4,657 papers, ranked first among the top 10 universities in the GCC in terms of the number of publications produced. King Saud University came in at a close second with 4,629 publications, followed by KAUST – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (2,025) and KFUPM – King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (1,717), the PwC report notes. GCC countries are also realising the significance of increasing their pool of PhD students. The number of enrolled PhD students in Saudi Arabia has been growing steadily, up 36 per cent between 2013 and 2017, the PwC report notes. Meanwhile, in 2017, the UAE launched the National Strategy for Higher Education 2030, which aims to increase the number of PhD students by increasing support for postgraduate funding.

millennials adopt technology at an unprecedented pace, for higher education institutes to go down the digital route in the future would yield considerable benefits as digital systems and software would enhance communication between faculty members and students, aid in effective workload management, improve student evaluation and activate intervention protocols where necessary, offer instant resource access via digitised documents or digital libraries, and potentially engage an international student base. “Higher education is one of the biggest sectors that is wellpositioned to derive considerable benefits from digital transformation,” states Mneymneh. “The main advantage of online education is flexibility. Traditionally, students were required to travel to fulfil degree requirements and gain a recognised degree to launch themselves in their respective careers. With the advent of online learning, an individual can continue to work full-time while getting an additional degree or can get an accredited educational degree from an international institute without the need to travel to their campus and with the freedom to direct their own study schedule,” he adds. It remains to be seen whether the Covid-19 will completely overhaul the education system of the future. But what is certain, is that it will never be the same.

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The new educational model As remote learning becoming the new normal, how are educational institutions managing? Professor Silvia Serrano, vice chancellor of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, reveals how they are navigating through the current crisis

Silvia Serrano, vice chancellor of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely revamped educational models – locally and globally. How are educational institutes managing?

I wouldn’t say that the pandemic completely revamped educational models. We are facing an unexpected and exceptional situation that requires a prompt reaction, and the decision to bring the spring break forward helped us in coping with this by allowing us to rethink and reorganise the classes. However, we were thinking of developing online teaching even before the pandemic. It was already part of our strategic plan and there were discussions about how to increase the courses delivered online in comparison to face-to-face courses and how to include new technologies and digital tools to support and enhance our teaching methodology. As a result, we were ready to go for online courses during this pandemic. How are you supporting students?

Our first step was to make sure that all students have the materials required to

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Learning is not only about transmitting knowledge, it’s also about processing and discovering one’s own way in life. Therefore, interaction and personal communication is crucial follow their classes online. For students who did not have the required tools – such as laptops – we provided them with support. Digital Transformation and Innovation department provided a number of training sessions to get students ready for remote learning and online exams. Our main priority was

to facilitate their online journey and avoid any technical issues during the sessions. We also supported those who were directly impacted by Covid-19 by providing financial aid. We also supported students by providing virtual counselling sessions – individually or collectively. We provided virtual tutoring programmes to support students and help them transition from face-toface learning to distance learning. What are the main challenges of remote learning?

We are facing many challenges at present. During these unfortunate times, it’s difficult for students to stay motivated. Motivation usually comes from personal communication during the learning process. It’s absolutely crucial; learning is not only about transmitting knowledge, it’s also about processing and discovering one’s own way in life. Therefore, interaction and personal communication are crucial. Another challenge would be the increasing inequality of material conditions among students. For example,


a student who has a room of his or her own would face less distractions and therefore less difficulties in e-learning than one that shares his or her room with siblings. It’s also a question of the social environment – those students who have books and access to other forms of knowledge and who have the support of their parents and friends will go through this transition easier than those who do not have all these advantages. Also, we must be aware of the fact that the university campus is not only a place where knowledge is transmitted vertically, but it is a place of sociability and exchanges between students and alumnus. This becomes challenging in a situation of remote learning. Another challenge is that students might feel isolated. We are very much aware of this risk and this is why we try

to assist these students with our online counselling sessions. Looking ahead, do you think remote learning is here to stay?

Yes, I think remote learning is here to stay as an additional element to the faceto-face courses. But it will not replace face-to-face or the traditional methods used in education. Lastly, what are the future plans for Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi?

Even during this difficult period, we were able to move forward with our strategy. Soon, we will launch new programmes in science. We are developing research projects and two chairs in artificial intelligence (AI) and we are in the process of recruiting PhD students and senior scientists in AI. The research chairs in artificial intelligence have allowed us to launch

a long-time co-operation with Total and Thales Group and we are very eager to create partnerships with other enterprises in the future. Moreover, we also aim to develop research chairs in humanities and social sciences. We already have PhD students in Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and we would like to host more scholars who will be able to conduct their research here, under the supervision of two mentors, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Sorbonne University in Paris. This will allow us to enhance the PhD research in the GCC region in line with Paris. In addition to this, we also plan to improve students’ employability and strengthen the link between the university and other enterprises by providing programmes that are in line with the job market needs.

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“EDUCATION IS NOT THE LEARNING OF FACTS, BUT THE TRAINING OF THE MIND TO THINK”

A L B E RT E I N S T E I N


Lifestyle Culinary Aviation Auto Technology Travel

63 64 66 69 72

JUN

20

Rolls-Royce x 11 Ravens Only five examples of this Stealth ping pong table made from 14-carat gold sheets are available exclusively to Rolls-Royce owners

Encapsulating time

From world-record-breaking timepieces to others made up of extraterrestrial materials, here are some of this year’s outstanding watches p.60 gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 59


Lifestyle / Horology

The test of time As the first-ever digital-only Watches & Wonders event took place recently, we examine a few of the standout pieces to emerge from among the world’s finest watchmakers BY VARUN GODINHO

Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton

Round watches may have been the norm in the 20th century, but going against the grain as far back as 1917 was Louis Cartier with the rectangular Tank timepiece. The Tank Asymétrique which followed nearly two decades later in 1936, pushed the idea of atypical designs with all the details on the dial moved 30 degrees to the right. (There’s further proof of Cartier’s radical designs in its Crash and the Maillon 60 June 2020

de Cartier collections). This year’s Tank Asymétrique Skeleton features the Caliber 9623MC skeletonised movement where the hour markers double up as bridges holding together the different parts of the in-house movement. The manual winding timepiece with a power reserve of 48 hours, features case materials of either platinum, platinum set with diamonds or 18k pink gold, all of which come with made to measure alligator straps, and none of which stray from Cartier’s singular focus on impeccable design.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

This year’s stunning Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication with its dome-shaped wire crystal on the dial and its numerous astronomical complications did attract much attention, but it wasn’t nearly enough to eclipse the arrival of the Master Control Chronograph Calendar. The first Master Control timepieces surfaced in 1992 and was named after a battery of in-house tests including the ‘1000 Hours Control’ gulfbusiness.com


Lifestyle / Horology

certification that fully cased-up watches in this collection are subjected to including temperature variations and water resistance. This year’s Master Control Chronograph Calendar features a triple-calendar display showcasing the day, date and month as well as a moon phase and a column-wheel chronograph, all backed by an all-new self-winding movement, the JLC 759. The movement returns 65 hours of power reserve, and as with the other watches in the Master Control collection for 2020, JLC used silicon components within its escapement. Rather than a traditional tachymeter scale to measure speed, the chronograph scale on this timepiece measures heart rates instead. Mild tachycardia cannot be ruled out the moment you try one of these on your wrist for the first time.

intricate movement through the caseback, at the rear of this watch you’ll also find an equally mesmerising rotating star chart that indicates the sidereal time. Vacheron has gone a step further and collaborated with the iconic Abbey Road Studios too. The sound print of this minute repeater, which will be very limited by production, will be recorded and certified at the studio before it is delivered to a customer.

Montblanc

Hermès

1858 Split Second Chronograph Limited Edition 100

Arceau L’Heure De La Lune

The 1858 collection houses Montblanc’s prized movements – in this timepiece, you’ll find an in-house MB M16.31 caliber that features a rattrapante chronograph. Equally important here is the titanium case. We’ve had iterations in gold, bronze and steel, but there’s been only one 1858 Split Second Chronograph timepiece in titanium which was made for the Only Watch auction last year. With the rapturous reception it received back then, Montblanc responded by introducing this timepiece with a grade 5 titanium case now limited to 100 pieces. The blue grand feu enamel dial is made of gold. The outer chronograph scale features a telemeter scale while the inner tachymeter scale, thanks to its snail-shape design, allows you to measure speeds for events lasting up to three minutes. A third of the time it will likely take you to decide you want one of these timepieces.

At the last edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve – the Oscars of the watchmaking world – it was Hermès that won the Calendar and Astronomy Watch category with its Arceau L’Heure De La Lune timepiece that launched a year ago. On it, you’ll find a pair of stationary moons made from mother of pearl, with rotating discs indicating the time on them and also revealing the moon phase in the north and south hemisphere (the moon in the top half displays the moonphase in the southern hemisphere while the lower one indicates that of the northern hemisphere). This year, Hermès introduced five new dial options within the collection with three of them made from meteorites. These include a Black Sahara meteorite dial, a lunar meteorite dial (pictured here) and even a Martian meteorite dial which is limited to only two pieces. Truly, out of this world.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Astronomical Striking Grand Complication – Ode to Music

Making ultra-complicated watches is a specific area of expertise at Vacheron – it takes little effort to remember the incredible Ref 57260 from 2015 that featured 57 complications. This year, the watchmaker tapped into its Les Cabinotiers department to debut this dual-sided minute repeater – the Les Cabinotiers Astronomical Striking Grand Complication-Ode to Music – which features a total of 19 complications including a perpetual calendar, equation of time marchante, moonphase, among others. It must be noted that those 19 complications have been built upon an ultra-thin Caliber 1731 movement. While in most cases, we’re content with gazing at the gulfbusiness.com

June 2020 61


Lifestyle / Horology

Three Questions with… Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne

Panerai

Piaget

Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM01663

Altiplano Ultimate Concept

This timepiece features a case made up of an all-new material called Fibratech that Panerai says is made up of mineral basalt fibres. The watchmaker says that Fibratech is 60 per cent lighter than steel, tested within the aerospace industry, and has “unidirectional mineral fibres produced by the fusion of basalt rock.” The fibres which are bonded with polymers, are applied in layers and are compressed using a combination of pressure and heat. Apart from Fibratech, the bezel on this watch is also made from another Panerai proprietary material called Carbotech – a carbon fibre composite that is lighter as well as less corrosive than ceramic and titanium. The military-grade timepiece also features a robust P.9010 automatic-winding caliber with a three-day power reserve.

