Unveiling the Top Emerging Industries Making Waves in the UAE

Unveiling the Top Emerging Industries Making Waves in the UAE


Ambia Hoque


Have you ever wondered how the United Arab Emirates (UAE) keeps its economy diverse and growing? This article explores the UAE’s significant industries leading the charge for its continued economic prosperity. From the country’s stalwart oil and gas sector to its burgeoning tech, retail, and real estate industries, we’re giving you a comprehensive snapshot of this dynamic economic landscape.

If you’re curious about the UAE’s impressive industrial journey or are considering investing, buckle up as we guide you through an enlightening tour of the UAE’s top emerging industries. See how these booming industries aren’t just boosting the UAE’s robust GDP and shaping its future.

UAE’s Industrial Landscape

The industrial sector in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a key driver of the country’s economic growth and diversification. Abu Dhabi, the capital, makes up about half of the UAE’s industrial sector. It’s got ambitious plans to double its industrial contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2031.

This is a significant increase from the 9.7% year-on-year growth to 90.8 billion dirhams ($24.72 billion) recorded last year. The UAE’s industrial sector isn’t just a major contributor to the GDP. It also plays a key role in the country’s economic diversification strategy.

Overview of major industries

The UAE’s fourth largest economy in the Middle East relies heavily on oil. However, the government is working hard to reduce this dependence. It’s expanding the manufacturing base, promoting the services sector, and initiating a construction boom.

The rise of local manufacturing is seen as a new source of driving economic growth and development. The UAE is also a significant player in global trade. It’s among the 16 largest exporters and 20 largest importers of commodities.

Evolution of the industrial sector in the UAE

The UAE’s industrial sector has evolved significantly over the years. The government has been diversifying the economy. It’s been negotiating bilateral trade agreements to boost non-oil exports to global markets.

This strategy has led to the non-oil GDP of Abu Dhabi growing 6.1% in the first quarter. This growth outperformed the overall GDP growth of 3.9%. The UAE has also been focusing on attracting foreign investments. It’s planning to strengthen its trade ties with other economies, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Federal policies and their impact on UAE’s industries

Federal policies in the UAE have significantly impacted the country’s industries. The government has introduced several measures to attract foreign investments. These include the launch of a single online platform to showcase all foreign investment opportunities in the UAE.

In addition, the UAE government announced a broad restructuring and merger of more than 50% of its federal agencies. This includes ministries and departments to deal with and recover from the economic shocks following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The UAE government has made progress in installing new, sustainable methods of generating electricity. Various solar energy initiatives evidence this. In August 2020, the Barakah nuclear power plant, the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world, became operational in the UAE.

The UAE government has also announced that it’ll allow full foreign investments in industrial investments. This is part of its ten-year comprehensive industrial strategy, the so-called “Operation 300 Billion.” The aim is to support local entrepreneurs and attract foreign direct investment.

However, it’s important to note that challenges remain to be addressed despite these positive developments. For instance, the onshore regulatory and legal framework in real estate projects in the UAE generally favours local Emirati investors over foreign investors. Despite labour reforms in the UAE, foreigners and skilled or unskilled workers face discrimination and racialisation from the citizens of the country. These are issues that need to be addressed to ensure the continued growth and development of the UAE’s industrial sector.

The Oil and Gas Industry

History and Importance of the Oil and Gas Industry

The oil and gas industry is a cornerstone of the UAE’s economy, accounting for 30% of the nation’s GDP and 13% of its exports. This sector’s success has also stimulated growth in other areas such as agriculture, healthcare, education, advanced manufacturing, and tourism.

With its plentiful oil reserves, the UAE is among the world’s top ten oil producers, producing an average of 3.2 million barrels of petroleum and liquids per day. The majority of these reserves, about 96%, are located in Abu Dhabi.

Major Oil and Gas companies in the UAE

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is not only the UAE’s largest oil company but also ranks 12th globally in terms of production. ADNOC operates fourteen subsidiary companies under the ADNOC Group and has set a target to reach a maximum sustainable production capacity of 5 million barrels by 2030.

Other prominent entities in the UAE oil and gas sector include The Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA), Al Masaood Energy, Crescent Petroleum, Dana Gas, Dubai Petroleum, EMDAD Services LLC, Emirates General Petroleum Corporation (Emarat), The Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), Lootah BCGas, Petrofac and The Sharjah National Oil Corporation (SNOC).

