The UAE capital city of Abu Dhabi is regarded as the best business city in the Arab world. This is according to the annual survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which is part of The Economist Group. The EIU's Business Trip Index for 2006 covered a total of 127 cities worldwide. The survey found the city of Vancouver in Canada as the best city for business travel. Three other Canadian cities, namely Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, were ranked amongst the top ten cities. Still, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne in Australia were ranked in the top ten cities as well. With worldwide ranking of 33, Singapore is ranked as the best city for business in Asia.
By contrast, the worst city for business is Port Moresby in Pap New Guinea, followed by Lagos and Karachi. Violence is a concern in the Pakistani port city. Yet, African cities of Algiers, Douala, Harare and Abidjan occupy the bottom places.
Broadly, the index considers five variables in order to assign grade to cities around the world. These are stability, culture and environment, infrastructure, cost and healthcare. The index assigns 25 per cent to each of stability plus culture and environment, 20 per cent to each of infrastructure and cost and the balance of 10 per cent to healthcare.
The stability variable looks into matters such as threat of terrorism and crimes at large. Still, culture and environment variable pays attention to discomfort of climate to business travellers plus religious restrictions as well as availability of quality hotels.
Yet, the infrastructure variable cares about the quality of road network and public transport as well as international air link to the city. Moreover, the cost variable covers details of charges for taxi, car rental, and food. The last variable is concerned with quality of health services.
The city of Abu Dhabi achieved the rank of 70 worldwide. This is by far the best performance for any Arab city covered in the survey. With a worldwide ranking of 73, Dubai emerges as the nearest city to challenge Abu Dhabi. Yet, Manama, the capital of Bahrain, is ranked 83 in the report. Still, Kuwait City is ranked as 89 in the world. Yet, Saudi cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobber, obtained rankings of 100, 102 and 103 worldwide, respectively. However, the report does not cover other GCC cities.
Judging by on-going socio-economic transformation, GCC cities have the chance to upgrade their rankings in the years. Dubai stands to improve its rankings on the back of on-going infrastructure development. An extended rail link is expected to link various points of the city by decade-end. In fact, current traffic congestion has undermined Dubai's international ranking.
Also, construction of a newly planned airport at Jebel Ali would most likely contribute towards the city's ranking.
Fortunately, Saudi cities are expected to improve their rankings on the back of kingdom's membership in the World Trade Organisation.
Under the terms of accession, Saudi Arabia is required to undertake a number of commitments. These include eliminating any non-tariff measures that cannot be justified under WTO rules.
Already, the Saudi port city of Jeddah is being transformed following female contest in the election for board of a local chamber of commerce.
By and large, growing liberalism throughout the region should help GCC cities improve their standings in EIU's Business Trip Index for 2006. The challenge now lies in steadily continuing the pace of reforms.
- The writer is head of Economic Research Unit, University of Bahrain.