How thin can a thin watch really be? Piaget answers that question with this year’s Altiplano Ultimate Concept which at just 2mm thick, including the movement and case, now holds the world record for the world’s thinnest mechanical wristwatch. For a sense of scale, consider that a Dhs1 coin has a thickness of 2.3mm. This new timepiece is even thinner than the Piaget Ultimate Automatic 910P which held the record for the world’s thinnest automatic wristwatch when it debuted towards the end of 2017, but even that timepiece came in at 2.3mm. The Altiplano Ultimate Concept with its 900P-UC movement still boasts a power reserve of 40 hours. It merges the bezel, crown, movement, dial and also the case which itself doubles up as a movement plate and is made up of a cobalt-based alloy. Piaget says that this made-to-order timepiece has up to 10,000 different customisation options including allowing customers to choose the colour of the bridge and the dial as well as the finish of the hands and main plate so that no two watches will ever really be the same.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater With Blue Dial

The Zeitwerk collection first appeared a decade ago. The first Zeitwerk Minute Repeater meanwhile launched in 2015 with a platinum case, and this year Lange has instead built one with a white gold case and blue dial that features a mechanical jumping numeral display as well as a decimal minute repeater that sounds ten-minute intervals. On the dial-side itself, you can see the two black-polished steel hammers striking the gong when the minute repeater is activated. 62 June 2020

1. What is the key lesson that the luxury watch industry must learn from the coronavirus pandemic? Obviously, I can only speak for my own company. From the onset of the global spread of the virus, we used the time to prepare for rebound and recovery. And, although it is still too early to assess the long-term impact of the pandemic, I am convinced that the enduring commitment, engagement and solidarity of our employees, the support we receive from the Richemont Group and the trust of our customers will ensure that we will weather this storm. 2. Is there a ‘new reality’ that the industry must comprehend? The gravity of this pandemic is unprecedented and the return to normality will be a long journey for the global economy as well as for most industries. If we look at the big picture the luxury watch industry is the cherry on the cake. And, to take the metaphor further, it will be back on the top of the cake once we have returned to economic prosperity. 3. Has there been a steep learning curve with the digital-only Watches & Wonders format this year? Like other companies, we have found new ways to present our timepieces successfully online. This represents a transformed reality, and we have gained new experiences, which we are currently evaluating. My personal assessment is that digital ways of presentation cannot fully compete with face-to-face launch events.

The watch is limited to just 30 pieces, and the L043.5 caliber has a total of 771 components. There are only two highly-skilled watchmakers at A. Lange & Söhne who are authorised to work on minute repeaters within the Zeitwerk department at the brand’s manufacture in Glashütte, so don’t expect to receive yours in a hurry. gulfbusiness.com


Lifestyle / Culinary While restaurants are restricted in the number of guests they can accept onto their premises, a few have decided to bring their gourmet food to your home

Iris

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Four Seasons Resort Dubai, Jumeirah Beach

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he Four Seasons has introduced a new concept called ‘Gastrohome’, wherein they are offering home-delivered options of some of their most popular creations. The a la carte menu is an amalgamation of signature dishes from several of the property’s restaurants including the plant-based FOLIA, seafood restaurant Sea Fu and the tea-lounge Shai Salon. The delivery comes packaged in 100 per cent compostable containers, each of which are neatly labelled with a significant amount of attention paid to presentation. The king crab Vietnamese spring rolls, for example, were presented on a leaf bed and with all the garnishing on it that remained over it through the delivery process. The packaging of the excellent tacos (the pico de gallo and guacamole combined sublimely with the mushroom and cauliflowers) too stayed intact during the delivery process. Small bottles of French balsamic vinegar and olive oil were provided to drizzle over the Gourmet Salad. gulfbusiness.com

From top: The Four Seasons has introduced a concept called Gastrohome; Deliveries from Iris Dubai are accompanied with curated playlists on Spotify

ris, which started its delivery service last month, brings not only the food but a festive atmosphere to your doorstep. They’ve partnered with Spotify Arabia and Soundcloud to create a playlist curated by their DJs. We could access the playlist, which comprised of techno and house music, via a bar code on a card that came along with the delivery. While Iris features a full list of mocktails and cocktails that can be ordered home, the restaurant has also created a special a la carte menu. A must-try is the Iris California Uramaki rolls with shrimp, crab and avocado that has a crispy tempura coating. The container was packaged on a bed of ice within a polythene bag that ensured the sushi remained fresh. It also had all the accompaniments including wasabi and gari. A hearty option for the main course is the steak and fries. A large slab of tenderloin meat can be shared between two, and is accompanied with a chef’s special sauce which is a mix of herbs including parsley. For a more decadent experience, there’s the truffle risotto too. There’s just one dessert option on the menu – but with moist pain perdu with a caramel sauce that was served along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, we have no reason to complain.

Iris, Dubai: Customers can order via Deliveroo or call the restaurant directly on +971 54 319 2929 who will arrange for the delivery. Daily deliveries from 12pm

For the mains, we’d recommend the tagliatelle, which has an abundance of mozzarella cream, that didn’t need to be reheated by the time it was delivered, as was the case with Grilled Mediterranean Seabass served on a bed of chickpeas. The two generous sized slices of the coconut cream pie dessert with a macadamia crust, meanwhile, is the way to end your meal on a high note.

Four Seasons Resort Dubai Jumeirah Beach: The menu can be ordered via Talabat, Uber Eats and Zomato, or it can be ordered by calling the resort and then picking it up yourself. Tel: (04) 270 7777

June 2020 63


Lifestyle / Aviation

Aiming high Will the region’s private aviation sector come out stronger at the other end of this Covid-19 pandemic? BY VARUN GODINHO

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arge-volume commercial air carriers are haemorrhaging. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that airlines globally are staring at a potential $314bn hit in ticket sales in 2020 alone as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The very idea of thousands of individuals congregating within an airport terminal, and then hundreds of them seated next to each other on a flight is, for the moment at least, an almost incomprehensible reality within the near to medium term. But that isn’t the case with private jets which ferry passengers through dedicated terminals and then have a maximum of 6-12 passengers seated on an airplane. “Remarkably, over 70 per cent of the demand for private jets that we saw in the past few weeks came from first-time private jet travellers who used to fly first class on commercial airlines,” says Adel Mardini, founder and CEO of Jetex. Jetex handles logistics, flight support requests and is also a leading operator of private jet terminals (or Fixed Base Operators (FBO) as they are referred to in the industry). Jetex, whose portfolio includes a sprawling 1,600-square-metre terminal located in Dubai South, says that flying private could reduce a customer’s exposure to a virus by more than 30 times compared to flying commercially. That estimate, it says, is based on the number of people a client would come into contact with at less than the recommended six feet of social distancing during the entire process of flying private. “The current expectation is that it will take commercial 64 June 2020

airlines up to 18 months to restore travel to the previous levels of 2019. In the interim, many passengers who previously travelled in premium cabins will turn to private aviation for the safety and security it provides. The current main emphasis for flying privately is not the convenience and luxury, but more so the reduction of health risks,” adds Mardini. Pre-pandemic estimates suggested that there are approximately 800 private jets registered in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. “The UAE has around 145 registered private aircraft. There are many more aircraft that are based in the region, but are registered in Europe or someplace else. So, there are more than 1,500 private aircraft that actually operate in the MENA region,” Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi,

