UAE design business forecast to be worth $36 billion in four years

The design business in the UAE is forecast to be worth nearly US$36 billion within the next four years, according to a year-long review of the sector commissioned by Amina Al Rustamani, the chief executive of the Tecom Group of business parks and chairwoman of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC).

The financial potential of the sector will be unveiled in Dubai tomorrow in the DDFC’s Mena Design Outlook report, as part of the strategy aiming to make Dubai a design hub rivalling London, Paris, and Milan, but also taking on the communications design hubs of San Francisco and Seattle.

“This outlook report is part of our ambitious vision to become a capital of design at a global level, showcasing regional talent and driving the innovation-led economy,” Ms Al Rustamani said. “We are proud to report that the design market’s contribution to the emirate’s GDP is among the highest in the region.”

The outlook study, undertaken by the global accounting and consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, showed the value of design in the UAE – in communications, fashion, architecture and media – stood at $27.6bn last year, ahead of Saudi Arabia at $21.9bn and Qatar at $11.9bn.

That compares with about $100bn in the Mena region as a whole, and a global value of $2.3 trillion.

High growth rates are forecast for design in the UAE, as well as Saudi, Qatar and Egypt over the next four years.

The biggest elements of the industry in the UAE are fashion, with 74 per cent of the total, followed by architecture and furniture design. Big growth rates are forecast in lighting, communication and interior design.

Speaking about the 2015 outlook report, Ms Al Rustamani said: “It will ensure a clear strategy and road map for the government and all stakeholders to focus on design as a key part of Dubai and UAE economic development. I want us to rival the rest of the world as a design hub and as a ‘smart city’.

“I will know we have succeeded when I have global designers coming out of Dubai and being recognised as international leaders in the field. The essence of design in Dubai will be a fusion of the Emirate’s cosmopolitanism and the Islamic and Arabic foundations of our culture.”

As the chief executive of Tecom, one of the operating businesses of government-owned Dubai Holding, Ms Al Rustamani has responsibility for the implementation of the Dubai Design District (d3) – a site of 22 million square feet in the city that is in the process of being developed as a multi-use hub for the design industry.

Phase I is complete, with 11 buildings, 500 companies and 10,000 professionals, while phase II – a “creative community” for 6,000 designers – is due for completion in 2017.

“The model has been set by areas like Shoreditch in London and parts of New York, which have developed organically. With space in places such as Karama, Al Quoz and Satwa too limited, Dubai has not had that opportunity, so we have decided to build from scratch. It is very exciting.”

The d3 development is being financed and developed by Tecom, which has made its name building and operating the successful business parks and free zones in Dubai. Ms Al Rustamani said: “D3 will be a normal commercial project for us. Tecom is not a traditional property developer, we have a long-term mandate and key indicators set by the government of Dubai.”

She aims to attract big corporates from the global design industry into d3, which has already pulled in some of the best-known names in regional design and architecture, as well as household names in the luxury goods business.

As a free zone, d3 offers 100 per cent foreign ownership, full repatriation of profit and capital, and exemption for 50 years from personal, income and corporate tax.

It is also a key part of the strategy to foster small and medium enterprises, with 95 per cent of all firms from the SME sector.

The report aims to help meet what have traditionally been regarded as challenges in design in the Mena region – a lack of design institutions, poor enforcement of intellectual property protection and limited willingness to recognise the commercial value of design.

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Frank Kane

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