Dubai's Danube Group chairman on Covid-19 recovery, 2022 plans
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Dubai’s Danube Group chairman on Covid-19 recovery, 2022 plans

Dubai’s Danube Group chairman on Covid-19 recovery, 2022 plans

The UAE’s economy has received a strong boost from Expo 2020 Dubai and is on its way back to growth, states Danube Group founder and chairman Rizwan Sajan

How has 2021 been for Danube Group?

It was a year of recovery for all our businesses following the impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. The global pandemic created the biggest challenge that we have ever seen in our lifetime. The complete lockdown of the business was unprecedented. On top of that, the high level of uncertainty and insecurity – with the rising death toll – had an impact on the mental health of people working at various businesses within the organisation. So this year, we focused on the recovery of our business from the pandemic and it has been good so far mainly due to the UAE government’s leadership and its success in containing the pandemic. We have made great strides in retaining our employees and our clients.

We have accelerated our drive towards our e-commerce business, which is delivering good results. The future is digital, and we have taken a new direction towards that space. Also, Expo 2020 Dubai, which began in October this year, has worked like a tonic for our businesses and has helped us to gain new ground.

Have businesses in the UAE completely recovered from the pandemic, in your opinion?

Almost. Some sectors are performing better than others, such as the real estate sector, which has seen an increase in the number of transactions and the recovery of the lost value of properties. This growth has been led by the UAE’s immigration reforms, reduction of fees and charges and the decision to eliminate the requirement to mandatorily have an Emirati sponsor for local companies. We have seen a lot of wealthy people from different countries relocate to the UAE.

Some sectors will take time to fully recover – maybe in 2022 or 2023. But the mood is upbeat and investor confidence is back. Foreign investors are setting up companies and relocating their families to the UAE due to the safety, security, quality of life, world-class infrastructure and connectivity and ease of doing business that it offers. This is creating employment. The retail sector is picking up and so is tourism and hospitality.

I think by the first quarter of 2022, most industries will recover substantially. However, the full recovery will depend on how the Covid-19 situation changes in other countries as well as the spread of new and deadly variants – that might put things in jeopardy.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the economy post the Covid crisis?

The biggest change has been the growing adoption of digital channels, the spread of e-commerce and a general reluctance for physical meetings. Due to the focus on digital and e-commerce, we are seeing a sea change in consumer behaviour while retailers are opting for omnichannel distribution. We have also re-worked our strategy to strengthen our omnichannel distribution. Overall, we see that people have become more cautious.

Expo 2020 is currently underway in Dubai – what kind of an impact is it having/and will it have on the economy?

Expo 2020 has revived the UAE economy from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the government planned for the event, nobody anticipated a global pandemic, which would bring the world to a standstill. However, Expo 2020 actually jump-started the UAE economy. In a matter of months, we have seen flights starting to operate at almost full capacity and hotels running at a very high occupancy. We have seen retail activities pick up, restaurants have started to receive guests and orders. So, there is a buzz in the air. In some parts of the UAE, things look pretty normal – almost the same as pre-pandemic, except for face masks and other precautionary measures being followed.

Which are the sectors offering the strongest potential for growth at the moment?

Industries offering the biggest potential include IT and e-commerce, among others. Retail, tourism, F&B, education, healthcare and hospitality will also continue to grow.

Also, what are the challenges that local UAE businesses are facing right now?

Bank financing is a problem. I think the banks should restart lending to small and medium enterprises, especially those who survived the Covid-19 pandemic and are solid businesses. They need finance to expand their businesses. Banks can help them grow, hire new people and this way, the overall economy will expand.

Another challenge for businesses is the seamless transformation of the brick-and-mortar operations to digital e-commerce – without compromising on the quality of service and customer experience.

Looking ahead, do you have any expansion plans in the pipeline – both in terms of verticals and geographies?

Yes. During the pandemic, we launched our hospitality division that is going well. We are also taking Danube Home – our retail and home furnishing brand – to different countries, including Uzbekistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the CIS and African countries. My son Adel Sajan, who looks after Danube Home, plans to take the brand to more than 50 countries – in fact, we are eyeing all the countries that Emirates Airline flies to.

Lastly, what are Danube’s plans for 2022 and beyond?

We are focused on doing what we do best – make our customers happy. The year 2022 will be a year of growth and expansion. This year we have hired more people despite the pandemic, we have added two new brands and it has made us stronger in every area of operation. Our strength comes from our teamwork. So, instead of firing people, we retained them and hired more during this crisis. The pandemic helped us focus on our core strength – our vision and our great team – and today we look at our future with more confidence. Since we have overcome the crisis with a carefully planned strategy that worked well and helped us to navigate our way out of the crisis, we are now consolidating our operations and preparing for the next phase of growth.

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