Dubai is one of the world’s greatest success stories when it comes to economic diversification. While oil production once accounted for 50 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product (GDP), the government has focused on diversification – through real estate, financial services and luxury travel – since the 1970s.
Now oil represents less than one per cent of Dubai’s GDP, while retail, transport and logistics, and financial services take up 26 per cent, 12 per cent and 10 per cent respectively – leaving the economy in a much stronger position to handle ups and downs.
Dubai has shown time and again that it is able to adapt and seize new opportunities that come its way. And with the stratospheric growth of the technology industry, it is no wonder that the government has made it a top priority to become one of the world’s largest tech hubs. The question is, with established tech hubs in the US, UK and Singapore, can Dubai come out on top?
The progress so far
Dubai started its move to bring tech-leading companies to the region with a big bet on crypto currency – and with a range of initiatives, from the establishment of the Dubai Silicon Oasis in 2003 to EXPO 2020, the city is well on its way.
Dubai’s solid reputation as a finance hub and its favourable tax environment, as well as its efforts to promote itself as the perfect hub for international ventures, have tempted some of the most innovative fintech companies to the region. Some of the world’s largest cryptocurrency businesses – including Binance, Coinbase and FTX – have made the city their home.
With technology investment around the world at a high, Dubai has now turned its gaze to other tech start-ups. In 2021, start-ups in MENA raised $2.87 billion across 639 deals, with businesses in the UAE taking the lion’s share. As investors’ appetites return, Dubai wants to bring even more start-ups to the region.
The ‘Golden Visa’, which allows highly skilled foreign residents such as doctors, inventors and engineers to live, work and study in the UAE without requiring a national sponsor or to own a business on the mainland, allows more start-ups or growing internationals to make Dubai their home – but the workforce is needed too.
The UAE offers ‘golden visas’ to 100,000 coders – either those who have achieved success in their field, who work for pioneering International Technological Companies or who are graduates of engineering, computer science, big data, artificial intelligence and data science.
With so much talent and investment potential, why wouldn’t businesses want to set up in the UAE?
What about the metaverse?
Always looking to be bigger and better – the UAE has set lofty goals for its economy, drawing on the latest development in the tech world – the metaverse.
Building on its success as a hub for fintech companies and start-ups, Dubai has now set its sights on becoming one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies, as well as a global hub for the metaverse community.
Across blockchain and the metaverse, the UAE has already attracted more than 1,000 companies. In five years’ time, it is hoped that the metaverse economy will support 40,000 jobs and add $4 billion to Dubai’s economy.
To achieve this, Dubai will install incubators and accelerators that attract companies and projects, foster talent and invest in future capabilities. By creating the most advanced ecosystem for the metaverse and digital solutions globally, the UAE believes it can bring all manner of developers, content creators and users of digital platforms to Dubai.
What could stand in the way?
The UAE is pulling out all the stops to bring businesses to Dubai – from start-ups to multinational corporations – but tempting talent to move to the area could prove challenging, even with the offer of a ‘golden visa’.
As our 2023 Salary Guide reveals, the supply of developers and coding specialists is extremely limited, particularly if businesses want talent on the ground. In the past, the salaries and packages on offer may have been enough to encourage skilled workers to relocate but with salary inflation in popular talent pools in the US and Europe and the rising cost of living in Dubai, the UAE may not be able to compete.
In an industry like the technology sector, where so much of the role involves sitting in front of a screen, and very little time is spent in person with other colleagues, flexibility is crucial. For these roles, being in the UAE is not essential, which means businesses are able to access the talent they need if they are prepared to allow people to work remotely.
The challenge is much harder where organisations want their developers and coders to live and work in the UAE. Candidates are hesitant to accept roles that involve relocating, so many companies are finding the middle ground. By allowing people to work from home initially, they afford them the opportunity to figure out if a long-term relocation would work for them.
The nature of tech companies may also be a problem. While NFT and blockchain companies are still doing well, and finding new uses for their services and expertise, the cryptocurrency crash has left many tech workers concerned about taking roles in the sector – and other new or unknown sectors – particularly in a foreign country that does not offer much support if the company were to fail or if there was another global health crisis. This may be an issue now, but given time, faith in the sector and confidence in stability will be restored and people will be willing to consider these roles once more – providing the rest of the offer is in line with their expectations.
Time will tell if Dubai will be able to create the perfect ecosystem for emerging metaverse businesses, and indeed whether those businesses are able to secure the skills they need given the current talent market.
Find out about the latest technology trends and starting salaries for roles in the UAE with Robert Half’s 2023 Salary Guide.