Dubai: London, Paris and Frankfurt will remain clear favourites, but some of the other European cities are now more than likely to get a look-in.
And this will not just be limited to being on the travel and leisure plans of the globe-trotting UAE national, but in terms of where he or she wants to put in investments.
With Emirati travellers now eligible to receive visas on arrival on their European sojourns, a broad swath of asset classes in Europe are likely to get their attention, with those in real estate categories topping their list.
So, what was earlier accessible to very high networth investors or institutions/family offices based in the Gulf now opens up to a broader category of individual investors looking to spread their yield-generating assets.
But as is the case in any new investment opportunity, there will be a period of adjustment before a clear increase in fund flows into many of the available options.
This is where the UK — and London specifically — can continue to hold a decisive edge, for the simple reason that regional investors have had historical exposures there. (In fact, in recent years when UK politicians were imposing various taxes on overseas investors owning high-end properties in London, regional investors continued to put their faith there. And the only reason for a partial slow down in Q4-2014 was that London home values had gone up way too high.) Last, year, 50,000 Emiratis visited Britain, a figure which is expected to rise significantly. “Investors seek out markets that balance security (rule of law) with opportunities (growth and liquidity),” said Nicholas Maclean, regional Managing Director at CBRE M.E. “The UK, with continuingly high expectations of growth and an abundance of demand will, I expect, continue to attract the greatest country proportion of investment flows.”
But “Middle East investors are starting to look beyond from the traditional European ‘hotshots’ towards second-tier locations, including Toulouse, Munich, Budapest, Manchester and Edinburgh,” Maclean added.
“Our research shows a growing allocation of investment in real estate and more concentration on geographical diversification away from the home region. There is little doubt that ease of travel into Europe will facilitate business between the UAE and the EU … but its direct impact on transaction levels and volumes is likely to remain minimal in the short term.”
But it needn’t be that real estate is the only European investment play that UAE nationals get to tap into. The Eurozone’s quantitative easing programme should continue to give its stock and bond markets sufficient upward mobility.
For the Gulf’s dollar-pegged investors, the euro levels are in their favour.
“Its financial markets are looking more attractive than they have been for a number of years,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Yaqout, Senior Partner, Meysan Partners.
“Risks still remain, but a slight glimmer of optimism has returned in the Eurozone. And this is a good thing for globally minded investors across the Arab world and beyond, especially those looking to buy inexpensive fare in terms of stocks or ETFs (exchange traded funds).
“From an individual investor perspective, the opening up of international borders in Europe brings increasing investment opportunities, particularly where residential and commercial property is concerned.
“Our (Meysan) private client practice in Kuwait had seen increasing levels of outward investments into European markets in recent months. It looks a trend that will continue as investors continue to diversify, particularly in light of the relatively low oil prices.”
For some UAE businesses, the visa dynamic will require them to make changes to their operations. VFS Global has built up quite a sizeable scale as the via media in processing visa applications. Annually, it does 19 million applications globally.
Now, with the Schengen visa need for UAE nationals history, “What this means for VFS Global specifically is that it could reduce the number of visa applications we handle to a certain extent,” said Zubin Karkaria, CEO, VFS Global Group. “We continuously deal with similar visa-on-arrival or waiver agreements of various governments. It is a core reality of our industry and as a professional company it is a market scenario we have to manage.
“One of the new business stream is citizen services … this leverages our application process management towards offering services to governments within their own country. Another business stream of great potential which VFS Global is developing is ‘identity management services’, developed in support of governments’ drive towards enhanced border management.”