With Saudi Arabia making strides to diversify its economy as part of its Vision 2030 bid to become an "epicenter of trade and the gateway to the world," other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are making similar progress. Of those five other countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – it is the UAE that has the most diverse economy, despite a massive reliance on petroleum and natural gas exports. Forbes has it listed as #33 of its 139 Best Countries For Business: well ahead of its Gulf neighbors Oman (#52), Qatar (#54), Bahrain (#60) and leagues away from Saudi Arabia (#80).
The UAE has been surprisingly successful in its diversification efforts. According to think-tank TRENDS Research & Advisory, the UAE has seen a "decline in the share of oil and gas in its GDP from 41% in 2000 to 31% in 2015, and over 400% increase in industrial infrastructure spending," particularly in aviation, aerospace, and defense. Part of this success is due to its Vision 2021 socioeconomic blueprint that seeks sustainable development while focusing on "improving the quality of air, preserving water resources, increasing the contribution of clean energy and implementing green growth plans" in addition to investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
To the layman, UAE's non-oil strengths lie in some unexpected places. Here are 5 of them.
In February, the UAE pledged to build a colony on Mars by 2117. In an interview with the Khaleej Times, Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency said "Our leadership believes that space is the key to our future. It's part of our strategy; this is why the government is interested in exploring Mars. ...The UAE aims to be part of the world consortium in establishing the first settlement on Mars. The reason behind that is because we want to inspire young people, we want to educate them and solve challenges that we are facing on Earth today. ...By having the finest scientists in the world, who may help solve the challenges on Mars - we could find solutions on Earth."
In an interview with Gulf News, Shady Shaher Al Borno, Head of Macro Strategy Research, Global Markets and Treasury, Emirates NBD said "The UAE is a global aviation hub through key international airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and is playing a lead role in new sectors such as renewables energy through Masdar in Abu Dhabi, for example." In a 2007 interview. Sheikh Ahmed, CEO of the Emirates Group and president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, told Airport-Business.com "Today, we take the aviation industry as part of the overall strategy for Dubai – we’re really pushing the industry. It can contribute greatly to GDP in the future; we are very focused on aviation policy and we will continue to be so in the future." That has paid off. According to Business Insider, Dubai International Airport is now the #3 busiest airport in the world, with 83,654,250 passengers in 2016.
4) Real Estate/Hospitality:
With some of the most exclusive hotels in the world, Forbes predicts that hotel occupancy in the UAE will remain at around 75% through 2017 and that over the next three years, 23% of hotel rooms being developed will be in the largely under-served mid-market range, which could open the UAE to an even larger tourist market.
According to AMEInfo.com, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that the UAE's retail sector will exceed $71 billion by 2021 due to a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9%. Malls and new retail spaces will continue to thrive in the UAE, which derives 11% of its GDP from the retail sector.
We're looking forward to visiting their first mall/luxury hotel on the red planet.