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Only competition can drive growth

By Stefan Pichler

During my long international business career I have met some outstanding personalities such as Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro.

And a couple of years ago, while serving as Chairman and CEO of Thomas Cook, I met His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on more than one occasion.

We discussed ways to promote international tourism into Dubai without being exposed to some of the negative side effects that often go along with this industry.

I have been extremely impressed not only by Sheikh Mohammed's vision but also by some of the principles he has adopted to make this vision become real: Competition, accountability, fairness, patriotism and cultural sensitivity. During those meetings I became a firm believer in the future of Dubai and the sustainability of his vision – and last but not least I also became an investor in the local economy.

The current so-called crisis will not only be overcome but bears within itself the poissibility of becoming a new spring for Dubai's economy. Dubai has experienced a tremor, which is pretty normal as gigantic projects and large economies are naturally susceptible to tremors.

Companies and investors will have to be accountable and must mitigate the risks and leverage the opportunities of each of their investments.

And mistakes are part of business – as long as we learn from them and don't repeat them. This is about corporate learning as much as government learning, as you have to strike a balance between neo-liberalism and local needs. But like a flower that opens itself up for the first ray of sunshine after a stormy night, Dubai's infrastructure has the unique potential to support further diversification into other industries.

Most of Dubai's existing economy – which includes business, tourism, shipping, trade and logistics – is still viable and has enormous growth potential. And the only way to protect the economic advantages built up over the last 30 years is to move ahead with diversification of industries, skills, population and, as a consequence, finance.

So the season of spring has just started and a long and hot summer is still to come. Business knowledge, media, technology and biotechnology are all high value added and export oriented sectors, which will benefit from Dubai's existing infrastructure, the financial hub and the unique geographic position.

The emirate is open and multicultural without neglecting its culture and heritage. It provides a quality of life most people around the globe can only dream about, embedded in a stable political and economical environment.

Dubai is a dream and most of us humans still try to make their dreams come true. And it is a job machine as every job created in the tourism industry creates another job in the surrounding service industry.

So what is the driver of diversification and what would drive further growth in the tourism sector? Competition!

With this in mind future tourism growth will probably also depend on the government's aviation policy. The new Al Maktoum Airport, which will open in June next year, will kickstart further growth. It requires a liberal aviation policy, truly open skies with no restrictions for any airline to operate to any destination from this airport or to place aircraft there.

As the CEO of Jazeera Airways, I would love to start operating from this state-of-the-art airport, if we were allowed to compete, if we could fly to any destination and bring tourists, and business people, into Dubai.

We would love to challenge Emirates, flydubai and the rest – in the end for our benefit as well as that of customers and Dubai. And I assume that other airlines would happily join in. Competition is a horizontal concept between companies in the same sector, but it drives vertical changes in the upstream and downstream sectors as well.

In this case it would drive local Dubai GDP growth outside construction and real estate. Basically, competition is like fitness training for all the participants – it keeps the aviation sector focused, healthy and consumer-driven.

Part of the further growth strategies for tourism might involve being more open to selected long-term residents and real estate investors from foreign countries. Of course, a move like that has to considered carefully and tightly managed as we have to avoid making Emiratis feel like foreigners in their own country. But this could be part of a long-term growth strategy which would help Dubai to become less dependent on a single industry and foreign investment. 

- The author is CEO of Jazeera Airways. The views expressed are his own


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