Dubai has always been called the city of the future for its futuristic skyline shaped by international star-architects like Zaha Hadid (who designed the eccentric Opus cube-skyscraper in the Business Bay area) and the excellent quality of the iconic architectural elements that represent it, from the entry point of Dubai International Airport and the new Al Maktoum International mega-airport, Dubai World Central, to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building at 829.8 meters) and to residential and holiday real estate projects such as Palm Jumeirah. In this column on Dubai I will cover in a snapshot 3 aspects that characterize this metropolis of the future:

1.) Dubai and its vision of growth,

2.) Emirates airlines

3.) Expo 2020.


Today’s Dubai is the model of the modern economy of the Middle East, where Arab opulence blends with Western sensitivity and 21st century trends to create a model of extraordinary promiscuity. It seems that the name Dubai derives from an Arab proverb "Daba Dubai" which means "those who came with a lot of money", a reference to the trading center born as a "free-port" in the early 1900s without imposing duties on goods imported and exported by merchant ships that regularly visited the port of Dubai for the trade of products between India and the Gulf countries. Today, Dubai is the perfect representation of the city model of the future, a city that grows, develops and expands as an urban model of excellence, a model that is the result of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is the Ruler of Dubai and also covers the roles of Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.

In the collective imagination, Dubai was associated with oil due to its geographical location in the Persian Gulf, but today oil represents only less than 1% of its GDP compared to the 50% contribution in the years up to 2000. Dubai managed to eliminate the old dependence on crude oil to focus on service sectors, starting with tourism and real estate and with the creation of business parks and special economic zones that offer incentives for companies and investors who relocate to Dubai, and differentiated in technological and specialist areas such as biotechnology and genetic research. With the exception of 2020, characterized by the Covid-19 pandemic which profoundly affected global economic growth, the Emirate of Dubai recorded a GDP of 119 billion dollars in 2019 (comparable to the GDP of countries such as Kuwait or Ukraine), which fell by 10.2% in 2020 and with a 4% recovery forecast by the end of 2021.

Dubai therefore alone generates 28% of the UAE's GDP equal to 421 billion dollars, a GDP that has quintupled over the twenty-year period 2000-2020. The most populated of the 7 emirates that make up the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is a melting pot of over 200 nationalities who have elected Dubai as the place to call home, and who contribute to Dubai’s growth which is actually growing faster then nearby neighbors of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

In 2019, the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index ranked Dubai #4 among the cities with the highest number of international visitors (15.9 million) after Bangkok (#1, 22.7 million), Paris and London and ahead of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and New York (# 7, 13.6 million). And the Index recognized Dubai as #1 for total visitors expenditure who spent $30.8 billion dollars in Dubai, 10 billion more than in Makkah and Bangkok, respectively #2 and #3 (for the record New York ranked “only” #6 with $16.4 billion).

The mix of natural beauty of the gulf crystal clear waters and the golden dunes of the desert, a dynamic global Destination Marketing strategy and strong investments in luxury Hospitality & Entertainment infrastructures have turned Dubai into a fascinating travel destination, a sort of Florida just 6-hour flying time away from Europe, attracting weekend leisure travelers in search of a high-end trendy-metropolitan-chic shopping and dining destination as well as long-stay vacationers.

The covid pandemic has then revolutionized the geography of travel amid restrictions and bans on entry to almost all countries and temporarily suspended flights, but 2021 has restarted with great optimism given that Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are in first place in the world by Covid vaccinations rate with 122.39 doses administered per 100 people (surpassing Israel which has a rate of 121.92/100) and, as of June 13, 83% of the population over 16 has in Dubai received at least one shot of vaccine while 64% are fully vaccinated.

Now Dubai's goal is not just the Expo 2020 but the 2 ambitious economic and urban development plans based on innovation: Dubai Strategic Plan 2030 and Dubai Vision 2050. Dubai 2030 realizes Sheikh Al Maktoum's vision for an innovation-driven sustainable growth roadmap that elevates Dubai's competitiveness globally and makes it not only the #1 smart city in the world but the #1 destination chosen by Western Expats for “live, work and play”. Dubai 2050 has among other objectives that of generating 75% of its energy needs using renewable resources and becoming a magnet that attracts the brightest minds in the world who move to Dubai to launch new initiatives, explore new challenges of the future and transform them into opportunities for sustainable growth: in short, turn Dubai into a global hub based on knowledge and innovation.


Ambassador of Dubai to the world, the Emirates airline has been able to elevate the bar of the flight experience to the highest level by applying the levers of innovation and marketing, transforming Dubai into a superlative "hub and spoke" model connecting not only the capitals but also secondary airports in Europe to destinations in the Asia-Pacific area and Africa with a single transit stop (eg Bologna / Dubai / Auckland), as well as from Asia to North America (eg Dhaka / Dubai / New York), and by offering a quality of travel and an on-board service way more superior than what is provided by the competition.

Emirates was born in 1984 from the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then Minister of Defense of the UAE, and the following year with 10 million dollars in funding the first flights departed from Dubai to Karachi and Bombay using 2 aircraft chartered in wet-lease from the Pakistani airline PIA.

Fast forward, and today Emirates is a global air carrier with a network of 157 destinations in 82 countries, 56 million passengers, a fleet of 270 aircraft including 115 A380s making Emirates the largest WhaleJet operator in the world.