“Over 70 per cent of the demand for private jets that we saw in the past few weeks came from first-time private jet travellers who used to fly first class on commercial airlines”

founder and chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), told Gulf Business. Alnaqbi, who also became the first Arab to be appointed as the chairman of the International Business Aviation Council last year, says that prior to the pandemic, the aviation sector as a whole in the UAE – including airports, commercial passenger operations, private jets and charter flights – contributed to 17-19 per cent of the GDP. Private aviation accounted for about 3 per cent of that number. “There are more than 27 companies, including FBO, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and charter companies, registered within the UAE itself. Some companies offer brokerage services and are not registered, so the actual number of companies may be even double that number. There are more than 7,000 employees in the private aviation sector in the UAE alone and over 50,000 employees in the MENA region.” While private aviation has undoubtedly taken a hit with a near-complete grounding of all passenger operations around the world, the pandemic might in fact open new business avenues for the sector. Austria-headquartered private business airline JetClass recently introduced a notfor-profit ‘Flightpooling’ service wherein if six people sign up for a private jet flight on a specific route via the airline’s website, they will be able to charter a flight to that destination and split the cost equally between them, with JetClass handling the booking. “Right now, we’re doing this not for profit. But I believe wholeheartedly that moving forward, we will have a segment and a gulfbusiness.com


product that we’ll be offering consistently, post Covid, which is operating flights very much along the same lines – flightpooling – and I think a lot of the first-class and corporate travellers will pay a little bit more to go through a general aviation terminal for an entire experience that is a lot safer and quicker,” says Fahim Jalali, chief business officer at JetClass. Here in the UAE, infrastructure has been put in place to support the private aviation sector. This includes the 6.7-square-kilometre Mohammed bin Rashid Aerospace Hub in Dubai South, which in addition to housing VIP FBOs, also offers maintenance and technical services specifically for the private aviation industry. Still, Covid-19 has thrown the growth prospects of the sector into disarray. Alnaqbi, on behalf of approximately 270 MEBAA members, took the initiative of petitioning governments across the region for assistance to weather the pandemic. “We have written letters to eight governments where business aviation is very active including the UAE, Saudi, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Bahrain. We sent these letters to the ministry of aviation, ministry of transport and also to the general aviation authorities in these countries. The main things that companies are asking for gulfbusiness.com

are waivers on office rents, addressing fees like parking and landing fees, and also the finance element where they are looking to restructure the loans they’ve taken,” adds Alnaqbi. The Dubai South Free Zone, where several private jet companies are located, last month announced an economic stimulus package with incentives such as easy

Below: Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi, founder and chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association (MEBAA)

instalment schemes as well as waivers of penalties on late renewals, and cancellations of contracts and licences. “Authorities of the United Arab Emirates continue to be very supportive of the private aviation sector as they understand the value it delivers to the tourism industry and the economy at large. The incentive programmes launched by Dubai South will be extremely helpful in providing support to our industry,” says Jetex’s Mardini. Alnaqbi meanwhile says support for private aviation is necessary as it not only serves the luxury industry, but also fulfils other critical roles. “When a crisis occurs, we can transfer goods and food to areas where larger airlines cannot reach. At MEBAA, we even partnered with the World Food Programme and have a contract with them called Fly and Feed where we contribute towards supporting the fight against hunger. Business aviation is not only a luxury, but it’s also a humanitarian tool.” As to how scarred the industry will be once this pandemic is over, Alnaqbi is optimistic. “I have no doubt that we will bounce back very strongly. Business aviation and private aviation are very flexible. I am telling companies to minimise costs and expenditures as far as possible. My message to them for the moment is: Hang on.” June 2020 65


Lifestyle / Auto

Start your engines The global auto industry has found ingenious ways of responding to the pandemic and coming to the aid of frontline workers battling the crisis BY VARUN GODINHO

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t has been a tumultuous first quarter for the luxury car industry. While 2020 began with carmakers preening ambitious plans for co-branded speed boats and luxury residences, in a matter of weeks they retooled their production lines to instead manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and machines to support the efforts to combat the Covid-19 virus. Early in April, as the virus began to accelerate, Jaguar Land Rover started manufacturing 3D-printed visors at its Advanced Product Creation Centre in Gaydon. Those visors were dispatched to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Towards the end of the month, JLR began to use new tooling from WHS Plastics that allowed it to scale up and manufacture up to 2,000 pieces a day of these vital PPE. It also deployed 362 vehicles to organisations in countries around the world from Austria and Australia to Brazil and Russia. While Aston Martin’s share value has tumbled over 80 per cent since the start of the year, despite Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll agreeing to invest GBP182m ($224m) into the iconic car brand, it didn’t stop it from doing its bit for the pandemic. At its Gaydon plant, it repurposed machines that otherwise cut leather used

in the interiors of its cars to instead cut silicone components to make intubation boxes to protect medical practitioners during the intubation and extubation process. It also manufactured protective visors and gowns that were cut on the premises too. Less than 100 miles away, fellow British carmaker Bentley 3D-printed more than 30,000 face shields at its facility in Crewe while also donating other equipment like gloves, masks and safety glasses to healthcare workers. Bentley, it must be noted, had an exceptionally strong performance in China in April as the coronavirus lockdown eased in the Asian country. “In one week in April, the order intake for us was greater than any individual month in the six months leading up to it,” Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark reportedly told BBC Radio 4. Bentley’s parent company Volkswagen Group had an ingenious response to the crisis. At the Spanish headquarters of one of its car brands, SEAT, 150 employees were designated not to build cars, but ventilators, using the carmaker’s existing technology. The ventilators, which it called OxyGEN, were produced on the same line that otherwise manufactured the SEAT Leon and used windscreen wiper motors from the

