Unfortunate Signs of the Slowdown in the Gulf

by: Mark McQueen

The big news from the Gulf region this week isn’t that the United Arab Emirates has pulled out of the planned Gulf monetary union, which essentially kills the Saudi plan to have a single currency and a Central Bank based in Riyadh. I think that the truly insightful news is that the highly successful DIFC Week has been postponed from its traditional November slot.

The website is offline, and it appears that things are pushed out until March 2010. That’s a shame for anyone in the world of business looking to build alliances in the Gulf region.

British Airways has cut business fares to the Gulf in half, which is a definite sign that travel patterns are down versus 6 or 8 months ago, when one worried about getting a seat if you didn’t book several weeks in advance.

I attended part of the event last year (see prior series ending with “Gulf Trip: Day Five” December 5-08), and you can’t but be impressed with what the Emiratis have created. The DIFC Week conference served as an annual international gathering, and the perfect hook for many international business types. The Dubai International Financial Centre itself has over 800 global business offices, situated in about 24 million square feet of existing and planned office space. Think of it as the Parthenon of International Capitalism. And it is still growing, despite the recession: Buyout fund KKR (KFN) just announced a presence, focussing on the MENA region.

One can only assume that attendance and/or sponsorship patterns were down for DIFC Week, and organizers hoped that things will be more stable next year.

Don’t we all.