Economy of Dubai

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Downtown Dubai at night.

The Economy of Dubai represents a gross domestic product as of 2018 of US$102.67 billion.[1] The Great Recession slowed the construction boom.[2]

The International Herald Tribune has described it as "centrally-planned free-market capitalism."[3] Oil production, which once accounted for 50 percent of Dubai's gross domestic product, contributes less than 1 percent to GDP today.[4] Dubai became important ports of call for Western manufacturers. Most of the new city's banking and financial centres were headquartered in the port area. Dubai maintained its importance as a trade route through the 1970s and 1980s. The city of Dubai has a free trade in gold and until the 1990s was the hub of a "brisk smuggling trade" of gold ingots to India, where gold import was restricted.

Today, Dubai has focused its economy on tourism by building hotels and developing real estate. Port Jebel Ali, constructed in the 1970s, has the largest man-made harbor in the world, but is also increasingly developing as a hub for service industries such as IT and finance, with the new Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Emirates Airline was founded by the government in 1985 and is still state-owned; based at Dubai International Airport, it carried over 49.7 million passengers in 2015.[5]

According to Healy Consultants, Dubai is the top business gateway for the Middle East and Africa.[6] The government has set up industry-specific free zones throughout the city in hopes of giving a boost to Dubai property. Dubai Internet City, now combined with Dubai Media City as part of TECOM (Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media Free Zone Authority) is one such enclave whose members include IT firms such as EMC Corporation, Oracle Corporation, Microsoft, Sage Software and IBM, and media organisations such as MBC, CNN, Reuters and AP. Dubai Knowledge Village (KV), an education and training hub, is also set up to complement the Free Zone's other two clusters, Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City, by providing the facilities to train the clusters' future knowledge workers. Dubai Outsourcing Zone is for companies who are involved in outsourcing activities can set up their offices with concessions provided by Dubai Government. Internet access is restricted in most areas of Dubai with a proxy server filtering out sites deemed to be against cultural and religious values of the UAE.

Travel and Tourism[edit]

Tourism is a major economic source of income in Dubai and part of the Dubai government's strategy to maintain the flow of foreign cash into the emirates.

Real estate and property[edit]

The government's decision to diversify from a trade-based but oil-reliant economy to one that is service- and tourism-oriented resulted in the property boom from 2004 to 2008.[citation needed] Construction on a large scale has turned Dubai into one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.[7] The property boom is largely driven by megaprojects such as the off-shore Palm Islands and The World, and the inland Dubai Marina, Burj Khalifa complex, Dubai Waterfront, Business Bay, Dubailand and Jumeirah Village.

The Palm Jumeirah, the world's largest man-made island.

Dubai is home to skyscrapers such as Emirates Towers, which are the 12th and 24th tallest buildings in the world,[citation needed] and the Burj-al-Arab hotel, located on its own artificial island and currently the world's fifth tallest[8] and most expensive[citation needed] hotel.

Emaar Properties constructed world's current tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa. The height of the skyscraper is 828 m (2,717 ft) tall, with 160 floors. Adjacent to Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall, which at the time of construction was the world's largest shopping mall.[citation needed]

Also under construction is what is planned to become Dubai's new central business district, named Business Bay. The project, when completed, will feature 500 skyscrapers built around an artificial extension of the existing Dubai Creek.[citation needed]

In February 2005, the construction of Dubai Waterfront was announced, it will be 2½ times the size of Washington, D.C., roughly seven times the size of the island of Manhattan. Dubai Waterfront will be a mix of canals and islands full of hotels and residential areas that will add 800 km (500 mi) of man-made waterfront. It will also contain Al Burj, another one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Dubai has also launched Dubai Science Park (previously DuBiotech and merged with EnPark). This is a new business park to be targeted at biotechnology companies working in pharmaceuticals, medical fields, genetic research and biodefense.

One of Dubai's plans in 2006 was for a 30-story, 200 apartment skyscraper that will slowly rotate at its base, making a 360-degree revolution once a week. The world's first rotating skyscraper was to be in the center of the Dubailand complex.[9]

There are over 300 stores in the Gold Souk.

The International Media Production Zone is a project targeted at creating a hub for printers, publishers, media production companies, and related industry segments. Launched in 2003, the project was scheduled to be completed in 2006.

In May 2006 the Bawadi was announced, with a planned 27 billion US-dollar investment intended to increase Dubai's number of hotel rooms by 29,000, doubling it from the current figure offers now. The largest complex was to be called "Asia, Asia" and was planned to be the largest hotel in the world with more than 6,500 rooms.[citation needed]

The first villa freehold properties that were occupied by non-UAE nationals were The Meadows, The Springs, and The Lakes (high-end neighbourhoods designed by Emaar Properties, collectively called Emirates Hills).