Bentley, it must be noted, had an exceptionally strong performance in China in April as the coronavirus lockdown eased in the Asian country 66 June 2020

carmaker to perform the repetitive ventilating action required in these machines. In another mainland European country particularly hard hit by the virus, Italy, supercar manufacturers were stepping up to the plate as well. At Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata Bolognese plant, the upholstery teams began using their sewing machines to produce 1,000 masks a day. Also within the company’s carbon fibre production department which manufactures lightweight components crucial to its supercars, nearly 200 3D-printed visors were being manufactured a day. Ferrari meanwhile started using its factory at Maranello to manufacture respirator valves that are attached to masks worn by medical staff. In May, it went further and unveiled its very own pulmonary ventilator machine called the FI5. The project was headed up by Simone Resta, the carmaker’s head of chassis engineering, and F1 innovation manager Corrado Onorato in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT). The FI5 gets its name from those involved in the project as well as the time taken to realise it: F stands for Ferrari, I is for IIT and 5 refers to the number of weeks it took to execute this project. IIT’s scientific director, Giorgio Metta said that partnering with Ferrari meant that they were able to tap engineers that had expertise in fluid dynamics which was necessary to develop a machine like the one they came up with. “We started with some dynamic simulations aiming to simulate the ventilator in different conditions, and then we did basically most of the tricky modelling of the ventilator with all the components inside, the pneumatic and mechanical components, and then we gave our support in terms of supply chain and cost engineering. We also gave our support in manufacturing all the custom components in CNC [computer numerical control modelling],” said Onorato in a statement carried by the official Formula 1 website.

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ormula 1 which hasn’t yet been able to commence its 2020 season meanwhile rallied seven of its UKbased teams – Haas, McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault and Williams – to get together under an effort titled “Project Pitlane” and pool efforts to use their engineering expertise to find solutions which could aid the medical community. gulfbusiness.com


These F1 teams participated in the VentilatorChallengeUK initiative that asked industrial, aerospace and automotive companies to find solutions to reverse engineer devices required by medics, as well as to scale production of other pieces of equipment for which the engineering was already known. As a result, Mercedes F1 team and the University College of London teamed up to reverse engineer a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device in under 100 hours that would help patients on oxygen supply who needed a little extra assistance breathing. This device reportedly cuts the chances by half of the patients using one to gulfbusiness.com

Clockwise from top left: At Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata Bolognese plant, the upholstery teams produced 1,000 masks a day; Mercedes F1 team and the University College of London teamed up to reverse engineer a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device in under 100 hours; Aston Martin manufactured protective visors and gowns at its facility in Gaydon; Ferrari manufactured a pulmonary ventilator in five weeks in association with the Italian Institute of Technology

subsequently require more invasive interventions like that of a ventilator. Regionally, in April, engineers at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) announced that they had designed ventilators in just two weeks that could be used for non-ICU patients in need of respiratory assistance – and would share the blueprints for it globally for free. The device was built from scratch in partnership along with intensive care doctors from the country’s Salmaniya Medical Complex’s Respiratory Therapy Department and Medical Equipment Department, and has already received approvals from Bahrain’s Ministry of Health. June 2020 67


Lifestyle / Auto

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loser to home in the UAE, Audi Volkswagen Middle East said in April that it had provided several cars to the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services to support its effort to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the emirate. The fleet of vehicles includes the Audi Q3, Q5 and Q8 as well as the Touareg, Teramont, Tiguan and Passat from Volkswagen – all of which are being used to transport critical equipment, medical supplies and meals to team workers and their families living in the UAE. The use of these cars for supporting the ancillary activities of DCAS and its staff members, means that its ambulances can be dedicated for essential and emergency purposes. Also in Dubai, Al Ghandi Auto, the exclusive retailer for General Motors-owned Cadillac vehicles in the UAE, donated 10 Escalades – with a dealer advertised price of Dhs376,000 each – to the Dubai Police to help the emirate’s security force combat the Covid-19 pandemic in April. Apart from a self-starter initiative shown by various carmakers globally, it was also the government which actively stepped in to commission big-budget projects. In April, the US government invoked the Defense Production Act and contracted General Motors to manufacture 30,000 ventilators at a cost of $489.4m. GM, which repurposed an assembly line otherwise meant to produce precision auto components at its Indiana plant, partnered with Ventec Life Systems to build the ventilators priced at 68 June 2020

approximately $16,000 a piece, a price at which it says it does not make a profit. Also under the Defense Production Act, Ford and General Electric were commissioned a $336m contract in April to build 50,000 ventilators at the carmaker’s plant

