A view of an advertisement board on display in a street in Dubai, advising residents to remain at home.
Malls and shops began to reopen from April 25 onwards in Dubai, but the strict guidelines on social distancing remain in place. Consumer activity, however, remains well below par. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Dubai has launched an online survey to get feedback from local businesses on the level of disruption they are facing as a result of COVID-19. The survey, launched by Dubai Economy (formerly Department of Economic Development) and its findings could come in handy as and when Dubai comes up with additional relief/stimulus packages.

Among other questions, the survey pointedly asks businesses the extent to which the virus outbreak dented their revenues for last month. There is also a question on demand for their product and service during April, when the restrictions on commercial activity and social movement was at its peak.

There is also a direct question business owners participating in the survey – ‘How likely do you feel is your business going bankrupt?’

“Dubai government officials have been meeting – through online platforms - representatives of businesses across sectors,” said a member of an industry grouping. “They have received a lot of relevant feedback, but Dubai Government wants to hear from all possible sources.

“The survey is the best way to reach out and gain such info.”

The biggest relief for businesses and consumers would be the confirmation that the UAE has no plans to raise VAT (value-added tax) and match the step taken by Saudi Arabia on Monday. But more needs doing at multiple levels to turnaround prospects, sources add.

‘Crowd source’

Dubai Economy states as much in the prelude to the survey. The intent is to “gauge the impact of the crisis on your business, the preparedness to respond and the capacity to rebound,” the department adds. “The outcomes of the survey are to provide feedback and crowd source ideas from the business community to mitigate the fallout from the outbreak.

“It is vital for the business community to ensure operational continuity, develop resilience, maintain the safety of their employees so as to ensure that we collectively overcome this crisis.”

‘Permanent’ changes

The survey wants business owners to list any future change in direction they will bring out within their companies, including allowing more remote working to cut down costs and whether the plan is to rely more on ecommerce channels.

As for the immediate responses taken after COVID-19 shrank activity, businesses were asked whether they sent staff on paid/unpaid leave, went in for layoffs, or reduced salaries on a permanent basis.

Rent factor

In nearly all of their interactions with business groups and leading investors, the issue of rents and the need for a drastic reduction or waivers were highlighted.

The Dubai government has already rolled out relief measures on power and water costs, and on the fees related to accessing several government-related services.

The survey makes a point of asking businesses to rate their chances of sustaining these operations of the COVID-19 situation continues for a lot longer. The choices extend from one to ‘two weeks’ to ‘more than a year’. (There is also the ‘don’t know’ option’.)

Commercial activity was relaunched, with several safety measures still in place, from April 25. These included malls and stores on the streets.

But businesses say that activity remains below par as consumers still have concerns about virus-related risks.

Shadow of job losses

The biggest fear is the sheer uncertainty related to possible job losses – “As long as that is there, it will freeze up spending and that’s what will impact on businesses more,” said the CEO of a leading retail chain.

“Categories such as fashion apparel and accessories and automotive will take a long time to recover – most people are living on a paycheck to paycheck basis. And in many cases, on reduced paychecks.”