Thursday 8th Jun, 2017
By Jodi Davies.
I've lived in Dubai for the last seven years, in a villa a stone's throw from the beach, in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab (well, almost...). I feel incredibly fortunate to live here and over the years I've watched, mostly in awe, but sometimes with a tinge of regret, as Dubai develops around me. I've seen the relentless move to modernise and make shiny and new that's led to every last vestige of sand being consumed by grand, ornate constructions, and I've seen bright white malls and palatial villas spring up, seemingly overnight, as if by magic.
Don't get me wrong, I admire the ambition to progress and improve, but I've always been drawn to the Dubai that we don't see in the guidebooks or in the advertisements. The sandy, wild, organic, undeveloped pockets of Dubai that I stumble upon, tucked away from the main streets and the malls. Forgotten corners of sand hidden amidst the towers; characterful, dusty lanes with tiny, cluttered shops; anonymous cafes with more character than the big, branded, versions around the corner. These places are, to me, little treasures that provide a glimpse not just of just how far Dubai has come, but, more importantly, where it has come from.
So when the announcement came last week that a brand new $1.7bn tourism mega-project, 'Marsa Al Arab' was going to be constructed right on my doorstep - literally - I was bound to take particular interest. A stupendous development extending across 4 million square feet and comprising new islands, hotels, marinas, theatres, water-parks and beaches, all set for completion by the end of 2020, a mere two and a half years away. It's mind-blowing in its scale and ambition.
The development of the Marsa Al Arab project is further evidence of the remarkable and rapid growth of Dubai and its position as a major driver of consulting in the region. Our recent GCC consulting report positioned the UAE (driven arguably by Dubai) as the region's fastest growing consulting market in 2016, achieving growth of 6.6%, outpacing growth anywhere else in the region. Firms we spoke to talked about Dubai as being "different to everywhere else", spending as if it was "business as usual" whilst other GCC markets took a much more reserved, sombre outlook.
Whilst Dubai might not be the biggest consulting market in the region (Saudi Arabia can lay claim to that accolade), it is clearly delivering real, long-term growth and opportunity for the region's consulting firms, and that's exciting. Complex, multi-layered projects such as the Marsa Al Arab require deep levels of consultation, not just in the planning stages, but throughout execution and continuing long after completion. The opportunities that big infrastructure builds like this provide favour a range of different firms, particularly, it might be argued, for the advisory arms of traditional engineering, design and construction firms that play in the heartland of these big, complex, infrastructure projects.
It is clear that Dubai is taking shape for the future and as it does so, it is shifting the pattern of growth in the GCC consulting market and the strategy of firms within that market. With all this change, it will be interesting to see how the landscape looks in 2020, from every perspective. The only thing that is abundantly clear at the moment, is that my view is going to change...