Expatriates of various nationalities brought capital into Dubai in the early 2000s. Iranian expatriates were estimated to have invested up to $200 billion in Dubai.[10] From 2005 to 2009, trade between Dubai and Iran tripled to $12 billion.[11]

Dubai nationals have also purchased real estate in New York City and London. Purchases in 2005 included New York's 230 Park Avenue (formerly known as the New York Central Building or the Helmsley Building) and Essex House on Central Park South.[12]

The Dubai property boom of the mid-2000s peaked in 2008 and plummeted in a wave of activity which saw large scale projects, including partially completed properties, abandoned. Many developers failed, while others, including those with government backing, entered into debt-restructuring deals with their lenders. By 2012 the market began picking up steam again. 2013 was a stellar year with prices accelerating significantly, however the government and industry players began putting in place measures that would safeguard against another bubble developing. One notable difference is the number of cash buyers compared to those in previous years that borrowed heavily. Part of the reason for the current cash surge is the influx of investment from troubled countries.[13]

In September 2013, the Dubai Land Department increased property transfer fees from 2 to 4%.[14] In early 2014 the government regulator imposed restrictions on outside-companies acquiring real estate in the emirate, insisting such companies had to have a presence in Dubai, and had to be owned by a natural person or persons, and not by another company. The measures were largely seen as a means to dampen speculation in property prices.[15]

Major real estate companies in Dubai actively attract new investors from abroad, concluding partnerships with real estate portals and investment foundations. In 2018, Ellington Properties signed a partnership with Beike, one of the major China's real estate listings portals. As per the agreement, Beike "will build awareness of Ellingtons premium Dubai real estate offering to Chinese investors"[16]

In July 2019, more than 500 people lost their jobs following an economic downfall observed in the second quarter of 2019, following which Jumeirah Group LLC implemented job cuts. Dubai's economy weighs in on its tourism sector. Hotel occupancy fell to 67% in the second quarter of 2019, the lowest second quarter occupancy since 2009.[17] JLL predicted at the time that "further declines in performance are expected over the next 12 months, before the hotel market recovers on the back of strong visitor arrivals growth associated with Expo 2020."[18]

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate prices and overall demand for property dropped in 2020. Cavendish Maxwell, a realty consultancy, found that apartment prices in Dubai fell 12% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020.[19] In contrast, the estate agent firm Chestertons saw the rental market perform better, with an average decrease of only 1.5% in apartment rental prices in Q1 2020.[20]


Since 2000, Dubai's municipality has initiated construction phases in the city, predominantly in the Mina Seyahi area, located further from Jumeirah, towards Jebel Ali.[21] This has come at a cost however. Dubai ( and UAE ) construction companies employ low-wage labourers from Asia for up to 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week.[22] These workers often have their passports withheld and are threatened if they speak to media. During the 1990s and 2000s, many workers staged protests and those who were expats were deported.[23][24]

In 2002 a change was made to the law allowing non-nationals of the UAE to own property (not land) in Dubai as fee simple, and 99-year leases are sold to people with ownership remaining with private companies. Property companies include Nakheel Properties, Emaar Properties and Ellington Properties. Rent rises were capped at 7% per annum up to 2007 under a directive from Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Legislation in this area is still developing as the property market for foreigners is relatively new.

Property prices in Dubai have experienced a downfall since 2014. A difference of more than 25 per cent has been noted. More than two-year ago Dubai's Creek Tower construction started, but no completion date is in sight yet. A cutback on the construction project has come into the scene since, followed by realty developers postponing supplier payments. Consultancy firms like JLL cite the falling property prices to continue in 2019.[25] Despite the economic slump and a relatively slower growth expectation, the estimated cost of Expo 2020 construction has reached AED38 billion ($10.3 billion).[26]


Dubai has become the world's third largest diamond trading hub, with trade of rough and cut diamonds increasing since 2001. The emirate's diamond trade was virtually nonexistent at the beginning of the 2000s, but was worth nearly $35 billion in 2013 and 2014.[27] The emirate has been able to leverage off its geographical position between major supplies of mined diamonds in Africa, to the main cutting centres in India and further east in China. There is also a perception of Dubai as a buying hub for consumers of diamonds jewellery, due to the large number of jewellers in the emirate and the tax-free business regime.[27] The diamond trading takes on an exchange managed by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, with many of the industry participants housed in office space in the Almas Tower in the JLT business cluster. Facilities there include Kimberley Process Certification offices and access to secure transportation agencies such as Brinks and Transguard, in addition to networking and meeting rooms.[28]


