Tucked away on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates comprises seven member states, explains Colin Ellson: the capital, Abu Dhabi, the second city of Dubai, and the smaller emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Ras-al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.
While the lesser-known emirates have sound economic bases in fields worth investigating – such as real estate, mining, tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, banking and free trade zones – there’s no escaping that the big hitters are abu dhabi and dubai, which therefore are the main focus of UK companies seeking to export to the Gulf.
Happily, they and their neighbours have largely escaped the knock-on effect of the middle east’s arab spring. but they have nevertheless been targets for an offensive. a peaceful one, that is, concerned with the UK government’s determination to further increase business with the Uae. britain’s largest civil export market in the middle east, it was worth almost £11billion in bilateral trade in 2012.
The charm offensive was started by david Cameron, who landed in dubai last November, one of his main aims to persuade regional powers to buy more than 100 eurofighter Typhoon jets, a deal potentially worth £6billion.
No sooner had the Prime minister shaken the sand out of his shoes on his return, than business secretary Vince Cable was in town, his primary target to encourage Uae businesses to invest in the UK and to increase bilateral trade to over £12billion by 2015.
according to UK Trade and investment, there are opportunities across the business spectrum, including infrastructure (construction and mass transport), energy, defence and security, education and training, financial and professional services, and creative and media.
That both abu dhabi and dubai are ripe for british companies’ new or renewed attention is illustrated by their reports for 2013.
abu dhabi claims to be “growing by leaps and bounds” as it transforms its economy away from hydrocarbons. already, it reports, 50 per cent of the emirate’s revenues are derived from the non-energy sector.
And although the emirate is spending heavily on oil and gas, renewable energy is a top priority. It has launched the world’s largest solar power plant and is planning the first carbon neutral city on earth. and after tough years in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the real estate sector has rebounded.
Dubai has also recovered from the corporate debt crisis and real estate slump which it faced in 2009-10, and its economy is on the upswing this year, driven by the services, transportation, logistics and retail sectors.
The tourism sector has also benefited from the economic upturn, dubai’s hotels registering an occupancy rate of 86 per cent in the first half of this year.
This burgeoning market is easily accessible from the UK, with half a dozen airlines flying direct from the UK in around seven hours. Now could be the optimum time for staff to pack warm weather gear and head for the Gulf in the footsteps of Cameron and Cable.
From London Heathrow, British Airways flies to Abu Dhabi daily and Etihad Airways flies thrice-daily, also offering a twice-daily service from Manchester. Flights from the continent are with Lufthansa out of Frankfurt and KLM departing Amsterdam Schiphol.
From London Heathrow, Emirates flies to Dubai 35 times a week, British Airways and Qantas twice-daily, with Royal Brunei and Virgin Atlantic flying daily. Emirates also flies from London Gatwick and Manchester three times a day, from Birmingham and Glasgow twice-daily, and out of Newcastle daily. Lufthansa has daily flights to Dubai from Frankfurt and Munich, and Air France and KLM serve the emirate daily from Paris Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol respectively.
Getting around the UAE
Taxis are the preferred means of transport for getting around Abu Dhabi and Dubai, whether travelling from the airport to your hotel or going to meetings. Efficient and relatively inexpensive, they can be flagged down or booked in advance by phone.
Cabs are also ideal for inter-emirate travel, with the shortest distance from Abu Dhabi being the 160km to neighbouring Al Ain, the longest the 292km to Fujairah. Abu Dhabi to Dubai is a distance of 166km, with a registered taxi costing around AED 250 (£40).
The good news for business travellers visiting both cities is that Rotana Jet is to launch three flights a week between the two in August, with fares from AED150 (£25).
Basic car rental prices start at £10 a day in Dubai, £15 a day in Ajman. The roads are excellent and well signposted, the fuel is cheap and driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Visitors are issued with a temporary driving permit by car hire companies on presentation of a valid national or international driving licence. That said, think carefully before opting for rental. Local motorists tend to be pushy, and many are young and reckless.
In Dubai, a viable alternative is Dubai Metro, which runs from Rashadiya in the suburbs, via the airport, to Jebel Ali. There are two lines, Green and Red, with trains calling at airconditioned stations along the routes, many close to the emirate’s hotels. The trains are driverless and efficient and fares excellent value, with an all-day ticket costing AED14 (£2.30). For further information, visit the Road Transport Authority website: www.rta.ae
If a trip involves travelling further afield, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi international airports offer flights to other Gulf States and throughout the Middle East.
The UAE has two low-cost airlines flying across the region, Dubai-based flydubai (www. flydubai.com), and Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com), which operates from Sharjah International Airport.
Selected flight information supplied by OAG, a market leader in aviation intelligence. For further information see www.oag.com
Information correct at time of publication: April 2014