Innovation and future perspectives

The UAE is exploiting its current oil and gas reserves and investing in the industry’s future. The country holds the seventh-largest proven reserves of natural gas globally. They recently announced the discovery of over 80 trillion cubic feet of gas resources at Jebel Ali.

By 2030, the UAE aims to achieve self-sufficiency in gas supply. It is also leading the energy transition, being the first Arab state to set a “net-zero” emissions target. This commitment is reflected in the formation of the Hydrogen Alliance by Mubadala Investment Company, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Holding (ADQ), and the MoEI to explore the production of blue and green hydrogen for export.

Moreover, ADNOC is investing $45 billion to enhance its downstream operations. Key projects include the construction of a new 600,000 barrels per day refinery and a new liquefied natural gas plant in Fujairah.

The UAE is also adopting advanced technology and digitalisation in the oil and gas industry. This is demonstrated by the Middle East Digitalisation in Oil and Gas (MEDO 2023) conference. The event showcased the latest trends in technologies and innovations leading the way towards achieving Net-Zero Emissions, including discussions on sustainability, Fourth Industrial Revolution, innovative hydrogen projects, smart refineries, robotics, AR & VR innovations, risks and cybersecurity in the Energy sector, and digital twin modelling and optimisation technology.

The role of the Oil and Gas Industry in UAE’s economy sustainability

The oil and gas industry is crucial for the sustainability of the UAE’s economy. The industry’s profits provide:

  • The majority of the UAE government’s revenue.
  • Facilitating the development of other sectors and attracting job seekers.
  • Tourists.
  • Investors from around the world.

The industry’s future-focused strategies, such as the pursuit of self-sufficiency in gas and supply chains and the transition to net-zero emissions, underscore its commitment to the long-term sustainability of the UAE’s economy.

Real Estate and Infrastructure Development

Growth of real estate in the UAE

The real estate market in the UAE is on a trajectory of rapid expansion, projected to reach a value of US$0.69tn in 2023, with residential properties leading the way. This surge is influenced by various factors such as the local economy, population growth, interest rates, and government policies.

The pandemic has reshaped the housing market, with a rise in remote work leading to a demand for properties equipped with home offices and robust internet connectivity. The e-commerce surge has also increased the need for smaller homes in urban areas close to amenities. Sustainability is also a key consideration for many home buyers and investors increasingly seeking energy-efficient properties.

Powerhouse companies in real estate development

Several influential companies are shaping the UAE’s real estate sector, including Better Homes, D&B Real Estate, Haus & Haus, Driven Properties, Tanami Properties, Allsopp & Allsopp, Hamptons International, and Provident Estate. These companies offer a range of services, from selling and renting residential and commercial properties to property management and investment consultancy.

These companies have played a pivotal role in transforming Dubai from a desert landscape into a global cosmopolitan hub, attracting individuals worldwide seeking residence and business opportunities.

Infrastructure development and its role in UAE’s growth

Infrastructure development is crucial to the UAE’s economic and social advancement. The Ministry of Infrastructure Development has been proactive in launching numerous projects, including federal road and maintenance projects and developments in priority sectors, such as security, education, health, and services.

The infrastructure sector in the UAE is competitive, with major international players participating. This focus on infrastructure development has facilitated the UAE’s economic diversification, reducing its dependence on oil revenues and stimulating the growth of industries such as real estate, trade, tourism, the construction sector, finance, and shipping.

Influence of real estate and infrastructure on the UAE’s global status

The expansion of the real estate and infrastructure sectors has significantly impacted the UAE’s global standing. The transformation of Dubai into a worldwide cosmopolitan hub has attracted international investors.

The real estate market’s emphasis on sustainability and technological innovation has positioned the UAE as a leader. Simultaneously, the country’s commitment to infrastructure development has demonstrated its capability to successfully execute large-scale projects, enhancing its reputation on the global stage and integrating quality infrastructure throughout.

The Retail and Tourism Industry

Expansion of the retail sector

The retail sector in the UAE is experiencing significant growth, with an expected market value of USD 37.70 billion by 2027. This expansion is influenced by factors such as increased per capita income, a thriving tourism sector, and an influx of expatriates. New construction projects are also contributing to this growth.

The retail landscape in the UAE is diverse, encompassing food and non-food retail, organised and unorganised markets, and various distribution channels. Majid Al Futtaim Group, Lulu Group International, and Amazon are key players in this industry. The digital transformation of the retail sector has been a game-changer, pushing retailers to enhance their digital presence to compete with regional and national companies and international market players.

