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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

What Business Opportunities In Abu Dhabi?

17th August 2018 (Updated 14th September 2023)

Now is the time to strike whilst the iron is hot and identify and take advantage of the huge business opportunities being announced in Abu Dhabi. Get in first for competitive advantage.

Recently in my recent article Abu Dhabi: Where Is the Market Going, I commented that Abu Dhabi has been positioning itself as a culture and tourism destination. It already has a strong offering of attractions including theme parks (Ferarri World), cultural sites (Grand Mosque & Qasr Al Watan), museums (The Louvre), festivals (Mother of The Nation) and events (Abu Dhabi Grand Prix). However, this week, Abu Dhabi has announced it wants to position itself as the best destination for leisure, business, sports and events. To support this goal, Abu Dhabi has announced a new AED600 million 'Mega Events' fund to put on world-class events to promote Abu Dhabi as the global entertainment and business hub. Saeed Al Saeed, Director of Destination Marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi has confirmed there will also be massive marketing campaigns to promote Abu Dhabi.

So this is a huge business opportunity for tourism companies and their suppliers to get in on the act and bring their offerings to Abu Dhabi, identify niches and plug the gaps.

Current and upcoming tourism projects in Abu Dhabi

Depending upon your particular tourism specialism, the below outlines the number of Abu Dhabi tourism projects and their values.

Cultural (mosques, museums, libraries and theatres)

Projects: 11

Budget: AED2,753million


Projects: 129

Budget: AED56,755million

Leisure (sports facilities, stadiums & theme parks)

Projects: 8

Budget: AED2,881million

Retail (malls & markets)

Projects: 25

Budget: AED3,528million

Hospitality (hotels & resorts)

Projects: 30

Budget: AED4,098million


Projects: 94

Budget: AED253,293million

Terminal (airport, seaport, rail stations)

Projects: 30

Budget: AED30,391million

Therefore, future investment opportunities in Abu Dhabi include hotels, retail, F&B, arenas, watersports, cinemas, RV parks, beach clubs, spas, indoor attractions and tech-led offerings. Check out my article Tourism Opportunities in Abu Dhabi which introduces the Tourism Investment Promotion Section (TIPS) of the Department of Culture and Tourism (previously the Tourism and Culture Authority), which evaluates investors' plans and helps them to maximise on the business opportunities in Abu Dhabi.

Business tourism in Abu Dhabi is already a thriving sector. It was recently announced that the event venues Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) and Al Ain Convention Centre (AACC), contributed AED2.3 billion to the Abu Dhabi economy in the first half of 2019.

(Updated 13th September 2023)

In 2023 alone, Abu Dhabi has successfully has seen the opening of the Abrahamic Family House, Sea World Abu Dhabi, and Snow Abu Dhabi. Other attractions which are due to open in Abu Dhabi before the end of 2023 include: Surf Abu Dhabi, located on Hudayriyat Island, will be the biggest and most advanced artificial wave facility in the world; Saadiyat Grove, a mixed use complex located on Saadiyat Island, touted as a lifestyle and leisure destination with fashion and beauty stores, interactive artworks and digital murals; Jubail Island Marina, promoted to feature a luxury yacht club, scenic boardwalk and restaurants.

At the start of this month, ADNEC Group's tourism division, Tourism 365, announced new charter flight services in the UAE, enhancing travel options and boosting the UAE’s hospitality offering, which in turn supports the travel industry’s role in the UAE’s economic growth. In 2022 , the contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the UAE’s GDP was nearly AED167 billion, representing 9% of the total GDP, which is intended to grow to 15% by 2031.

Furthermore, it was recently announced that the long-awaited opening of the new terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport will be opening in November this year. The new terminal has the capacity for 45 million passengers per year and will further boost Abu Dhabi's position as a hub for global tourism and business.