Above: Jaguar Land Rover 3D-printed visors at its Advanced Product Creation Centre; Below: Audi Volkswagen Middle East provided several cars to the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services

in Michigan. Separately, Ford also partnered with 3M to build respirators. In May, Ford and 3M began to ship its first batch of respirators in which the airflow system used the automaker’s off-the-shelf components from the fans designed to cool the seats in a Ford F-150, a portable battery pack to power the respirator for up to eight hours and 3M’s advanced filtering systems to trap virus particles. There have been a few controversies too, not least among them related to Tesla. The US carmaker did source 1,255 ventilators in March from China and flew them to Los Angeles, California, to distribute to hospitals that require it. But equally, Tesla also filed a lawsuit last month against Alameda County, California, demanding that state to lift the ban on opening up of businesses, a restriction that was put in place as part of the state’s Covid-19 precautionary measures. Yet, there’s little doubt that from the UK to mainland Europe, Asia and the Middle East to the Americas, the overall sentiment within the car industry is to rally around a cause. Car sales will undoubtedly plummet globally in the near future as oil prices correct themselves, while the medical community makes frantic efforts to find a vaccine and global travel of any kind is reduced to a necessity. But these carmakers can also, quite rightly, assume that the goodwill created by their efforts now will not go unnoticed in an industry where consumer’s purchasing habits are particularly driven by emotions.

gulfbusiness.com


Lifestyle / Technology

Review: Huawei Watch GT 2e The fitness watch comes with key health trackers and a good battery life BY AARTI NAGRAJ

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ith most of us restricted to our homes or only permitted brief exercise regimes outside, keeping track of our fitness routines can prove challenging. It is easy to skip a workout or lose track of time when you are slouched in front of your computer, flexing just the muscles on your wrist and overstraining your exhausted eyes. A good assistant comes in the form of the latest Huawei Watch GT 2e, which aims to help you lead an active lifestyle. From reminding you to stretch your legs if you are seated for over an hour, to taking stress tests, monitoring your sleep patterns and offering 100 workout-tracking modes, the watch is well-equipped to track your fitness goals. One of the useful features of the watch is its heart rate monitoring technology – available in real-time 24-hours a day – through Huawei’s TruSeen technology along with AI smart heart rate algorithms. It will also alert you when your heart rate is too high or too low for more than 10 minutes. The GT 2e also allows users to track their Sp02 rates – an estimate of the blood oxygen saturation levels – in a first for Huawei. The process is quick and simple and you know the results immediately. From a usage perspective, it’s not something most of us tend to track regularly, but it is a quirky feature and offers an interesting conversation topic.

On the other hand, one feature we have used extensively is the sleep pattern tracker, which not only counts the number of hours you sleep, but through Huawei’s Health app, also provides details such as hours of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and deep sleep every night to understand how well you are resting. The Covid-19 situation has most of us stretched thin, so we were not too surprised with the results of our stress test conducted by the GT 2e. The watch does suggest breathing exercises to calm down, which helps. Slow down. Inhale. Exhale. More in line with most other fitness watches, the GT 2e can track most of your regular workouts, be it walking on a treadmill, using an elliptical machine or going for a run, cycling or swimming. Overall, it has 15 professional workout modes which include common outdoor and indoor

One of the useful features is its heart rate monitoring technology which alerts you if your heart rate is too high or too low gulfbusiness.com

sports, as well as 85 other sporting activities covering everything from hip hop and rock climbing to skateboarding, surfing, tennis and baseball. On record, we haven’t gone rock climbing or skateboarding right now (yes, we admit we haven’t gone surfing or played baseball either), but the options on the watch cater to a variety of exercise and workout regimes. From a design perspective, the classic round and large 1.39-inch display is easy to read but may seem too bold for those with slender wrists. The sporty straps are good during a workout but may seem a tad out of sync when paired with an office suit. The one thing design-wise that bothered us was that we found it very difficult to charge the watch on a flat surface due to the natural fall of the straps. That said the relatively long battery life – Huawei claims it can last up to two weeks, but we have charged it more frequently to avoid hitting zero – means that at least you don’t have to worry about draining out the battery after every workout.

Available across all retailers in the UAE; Dhs599

June 2020 69


PARTNER CONTENT

Listen in: OPPO Enco W31 The company’s first-ever wireless headphones is now available in the Middle East

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ntering the crowded wireless headphones market can be a daunting proposition – there’s a host of these audio devices already present on the market and so the competition is stiff. Last month, OPPO introduced its first wireless headphones, the OPPO Enco W31, in the Middle East. The reason that wired headphones were long favoured over wireless devices was that Bluetooth inadvertently led to a slight distortion in the audio quality. To counter that, OPPO has developed these headphones with a binaural low-latency Bluetooth 5.0 transmission mechanism. In non-tech speak, binaural equates a 3D stereo sound effect while ultra-low latency lends a unified and synchronised audio experience. The Bluetooth function has a range of up to 10 metres which allows for a decent range of separation from your smartphone when using these headphones. Compatible with both Android and iOS devices, these in-ear headphones also feature anti-wind noise chambers and two internal microphones on either side. Thanks to a nifty algorithm developed by OPPO, much of the background noise is blocked out during calls. Beyond the smart algorithms backing it, there is material innovation found here too which aids in better overall sound quality. These headphones use dual composite thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU) and graphene diaphragms that are geared towards improving frequency response. The headphones, backed by 7mm dynamic drivers, has a sensitivity of 95dB at 1kHZ.

The wireless headphones are compatible with both Android and iOS devices

It can be operated in two modes – Balanced Mode and Bass Mode – with a frequency response range of 20Hz-20Khz. The former mode is perfect when using these headphones to take regular calls while the latter is ideal when using them to listen to music instead. The earbud-style device has an ergonomic in-ear design that allows it to remain in place even during a workout. With an IP54 rating, it is designed to be water and dustproof too. The headphones which can be charged via a USB-C cable and will connect to your smartphone the moment the charging case is opened.

