Not necessarily a good thing? The Expo effect on SMEs in the UAE
While small business owners are looking forward to the Expo 2020 which Dubai won the rights to host last November, they are aware that while the event will likely bring in opportunities, it will throw up challenges as well.
According to DubaiSME, 95 per cent of the total enterprises in the state is comprised of SMEs (small and medium enterprises), and the sector contributes 42 per cent of the total workforce and 40 per cent of the GDP. Calling herself a social entrepreneur, Tala Badri, founder and executive director of Centre for Musical Arts, said during the MEED Destination 2020 conference on Wednesday, that an event such as Expo2020 brings in visitors from all around the world, who would not only just visit malls and do shopping but also visit art galleries, attend musical concerts and involve themselves in the social aspects such as the arts. That presents scope for growth.
So, she believes that there is “massive opportunity for someone like me in the industry that I work in to see potential growth going forward”.
But scaling up and growing is a big challenge, Badri said. “Big developers don’t look at SMEs. At the moment they see everything at a retail aspect. I am not retail…I do things from a social and cultural perspective.”
She pointed to the difficulty of finding an affordable space for professional development in her kind of industry amid the developers’ penchant for big brands and department stores. But she hopes in the run up to the Expo, “that is going to change”.
Mustafa Nassar, business development manager at WMS Metal Industries, said that the risk in any kind of boom is that “SMEs can get crowded out.”
“The biggest concern for us at the moment is, while things start picking up again and our story gets lost, financing our growth at quite difficult rates,” he added.
The tourism industry is going to benefit the most from the Expo, but Adam McEwan, owner of a young boutique tourism company Platinum Heritage Tourism, is treating the event like a stepping stone to more opportunities. But he cautions that the euphoria over the event could be a slippery slope. It is important to think about the period after the Expo is over.
“Not just Expo2020 as a way of making a short term win to get business very quickly and then walk away, saying ‘Thank you, very much,’ but use Expo2020 as a way of marketing not only ourselves but Dubai as a viable tourism destination,” said McEwan. “In order to do that the threat would be if we do that very quickly without a long term goal. What is important for us and for our industry is to provide a very high level experience.”
By Gaurav Ghose