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Strong business growth expected for SMMEs, says Dubai Tourism Chief

Emirate’s long-term tourism plans & economic growth key catalysts

As Dubai moves forward in developments towards 2020, including the fulfilment of its ambitious tourism strategy and the gearing up to host the landmark Dubai Expo 2020, Start-ups and the Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) are most likely to be the biggest beneficiaries, said His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing; CEO, Dubai World Trade Centre and Dubai Expo 2020 Higher Committee member.

Speaking at the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) event in Dubai, His Excellency Almarri outlined how Dubai’s goal of welcoming 20 million visitors by 2020 - up from 11 million in 2013 - will deliver strong business avenues for Entrepreneurs and SMMEs as the diversification of service offerings swell to accommodate the expected influx.  

“Entrepreneurship – big or small – is one of the most globally consistent and relevant phenomena, redefining the economic landscape in the developed and developing world. As such, the targeted doubling of tourism numbers, coupled with human capital development, are major contributors to sustainable growth,” said His Excellency.  

“We are all aware that today, the return on human capital is growing more rapidly than the return on financial capital. We want to make sure that the increased spectrum of opportunities being created across the tourism infrastructure and service sector value chain actively attracts innovative and dynamic businesses - both domestically and internationally.”  

According to industry figures, Small & Medium enterprises (SMEs) comprise more than 90 per cent of all Dubai-registered companies, representing 42 per cent of the labour force and contributing 40 per cent of the emirate’s GDP.  

“Dubai has always been representative of an economy built on the strength of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and as we move towards the UAE’s Golden Jubilee in 2021, we expect to harness the full potential of the young and high-growth businesses around the world. We offer a very strong and highly democratised proposition for Start-ups and SMMEs – from access to tools, infrastructure, policies and the wider ecosystem, through to options for full foreign ownership across our many free zones. As a strategic priority for the Emirate, we will continue to work very closely with policy makers and the international business and investment community to enable this sector to thrive moving forward,” he said.  

His Excellency also cited the role PPPs and SMMEs will play in the delivery of Dubai Expo 2020, the first event-of-its-kind to be staged in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA).  

“Across the entire Expo project, there will be opportunities for small, medium and large business types to support and leverage the event, through tailored initiatives as well as a comprehensive service and delivery programmes. The investments made by the host city and participants, as well as incoming visitor spend, will directly and indirectly generate significant GDP contribution for Dubai, the UAE and the region, the benefits of which must truly enable accelerated growth of smaller scale enterprises,” said His Excellency.  

In May, the International Monetary Fund said it is likely to raise its 2014 economic forecast for Dubai. The emirate’s economy grew at its fastest pace last year since 2007, expanding 4.6 per cent as core sectors including tourism, retail, real estate, logistics and hospitality witnessed solid growth.  

Almarri said this painted a positive picture for businesses moving forward.  

“The scale of growth that Dubai expects to retain momentum for over the coming years, aligned with our tourism strategy, which will help drive Foreign Direct Investment into the country, in turn will attract skilled human capital, and increase our global competitiveness. Added to this, from an entrepreneurship and SMME perspective, there are a number of developing government-backed business ecosystems being driven by an increased focus on attracting incubators, accelerators and investment funds needed to help them grow,” added His Excellency.  

Speaking on the side-lines of the event, Vikram Shroff – EO President 2014/15 and Director of Regal Group said that SMEs would be a significant influencer in domestic and regional growth prospects.  

“The future of every country is the SME segment and the UAE, especially Dubai, is no different. Dubai has rolled out the red carpet for entrepreneurs to open up companies with very transparent procedures. Once a business owner sees that his or her investment has potential to grow and that the government is pro-business, why wouldn’t they choose to set up shop here for their Middle East expansion?” he said.  

Aman Merchant, CEO and co-founder of Impact Hub Dubai - part of a global entrepreneur network which has more than 50 locations globally and a network of 8,000 'Hubsters' – echoed the sentiments, earmarking Dubai’s pro-business mentality as a critical factor.  

“This is a very exciting time for SMEs in Dubai. Expo 2020 is one strong ground for optimism, but even without that, Dubai's long term plans promote entrepreneurship, and with that, the growth of the SME sector. Whether it is banks looking more kindly to funding SMEs, government departments more open to partnering with lesser-known but very capable startups, and corporates looking more aggressively to align with smaller players to enhance their agility, SMEs are well-placed to leverage this paradigm shift,” he added.

“As we all know, Dubai's government is the most pro-business in the region and the city continues to take the lead in attracting start-ups. Whether it's less red-tape, more business-friendly licensing, better mobility and logistics infrastructure, family-friendly environment or increased access to talent capital, the ecosystem in Dubai allows for start-ups to thrive if they have a distinctive offering that leverages these Dubai USPs.”

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