UAE investor confidence, high

The UBS Global Wealth Management Investor Sentiment Survey states that in the UAE 84% of HNWIs and business owners have an optimistic stance of the state of the local economy compared to much lower levels globally which are currently at 59%.

(Updated 13th September 2023)

Business confidence in the UAE's private sector is currently at a ‘post-pandemic high’, according to the monthly PMI tracker data from S&P Global. Business confidence in the UAE improved in seven of the first eight months of 2023. The travel and tourism and retail sectors showed strength during the summer. S&P Globa's August PMI Index reflects news order, increased tourism and increased investment, presenting the UAE as having an expanding economy.

New Abu Dhabi business licenses up

The above opportunities are nicely complemented by Abu Dhabi's growth in the number of new business licenses issued so far in 2019:

  • General Trading licenses issued in Abu Dhabi in July up 12.5% compared to June.

  • Construction-related licenses issued in Abu Dhabi in July up 13.2% compared to June.

  • Beverage-related licenses issued in Abu Dhabi in July up 27% compared to June.

  • Restaurant licenses issued in Abu Dhabi in July up 17.5% compared to June.

  • Light transport-related licenses issued in Abu Dhabi in July up 42% compared to June.

(Updated 13th September 2023)

  • In 2022, 25,593 new economic licenses were issued, and 73,212 licenses were renewed. Of the new licenses issued, 93.5% were commercial sector licenses (23,947).

  • In 2022, the number of professional licenses issued in Abu Dhabi increased 161% from 243 to 635.

  • In 2022, the number of tourism licenses issued in Abu Dhabi increased 43.6% from 126 to 181.

  • In the 12 months from July 2022 to June 2023, there was a 16.6% increase in the number of new industrial licences granted in Abu Dhabi, from 204 to 238.

These figures confirm investor confidence is increasing. This is likely a direct result of the numerous reforms which have been put in place over the last 12 months and are continuing to be implemented as part of Abu Dhabi's Ghadan 21 initiative. Last year, the Abu Dhabi government announced a AED50 billion economic stimulus to boost the Abu Dhabi economy and to attract Foreign Direct Investment into the Emirate. Changes made to date include:

  • dual licenses, which enable free zone companies to legally operate on the mainland, numerous visa reforms providing more stability to expatriate residents.

  • Tajer licenses, subsequently renamed Trader licenses, for resident entrepreneurs negating the need for premises for the first two years of operations

  • the waiving of local government fees when establishing a new business license in Abu Dhabi (Updated 14 September 2023, this initiative has now ended and the Abu Dhabi government has subsequently reduced its fees.)

  • new trade licenses are issued for an initial period of two years rather than 12 months (Updated 14 September 2023, this initiative has now ended. New trade licenses have reverted back to being issued for a period of 12 months.)

  • introduction of instant licenses. (Updated 14 September 2023, check Gateway Group's Abu Dhabi license guides for specific information about the Abu Dhabi Instant License Establishment and Abu Dhabi Instant License LLC.)

(Updated 13th September 2023)

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More business opportunities in Abu Dhabi

ADNOC, Abu Dhabi's national oil company last year announced an AED45 billion project to create the world's largest petrochemical complex. Looking at the bigger picture, this in itself creates vast opportunities across multiple sectors, not just oil as gas. It will be necessary for sufficient infrastructure to be put in place to accommodate the increased numbers of people living and working in the Ruwais area. This will include, housing, roads, malls, entertainment facilities, schools and healthcare services - everything that would be needed to create a new city. So there are business opportunities in Abu Dhabi for everyone, you just need to investigate what is going on in the Emirate, identify where your business can provide value and then make the commitment to set up.

(Updated 13th September 2023)

Find out about what Ruwais has to offer in our Youtube video: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ruwais (Al Dhannah). Gateway Group's founder, Jenny Hunt, takes you on a visit to Ruwais.

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Written by Jenny Hunt

Founder, Gateway Group, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, United Arab Emirates

trustworthy business setup uae Gateway group company formation services in abu dhabi

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