Stock EXPO 2020 Site 9
Continuation of the COVID-19 relief measures will provide UAE businesses greater flexibility. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Strategic measures and incentives introduced to help UAE businesses deal with the pandemic should be retained even beyond the crisis, according to a top official at Mashreq Bank.

“Greater experience in crisis management; higher flexibility in terms of remote working and improved work-life balance; higher cybersecurity, and more diversified supply chains have created a new ‘breed’ of post-Covid companies,” said Hind Eisa Salim, Executive Vice-President and Head of Services and Manufacturing.

The steps taken to mitigate the impact of the virus had made businesses more competitive in the long-term. “Mid-sized firms faced some of the toughest challenges over the past 18 months,” said Salim. “As the backbone of the UAE economy, their stability is important to the nation’s stability. And in many ways, COVID-19 has made them better equipped for crisis management.”

Since March 2020, businesses have made timely - and necessary - changes to their business processes. From upgrading IT infrastructure to diversifying supply chains, firms adopted strategic steps that they can continue to benefit from even in the long-term. “Certainly, many companies did not have a robust IT infrastructure in place before the pandemic,” said Salim. “Today, digitalisation has streamlined and simplified operations across the board.”

More positives

Stabilising economic conditions is shaping a positive outlook for recovery. Last month saw continued improvement in economic conditions across the UAE’s non-oil private sector, according to data from global market analytics firm IHS Markit. The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit UAE Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which covers manufacturing and services, rose from 52.2 in June to 54.0 in July and registered 53.8 in August, pointing to stability in business conditions.

“The turnaround in key sectors that form a major part of the UAE’s economy has been remarkable,” said Salim. “This is a good sign for everyone, and is indicative of better business prospects in the second-half of 2021. The lessons learnt from the challenges of the past 18 months will pave the way forward. As banks, we understand the issues faced by our customers. And we are glad that we were enabled by our regulators to support our clients in times of duress.”

Expo opportunities

Tourism and travel, an important segment of the UAE economy, remains subdued. Global travel restrictions and continuing lockdowns in certain parts of the world have made it difficult to accurately forecast the recovery of this sector.

“The impact of Expo 2020 will definitely be felt more by certain sectors,” said Salim. “These include travel, tourism, hospitality, and real estate to an extent. But I think the confidence that the event will bring to the UAE market will be a boost for all of us.”

With construction at Dubai’s Expo 2020 site now complete, the focus of Expo contracts is shifting to operations and maintenance.