Leading e-commerce platforms in the UAE

E-commerce rapidly expands in the UAE, facilitated by high internet penetration rates and a tech-savvy population. Souq.com, Amazon, Noon.com, and LetsTango.com are at the forefront of this growth.

Souq.com, acquired by Amazon in 2017, offers nearly 7 million products from over 1,500 brands. A recent 2022 survey revealed a significant shift towards e-commerce, with more than one-third of consumers in the UAE now opting for online shopping.

Analysis of the tourism sector

The tourism industry is a significant contributor to the UAE’s economy and employment. In 2019, the UAE welcomed over 80 million tourists, substantially boosting retail sales.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak led to a nearly 50% drop in tourism. The repercussions of this are still felt globally. Dubai, which houses more than 35% of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region’s hotel sector, is a primary focus area for the country’s travel and tourism industry.

Tourism initiatives and their impact on the UAE’s economy

In 2019, the Travel & Tourism sector contributed almost AED 51BN to Dubai’s and AED 12.5BN to Abu Dhabi’s economy. However, in 2020, the sector’s GDP contribution in both cities dropped by more than half due to the pandemic. As of 2022, the hospitality sector is on the road to recovery, with employment within the sector set to overtake pre-pandemic levels.

The hospitality industry in the UAE, particularly in Dubai, has seen significant growth and development. The emirate is known for its luxury hotels, upscale buildings, and resorts. The number of hotels and similar establishments in the UAE has steadily increased from 2008 to 2021.

Moreover, the hotel sector’s revenue and room capacity has seen an upward trend. Growth is expected to continue until 2026.

Financial Services and Technology Industry

Importance and development of the financial sector

The financial industry in the UAE has seen substantial growth, with a strong presence of both domestic and foreign banks. These institutions cater to the private and public sectors’ needs with various retail and corporate services.

The Central Bank of the UAE oversees these institutions, ensuring the stability of the national economy and currency by directing monetary, credit, and banking policy in alignment with the state’s general policy.

With three stock exchanges and two major financial centres, the DIFC and the ADGM, the UAE has become a hub for businesses and investors. These centres provide attractive benefits such as contract security, independent courts, 100% ownership, and a business-friendly tax regime.

Key tech startups and their role in digital transformation

The UAE has recently seen a surge in tech startups supported by venture capital firms and accelerators. These startups are leading the country’s digital transformation, with government initiatives providing a significant boost.

The focus is on renewable energy, technology, and space startups.

The digital transformation movement has profoundly impacted several industries, including the healthcare sector, education, and finance. The country’s robust infrastructure, government support, and tech-savvy population have been instrumental in this digital transformation.

The Emergence of UAE as a regional fintech hub

The UAE is emerging as a regional facilitator of FinTech innovation, with government initiatives driving this rapid acceleration.

Investments are being channelled into the startup ecosystem through sovereign wealth funds like the ADIA.

The DIFC has been instrumental in establishing the UAE as a fintech hub. It has attracted a record number of investments and is expanding rapidly. The centre houses over 686 fintech companies, including startups and global unicorns, contributing significantly to the emirate’s GDP.

Future of the financial services industry in the face of UAE’s digital evolution

The financial services industry in the UAE is poised for significant growth and transformation due to the country’s digital evolution. The industry is embracing technological advances, with fintech proving resilient to the pandemic risks and expected to emerge stronger.

Digital banking is enhancing the ease and security of transactions. However, it also brings challenges like cybercrime, necessitating state-of-the-art security controls.

Dubai is positioning itself as a global finance hub, ranking high on the Global Financial Centres Index and the International Financial Centres Index. The focus on tech and innovation, digital transformation, and foreign trade is expected to increase foreign direct investment over the next decade.

Charting the UAE’s Industrial Trajectory

The UAE’s industrial landscape is robust, diverse, and constantly evolving. It’s an ecosystem fueled by strategic government initiatives, foreign investments, and a focus on innovation and diversification. From being a global hub for oil and gas to a pioneer in fintech, the UAE is navigating a path conducive to sustainable economic growth.

As the UAE continues to position itself as a global player, its commitment to expanding non-oil sectors, embracing digitalisation, and fostering a thriving startup business-friendly environment represents a promising future. It’s an exciting time to participate in the UAE’s business scene as an investor, entrepreneur, or observer. The UAE’s vibrant sectors are ripe with opportunities and potential – a testament to the nation’s enterprising spirit and vision.

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