What makes Dubai an advantageous place to do business?
BUAMIM: Dubai has, I would say, a major advantage when it gets to this part of the world. When I talk about this part of the world, I mean the Gulf region, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Whenever you think about that, when you think, what's the gateway, how to get to it? That's what Dubai has. We have the best infrastructure that exists in this part of the world. We have, we always say, the best business community, but we have a huge business community coming from 200 nationalities doing business here for a long time.
When you look at the numbers, we trade four times our GDP, and this exists in only two parts of the world; in Hong Kong and Singapore. This is what Dubai is. It's the Hong Kong for China, and it's the Singapore for the Far East. We have excellent connectivity when it gets with the world, with more than 200 destination directly connected with Dubai. We have very high growth rates in terms of trade, more than double digits since 2008 'til today. We not only recovered from 2008, but we grew more than 33% compared to our peak in 2008. So commerce is very important, and commerce is one third of the economy of Dubai.
Whenever the commerce grows and the trade grows in Dubai, that means the whole GDP and the whole economy of Dubai is growing. Maybe in the past people always looked at the real estate of Dubai, but Dubai is much more than real estate. It's more about trade and commerce, it's more about the financial district, and tourism, and these three have been growing quite well in the past three to five years.
How have key economic indicators performed since the downturn in 2008?
BUAMIM: It's very important to know that Dubai's international business is up. It has links with all the international destinations around the world. And whenever anything happens in the world, definitely it will impact Dubai because of the openness of the economy, because of the connectivity with the rest of the world. So, I would say, it is open, it is connected with the rest of the world.
However what happened in Dubai the last three years has been important, really a major transformation from just a real estate dependent economy to going back to basics, and the basics for Dubai have always been trade, always been supply channel logistics, financial services, and tourism. If you just want to take and pick a few numbers, last year in 2013, more than 11 million people visited Dubai. Compare that to five years earlier, 7 million. So this is a major growth, as I said, away from the peak that we witnessed during 2008. We traded almost 1.2 trillion AED. This is way higher than the numbers we traded before 2008, which was almost 800bn AED. So the recovery is there, the growth is there, and we are just looking at the future away from the challenges that Dubai witnessed during the past.
What differentiates Dubai from other centers in the region?
BUAMIM: We are ahead of others because of the infrastructure we have in this part of the world. Everybody can build infrastructure, but it takes time to build infrastructure. Another thing is the connectivity. Dubai is much more connected with the rest of the world, comparing to any one of our neighbours. Of course everybody else is trying to do that but it will take them time.
In addition to this, in terms of infrastructure, when you look at the number of rooms available in Dubai, more than 85,000 rooms, if you look at the next city among all of them, it will be below 25,000. So we are way ahead in terms of the hotels and also not only do we have more hotel rooms, but also we have a lot more activities in terms of the occupancy of these hotel rooms.
In terms of the business community, we have many more businesses. Actually when you look at our Chamber of Commerce, we have more than 150,000 members, and this by far is more than any Chamber, not only in the Gulf region, but also in the whole Middle East, Africa region, because of the businesses in Dubai. And again, it's challenging, it's competitive, however we believe we are still ahead of the curve, and we still will keep working hard to maintain this position.
How does Dubai remain competitive going forward?
BUAMIM: One important thing of course, when I talk about competitiveness, this is competitiveness in terms of doing business, in terms of keeping the growth more sustainable in the future, in terms of keeping outside businesses in Dubai and not to go somewhere else. When you look at the region of where Dubai is located, and I'm talking about again, the Gulf, Middle East, South Asia, Africa, this is a growing region. It requires a lot of support. It requires a lot of businesses, and it has a lot of opportunities. Dubai, in addition to others, is benefiting from this and that doesn't mean that if we grow the others will not benefit. Everybody has to grow and everybody has the opportunity to grow. We are already ahead of others in terms of the number of businesses, in terms of the size of trade, in terms of the number of tourists coming to this part of the world, especially from everywhere around us.
When you look at the numbers, we trade four times our GDP, and this exists in only two parts of the world; in Hong Kong and Singapore. This is what Dubai is. It's the Hong Kong for China, and it's the Singapore for the Far East.
So again, we think that we have that element, and as long as we stay competitive in terms of the cost of doing business, we keep it competitive so people can come, they can do business, and they can stay in our hotels. This will keep us ahead of the curve. I only compare to the competitive cities around us, still Dubai though it is getting more expensive to live here, to do business. But still we are lower than the other cities around us. We have also, I would say, a great advantage nobody else has, and it's very real around the world, and this is the multinational business community that we have. We have almost 200 nationalities living, working in Dubai, with everybody adding their own touch to Dubai which makes this city unique compared to many other cities, and especially compared to the other centres around us here in the region.
Looking at the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, one major thing we focused on during the past five years, is the area of competitiveness. And this is where we looked at the ease of doing business, how competitive is the economy, and how competitive is establishing, running a business, and also closing down a business. There were a lot of reviews and these laws and regulations, not only at the level of Dubai, but at the level of the whole country in terms of United Arab Emirates.
Dubai focused a lot on improving its ranks internationally, so when you look at the World Economic Forum International Reports, Dubai right now is ranked 23rd in terms of the whole world, and this had been improved a lot. Comparing to the past I would say three or four years, coming from almost 40 to 23 recently. And we focus a lot to be able to reduce the steps of starting a business, the red tape, and also the other areas in terms of taxes and fees, etc.
Dubai also has very interesting models. We almost have more than 20 free zones, where the ownership for foreigners can be 100%. There are no taxes, and there are one-stop shops to almost complete everything in no time. Dubai already within all the ranks, in terms of the World Bank, in terms of the WEF, we are ahead of others. We are number one in the whole of the Arab world, and we are of course, competing to be able to improve these ranks, even comparing to major centres such as London, New York, or even Hong Kong. Again, we are aiming for the top ranks, and we are aiming to the processes, to learn from others in terms of best practices, and to be able to be more competitive. And this is very important for us.
How do you respond to critics who say Dubai is only concerned with building headline-grabbing projects, regardless of the demand or feasibility?
BUAMIM: When we talk about the tallest tower or we talk about the biggest ports, or even the airports, maybe many people think that Dubai only wants to build the biggest. But the reality is Dubai is striving for excellence. And this is very important, excellence in terms of execution. When you look at Malaysia or Kuala Lumpur, it took Kuala Lumpur more than 30 years to take that status.
In terms of Dubai, Dubai achieved that in a much shorter time because of, of course, visionary leadership, because of the executions of these mega-projects which was really aimed for excellence. And this is very important, and I think when you want to think of Dubai, and when you want to think of Dubai relative to many other centres around us, always think of the execution. And I believe this is something unique; unique to Dubai, and unique to the leadership of Dubai, and unique to the business community in Dubai.