Trade in gold grew during the 1940s due to Dubai's free trade policies that encouraged entrepreneurs from India and Iran to set up stores in the Dubai Gold Souk. Despite a general slump in the global gold market, Dubai's share of value of trade in gold and diamonds to its total non-oil direct trade increased from 18% in 2003, to 24% in 2004. In 2003, the value of trade in gold in Dubai was approximately Dh. 21 billion (US$5.8 billion), while trade in diamonds was approximately Dh. 25 billion (US$7 billion) in 2005. India is Dubai's largest buyer of gold, accounting for approximately 23% of the emirate's total gold trade in 2005. Switzerland was Dubai's largest supplier of gold ingots, wastes and scrap. Similarly, India accounted for approximately 68% of all diamond-related trade in Dubai; Belgium's share in Dubai's diamond trade was about 13% (2005).[29]

A June 2019 report by The Wall Street Journal reported, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sold 7.4 tons of gold ingots, worth $300 million through illicit channels to evade US sanctions. In March 2019, the bullions passed through African Gold Refinery (AGR) in Uganda, and were later exported to Dubai.[30]

Industry and manufacturing[edit]

Dubai is also home to some significant industrial ventures in energy production through DEWA, although this is primarily water and power production for Dubai. In the aluminium industry Emirates Global Alumninium produces 2.4 million tonnes of aluminium per year (~$3.8B USD in revenue). Investments were made in car manufacturing with Zarooq Motors; the start of UAE car industry. Production and sales were due to begin in 2016 but seem to have run into some trouble insofar as no cars have actually been manufactured.[31] Dubai Ports is also an example of industrialization in Dubai.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Emirate of Dubai 2006–2008". Dubai Statistics Centre. Archived from the original on 20 May 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  2. ^ Verma, Sonia (5 February 2009). "Driven down by debt, Dubai expats give new meaning to long-stay car park. Business Times Online". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  3. ^ Pohl, O. (28 June 2004). "Dubai keeps superlatives coming. International Herald Tribune" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  4. ^ ""Dubai's the Very Model of a Modern Mideast Economy",, retrieved 2 July 2018". Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Emirates airlines: number of passengers 2015 | Statistic". Statista. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  6. ^ "Dubai Company Formation". Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2015.[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ John, Issac. "Dubai is world's 5th fastest growing city economy: Report". Khaleej Times. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  8. ^ "100 Tallest All-Hotel Buildings". The Skyscraper Center. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  9. ^ "Dubai plans first rotating skyscraper". USA Today. 29 November 2006. Archived from the original on 30 April 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  10. ^ "Import Bill From Dubai $28.7b" Archived 19 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Iran Daily, 4 April 2006
  11. ^ "Dubai Helps Iran Evade Sanctions as Smugglers Ignore U.S. Laws". Bloomberg. 25 January 2010. Archived from the original on 21 March 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  12. ^ Azmy, Ahmed (2014). Business Environment in Dubai. United States: City University Press Services. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-312-18721-4.
  13. ^ "Gulf cash replaces debt to fuel new Dubai property boom" Archived 18 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Reuters, 9 October 2013
  14. ^ Developers Work Overtime As Government Increases Transfer Fee to 4% Archived 5 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Dubai tightens laws on companies acquiring real estate", Dubai News.Net, 16 February 2014
  16. ^ “Khaleej Times:"Ellington, Beike to promote Dubai to overseas investors"”
  17. ^ Parasie, Nicolas; Pacheco, Filipe (29 July 2019). "Dubai's Jumeirah Cuts 500 Jobs as Tourism Industry Struggles". Bloomberg News.
  18. ^ "The UAE Real Estate Market" (PDF). JLL. 2019.
  19. ^ "Q1 2020 UAE Property Market Report". Cavendish Maxwell. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  20. ^ "Where Dubai property rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2020". The National. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  21. ^ "Jebel Ali Free Zone" Archived 17 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine,, retrieved 20 November 2015
  22. ^ McDougall, Dan (9 April 2006). "Tourists become targets as Dubai's workers take revolt to the beaches". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 30 August 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
  23. ^ Whitaker, Brian (23 March 2006). "Riot by migrant workers halts construction of Dubai skyscraper". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  24. ^ Auken, Bill Van. "United Arab Emirates: Over 600 construction workers arrested after protest". Archived from the original on 7 January 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  25. ^ "Dubai fears the end of its 'build it and they will come' model". Financial Times. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  26. ^ "Dubai forecasts 2.1% real growth in 2019, 3.8% in 2020, and 2.8% in 2021: DED". Zawya. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  27. ^ a b "ᐅ Middle East & GCC Latest News - Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East". Archived from the original on 7 July 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  28. ^ "Why Should You Live in Palm Jumeirah?". Listaproperty. Archived from the original on 8 July 2015.[unreliable source?]
  29. ^ "Dubai's trade in gold and diamonds continues to grow" (PDF). Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 February 2012.
  30. ^ "How 7.4 Tons of Venezuela's Gold Landed in Africa—and Vanished". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  31. ^ "Trio hope 'fastest snake in desert' The National". Archived from the original on 25 May 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2016.

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