Dubai Image Credit: File photo

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have easily retained their spots as the most livable cities in the Middle East for expats in the annual “Quality of Living” survey put out by the consultancy Mercer. But another city from the region – Baghdad – again figures as the least hospitable among all global destinations surveyed, occupying the 231st spot.

The two UAE cities continue to be ranked in the 70’s – Dubai at 74th and Abu Dhabi coming in four spots below. “Obviously, the investments on infrastructure in the last couple of years have been a factor in making both such key destinations,” said Rob Thissen, Energy Sector and Talent Mobility Leader for the Middle East at Mercer. “But just as important is the increase in entertainment and leisure options that expats have access to.”

All those things count. In fact, Mercer totes up 39 factors in split into 10 categories to determine the rankings, including housing, public transportation networks, how the healthcare and education sectors stack up, etc. Plus, the stability on the political and social fronts. (There is also weightage assigned for even factors such as the weather.)

Vienna again claimed the top spot in the Mercer survey, with European cities taking up eight of the Top 10 rankings. The only cities outsider of Europe were Vancouver and Auckland.

Brexit hasn’t hurt London’s score.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May is losing votes in Parliament over Brexit… but so far, it has not impacted on London’s cool factor when it comes to attracting talent from outside. London was placed 41st in the Mercer rankings.

“It’s more of an economic factor for now than a livability one,” said Rob Thissen of Mercer. “We don’t know yet what Brexit would do on the cost of living, but on the quality, London still has it.”

“Unlike the cost of living rankings, changes to the quality of living in major cities are extremely gradual,” said Thissen. “For instance, Miami is only eight spots ahead of Dubai – the higher the rankings, the more difficult it becomes to go higher up.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi have gained just over 12 per cent in their rankings since the survey started 20 years ago. Vienna has been the number one city for some time, even though there is actually little that separates it from, say, Dusseldorf in Germany.”

The Mercer rankings matter because multinationals use these in setting the perks and benefits they are willing to pay for an employee they station outside of their home base. In the bid to attract the best talent out there, all these details matter.

The UAE at the government level is doing its bit – the extension of residency visas to five years, and even up to 10 years, for certain professions is indicative of this need to bring in talent… and retain it.

At the regional level, Riyadh made some gains to be 164th, and the opening up of the city’s entertainment scene through cinemas did play a part. Any gains for Jeddah will be reflected in next year’s rankings, according to Thissen.

Looking at the global scene, the first US city – San Francisco - makes an appearance at 34th spot. New York is at 44th. Paris gets to be in the 39th spot and London at 41.

In all, the Mercer survey, conducted in the third quarter of last year, looked at the prospects of more than 400 city contenders. But only 231 of them were ranked.