My first intercontinental flight during the covid pandemic was with Emirates, in March 2021, from Dubai to New York.

Personally, I consider Emirates the best global airline because in addition to elevating the flight experience, from airport lounges to in-flight service, it provides an exceptional customer service that helps making the customer experience special. Obviously, it may seem like a subjective assessment given that I am an Emirates frequent flyer, and I regularly fly with Emirates between New York and Milan, and to Asia, but in reality the reasons that make the Dubai carrier far superior to the competition are objective. 2020 was a dramatic year for the entire commercial aviation sector as it registered a global passenger traffic drop by 95%: Emirates also recorded a 70% drop in traffic, suspending flights for nearly 8 weeks in March-April with most countries in lockdown, and for the first time in 30 years reporting a loss, despite the fact that 2021 has restarted with renewed optimism and great innovation, both essential for recovering the confidence of passengers and above all maintaining the confidence of the most loyal frequent flyers.

After introducing all the most careful protection measures against covid for the passengers, both on the ground at the airports and in flight, Emirates has restored full in-flight service in the three classes of First, Business and Economy and, unlike many other major airlines, has maintained the selection of on-board catering with a dining service in Business and First classes that, for variety and presentation of the courses and for selection of the wine list, has nothing to envy to the most renowned starred restaurants (in the pic below a snapshot of the gourmet experience I enjoyed on my Emirates flight from Dubai to New York).

Emirates has redesigned the new Business class seat (lie-flat and in champagne-toned leather), the new First class suite called Game Changer (with the innovative zero-gravity seat and the virtual window that projects the external view in high definition), and introduced a fourth class with the new Premium Economy product.

The only airline to have done so, Emirates has introduced, in collaboration with AIG Travel, medical insurance coverage automatically offered, and free of charge, to each passenger at the time of ticket purchase and which is valid for the entire duration of the return trip.

Emirates brought back on service most of the Airbus A380s that had been parked in the desert during the peak of the covid pandemic (unlike other carriers that have discontinued operating the WhaleJet), launched Covid-free flights between Milan, Rome, Bologna, Venice and Dubai and between Milan and New York, and is progressively reopening the intercontinental connections that, due to government restrictions, had been suspended and put on standby due to Covid, and launching new destinations, such as the new flight between Dubai and Miami which will be operative from July 22nd.

And it is planning the future of the fleet, which today includes 115 Airbus 380s and 153 Boeing 777-300ERs, with 30 new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and 50 new Airbus A350 XWBs ordered at Dubai Air Show 2019 and with deliveries expected from 2023, with an order for 115 Boeing 777X whose status is however subject to the actual operating performance as anticipated by the Boeing manufacturer's specifications. Emirates first goal for 2021 is to restore 70% of pre-covid capacity by this winter while, optimistically, a return to 100% of pre-covid operations is expected by the end of 2022, a forecast that is realistically subject to the level of covid vaccination in each destination country, the reduced spread/containment/disappearance of the virus, and market economies that stimulate the recovery of passenger traffic which mainly sees 3 categories of travelers: Business, Leisure and VFR (visiting friends and relatives ).

3.) EXPO 2020

On October 1, 2021 in Dubai, one year later than the original opening scheduled for October 20, 2020, Expo 2020 will be inaugurated with the aim of being a global showcase of "opportunity, mobility and sustainability" and with a focus on themes that include among others mobility, education, finance, logistics, architecture, food culture and biodiversity.

The theme of mobility in particular will be dedicated to developments, potentials, ideas, technological innovations and digital interconnection for a future that facilitates the encounter and exchange between the physical and virtual world. And in particular a space dedicated to space exploration based on the recent developments of the UAE National Space Program and the mission to the planet Mars (the Hope probe was launched from the United Arab Emirates in July 2020 and reached the red planet on February 9, 2021).

For an entire semester, until March 31, 2022, 190 countries, which will exhibit for the first time in the history of Expo with single pavilions, will present their cultural and business potential in a showcase of relations to improve cooperation and international exchanges.

Among the various experiences that will be exhibited by individual countries, they will talk about the future of food and how in a world that sees no borders for taste and palate, technology can help us understand and change how we source food products, how we can prepare and cook dishes that involve all the senses, and how to change our diet to ensure that the planet Earth remains sustainable.

But the primary focus of the Dubai Expo is its destination as a global platform to attract investments and create new business and trade relationships. In this context, Dubai acts as “the” gateway to global business and among the various facilities it is important to note that effective from June 1st 2021 foreign investors and entrepreneurs who will open a company in Dubai, or in the other 6 emirates of the UAE, will be able to hold 100% foreign shareholding throughout the UAE territory (and not only in some specific Business Parks called Free Zones), and without the presence in the corporate structure of an Emirati partner, thus making investing in Dubai even more competitive and attractive.

Antonio Acunzo is Co-founder & CEO of Aventura, FL-based MTW GROUP-Foreign Market Entry Advisors, an International Business Advisory founded in Florida in 2005, and with Asia Regional Office in Singapore since 2009, providing Market-Entry Strategy, Brand Marketing, Corporate and Legal advisory and services to SMEs and Mid-Market companies eyeing selected markets in Asia, and in the USA, for their business growth and expansion in the form of JV, M&A, FDI and Export ( *