The earbud-style device, designed to be water and dustproof, has an ergonomic in-ear design that allows it to remain in place even during a workout 70 June 2020

Its inbuilt sensors will automatically start the audio when you put them on, and will likewise pause it when you take them off. It also has touch controls built onto it. To change the audio mode from balanced to bass, double tap the left earphone; to bring up the next song, double tap the right earphone; and to activate the voice assistant, triple tap either of the earpieces. At 50 per cent of the maximum volume, these headphones can play music for up to 3.5 hours on a single charge. With the charging case, it can return 15 hours of music playback and 12 hours of call time. When it’s time to plug it in, it can charge fully in 2.5 hours. OPPO is making sure that nothing is middling regarding the performance or specs of their latest headphones.

Priced at Dhs299, these headphones are available on OPPO’s website as well as Noon, OPPO’s official e-commerce partner.

gulfbusiness.com


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DUBAI Tailored to the savvy business traveller with large comfortable beds and hi-tech facilities, the hotel features a vibrant collection of cafes, bars and restaurants, state-of-the-art conference facilities and a fully equipped gym with ample parking. Tel +971 4 427 1000 Fax +971 4 427 1001 cu@mediaonehotel.com

RIYADH The newly refurbished Riyadh Marriott Hotel reimagines the future for the next generation of travellers, who blend work and play, demand style and substance, and require technology to stay connected. Tel +966 11 477 9300 Fax +966 11 292 2212 riyadhres@marriotthotels.com www.riyadhmarriott.com www.marriott.sa

RAS AL KHAIMAH Cradled by the Hajar Mountains, a championship golf course, sandy beaches and the azure waters of the Arabian Sea, the hotel is 50 minutes from the Dubai Airport and brings true Waldorf service to the most alluring location in the UAE. Tel +971 7 2035555 waldorfastoria.com/rasalkhaimah waldorfastoria.com

Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates

Crowne Plaza Dubai

Marriott Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter Hotel

DUBAI Directly connected to the world-renowned mall, the Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates hotel is a gathering place for corporate travellers, vacationers and shoppers alike. The hotel features 94 suites out of 481 guest rooms with inspiring views over Dubai. Enjoy Sheraton signature experiences that include luxurious all-white Sheraton sweet sleeper beds and the Sheraton Club lounge. Tel +971 4 377 2000 Fax +971 4 377 2001 reservations.03889@sheraton.com sheraton.com/dubaimalloftheemirates

DUBAI Conveniently located in the heart of the city on Sheikh Zayed Road, opposite the Dubai World Trade Centre and just steps away from a metro station, the hotel provides easy access to attractions and facilities. This 5-star hotel has 14 dining and entertainment venues, extensive events facilities, a world class fitness centre, swimming pool and spa. Tel +971 4 331 1111 Fax +971 4 331 5555 Crowneplaza.com/dubai Crowneplaza.cpdubai@ihg.com

RIYADH Experience Riyadh’s premier address in the Diplomatic Quarter, strategically located near all of the embassies, in a unique design inspired by the scenic and fertile Wadi Hanifa, a beautiful desert oasis running through Riyadh. Phone: +966 11 8353000 Email:clusterRiyadhSaudiArabiaSalesTeam@ marriott.com Website: http://www.marriott.com/ruhdq

Is your hotel listed on this page? Become one of Gulf Business’ Preferred Hotels and benefit from the exposure to our extensive GCC readership. motivatepublishing.com Tel: +971 4 4273000 Fax: +971 4 4282262


Lifestyle / Travel

S O F I A , B U LG A R I A

Flight operates from: September 15

Europe’s hidden riches Why Sofia should replace Santorini on your travel agenda BY GEORGINA LAVERS

A

s flights worldwide have been restricted to only the most necessary, nomads have had to put their roaming on hold for now. But a raft of destinations set to connect Abu Dhabi with Eastern Europe should – at the very least – be noted down for future exploration. In the beginning of May, Wizz Air – the Hungarian low-cost airline – announced it would begin flights to five different destinations, all in Europe. Bucharest and Budapest have been earmarked as the first

two destinations available to fly to from Abu Dhabi, with flights expected to launch in June*. But as well as taking in the public baths or Byzantine architecture of the popular capitals, three other cities deserve further consideration. From southern Poland’s Katowice, known as the “city of music”, to the assortment of architectural styles on display in Sofia, or Cluj-Napoca, one of Romania’s most-visited cities, these affordable, interesting cities should be on your radar.

Below from left: Katowice's performance hall, built in 2014, hosts Poland's Radio Symphony Orchestra; Spodek, the UFO-esque arena in Katowice

72 June 2020

Sofia is a city of threes. It is nestled between three mountains: Lyulin, Vitosha and the Balkans; sits between three seas: the Aegean, Black and Adriatic; and is home to grand temples of three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. With the city’s mishmash of cultural and geographic influences, there is plenty for tourists to take in. One of the main attractions of the city is its proximity to two ski slopes – Borovets and Bansko are both under two hours’ drive away and have altitudes high enough to guarantee decent snow coverage. Borovets is Bulgaria’s oldest ski resort, discovered by King Ferdinand I in the 19th Century (his palace, Tsarska Bistritsa Palace, can still be visited today). Nowadays it is less illustrious but still diverting, boasting easy and open slopes that many Bulgarians take advantage of over a snowy weekend. Bansko has an equally historic background, hosting the UNESCO-listed Pirin National Park, as well as a medieval village. The ski town may have established itself as a host of top international winter sports events, but elsewhere lies a plethora of unique sites – from the low-slung doors of Bulgarian Renaissance houses, to a park that has been created specifically to house freed dancing bears. The footsteps of history tread back to the capital, where the handsome Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands. Perhaps Sofia’s most illustrious landmark, the gold and teal-domed monument is no less impressive inside, its interiors clad in Brazilian onyx and Indian alabaster. A suitably impressive commemoration to the 200,000 Russian soldiers that died during the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, in whose memory the cathedral was built. Elsewhere, monuments appear to simply pop up around the city. Commuters hurry past Roman ruins on their way to the metro station; peer beneath the glass domes covering the site to see remnants of 4thcentury basilicas and baths. Banya Bashi Mosque is also worth a visit, a remnant of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria and a neighbour of Sofia’s synagogue, which is just one street over. A whole weekend could be spent delving into the capital’s history, but its modern charms are not to be overlooked. Visit boutiques of contemporary local designers such gulfbusiness.com


PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES AND UNSPLASH

Bulgaria's ski slopes are a short distance from the capital and boast wide, open pistes

as Sassa Björg, whose atelier creates colourful ready-to-wear in natural fabrics, or head to one of the many galleries around the city: National Art Gallery is one of the biggest, housing over 50,000 pieces of Bulgarian art. As for dining, Sense Hotel has one of the best rooftop bars in the city, while Cosmos elevates traditional Bulgarian cuisine, offering sturgeon with black sea mussels and a vivid Bulgarian rose flambé. K ATOW I C E

Flight operates from: September 15 Much like the UAE, it was a natural resource that transformed the fortunes of this Southern Polish city. After reserves rich in coal were discovered in the 18th century, steelworks and artisans’ shops transformed the then-village into a bustling hub. Though much of the city was torn down or bombed during the Second World War, remnants of Katowice’s industrial past remain. Head to the districts of Nikiszowiec or Bogucice to see the red-brick lines of gulfbusiness.com

After reserves rich in coal were discovered in Katowice in the 18th century, steelworks and artisans’ shops transformed the then-village into a bustling hub

familoki houses, built for the coal miners in the area. Though seemingly uniform, some say they are all designed just a little differently, so that a miner could recognise his house after a long shift. From the 1920s onwards, architects drew from this tradition of industrial architecture to create new forms of functionalism and modernism. Though the furthest thing from baroque (and often lending the city an unfair reputation as unattractive), their influence can be heavily seen around the city. Look out for the Cloud Scraper – the second skyscraper ever built in Poland and used as a sniper lookout during the Nazi invasion – as well as the truly Seventies inspired Spodek, or “Saucer”. The satellite-dish shaped arena hosts many musical performances, another string to the city’s bow. Deemed a UNESCO city of music since 2015, the city has an impressive 27 different musical festivals to its belt, from international classical competitions to the electronic stylings of annual festival Tauron Nowa Muzyka. June 2020 73


Lifestyle / Travel

Over the last five years, the programme has also helped to create an acoustically pristine performance hall for the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR), itself founded in Warsaw in 1935. The orchestra regularly collaborates with world-class soloists and musicians, from Martha Argerich to Pieter Wispelwey. Concertgoers may want to round off their evening with some Silesian cuisine, from golabki (cabbage rolls), to placki ziemniaczane – potato pancakes smothered in mushroom sauce. Head to Patio for traditional fare, or ISTO, for a modern take – both restaurants are in the city centre. Aside from the architectural or the musical, many sightseers will take pleasure in simply wandering around the Main Square, amidst the flower sellers and coffee stands. In summer, locals flock to the square’s artificial river to lie on the sunbeds under palm trees. It is an unexpected charm, like most of Katowice. C L U J - N A P O CA

Flight operates from: September 16 As the unofficial capital of Transylvania, you’d expect nothing less from Cluj-Napoca (just Cluj, to the locals) – hip, arty, and with just the right amount of mystery. Built on the banks of the river Someșul Mic, the Romanian city has nature at its heart, surrounded by forest and crisscrossed with a number of streams. But even the parks have unique twists – Central Park, built in 1827, has a casino that now hosts art exhibitions and Hoia-Baciu offers nighttime tours through its so-called haunted forests. The city is full of these idiosyncrasies, from the wild puppetry at the Puck Theatre to the apothecary at Hintz House, where visitors can see what brave 16th-century patients had to endure. Architecture is varied, ranging from the Gothic stylings of St Michael’s Church, which dates all the way back to the 14th century, to the baroque-rococo Avram Iancu and Unrii Squares.

From top: The Gothic spires of Cluj-Napoca; Meron Coffee roasts its own beans in 12 different cafes across Romania

Cluj-Napoca’s freewheeling, bohemian atmosphere is perhaps most present in its café culture 74 June 2020

Perhaps encouraged by a large student population, cultural offerings (and great coffee) flourish in most corners of the city. The Transilvania International Film Festival, which typically takes place in September, often draws crowds of over 100,000 viewers keen to see the latest and greatest in Romanian cinema in unique locations across the city. Art lovers will appreciate Baril, a former paintbrush factory turned contemporary gallery, or Galeria Quadro, which holds paintings by respected Romanian artists including Aurel Ciupe and László Feszt. The city’s freewheeling, bohemian atmosphere is perhaps most present in its café culture. Q Caffee is a 10-year performance project in the making and – with its psychedelic spaces and allegorical art – has to be seen to be understood. For the more regular hot brew connoisseur, head to any one of the hip coffee spots around Cluj, from Meron to Sisters or Bujole. All specialise in organic, ethical beans with a talkative ambience; the ideal place to power down a laptop and fully take in this lively, hip city.

*Flights are dependent on UAE authorities lifting travel restrictions on passenger services in and out of the country, and are also subject to regulatory approval

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Profile for Motivate Media Group

Gulf Business June 2020  

We will rise again - The regional economy has been battered by Covid-19. Can businesses defy the odds and stand tall?

Gulf Business June 2020  

We will rise again - The regional economy has been battered by Covid-19. Can businesses defy the odds and stand tall?

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