Welcome to the new Casablancas: the cities of the world that have remained open
DUBAI – Oliver J. Christof spent some 300 days a year traveling the world doing business for his family’s industrial services company in Austria.
In October, when Europe entered a new wave of lockdowns, the family moved to Dubai, one of the few open cities in a largely closed world.
People are now coming to see Mr. Christof. This year, around four-fifths of the company’s customers and partners have shown up in Dubai, he said, and most are extending their visits. The city is one of the few in the world where restaurants, shops and corporate offices are all open for business.
âMost of them found that many of their own friends, colleagues and partners were already in Dubai as well,â said Christof, 40.
In a pandemic, the normal is the big draw. Leaders who can afford it find their way into the few Casablancas open to conducting international business in person. Dubai, which has no quarantine requirements and few entry restrictions, is one.
On a two-month visit to Dubai this year, Malaysian startup founder Terrence Hooi, 35, mingled with venture capitalists, bankers and other entrepreneurs from around the world. One hot spot was the monthly party for startups at a Mexican restaurant serving pitchers of frozen margaritas.
âIn person, this is always one of the best ways to build rapport: if I haven’t met you, you probably wouldn’t write me a check,â said Mr. Hooi, who obtained a report in Dubai. financing of $ 200,000 for its investment. app, singular.
As of now, Americans are generally not allowed to enter the European Union, although that may change later this year for those vaccinated. New arrivals to the UK must be quarantined for 10 days. Travelers from most countries in Europe, China, South Africa, and Brazil are prohibited from entering the United States. Business travel to China is prohibited, most of East Asia and Australia remains almost impossible and usually requires a long quarantine.
âOf course you can do meetings through Zoom, but it’s not the same, especially if you are entering a new market,â said Vygaudas Usackas, a former Lithuanian foreign minister who visited in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in March for a meeting of Avia’s board of directors. Solutions Group, an aviation services company based in Cyprus. Kiev had served for months as a business oasis, until a wave of new cases led to a lockdown in late March. Mexico is another such destination.
Legal requirements are also included in travel abroad. âThe statutes and corporate rules are written in such a way that we have to meet physically,â said Avia founder and chairman Gediminas Ziemelis, who lives in Dubai. “We are forced to find a way, through multiple connections, to have the opportunity to physically hold a board meeting.”
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The company’s usual locations for such gatherings, in Cyprus or London, have been banned in the pandemic. It left Dubai in December and Kiev in early March. Mr Ziemelis recently visited his management team in the Netherlands but found the logistics confusing. âWe have an office there, but it’s closed, and when we met our leaders, we had to talk to them outside the hotel lobby, on the street,â he said. “It was ridiculous.”
Singapore, a city-state that has thrived on the ease of doing business, now requires the few visitors allowed to enter the country to quarantine themselves for at least two weeks at a designated hotel.
In March, Singapore opened a bio-bubble hotel made from shipping containers converted by the airport. Visiting executives can meet Singapore residents in conference rooms separated by a glass wall. Independent air systems operate in each half of the room. A germ-killing device projects UVC light onto documents and business cards passed between groups. The food trays are delivered through a special opening. The windows are sealed.
âIt’s a prison,â said Michael van der Heijden, co-founder and managing director of Amsterdam Capital Partners, which develops offshore wind farms. “That first night, I had this nagging feeling of having done something wrong and being punished.”
Mr van der Heijden, 52, spent a week at the Bio-Bubble Hotel last month to discuss a joint venture and investment partnership with a Singaporean company. Seeing body language – one of his Singaporean partners waving with his hands when an unexpected problem arose – sped up discussions and cleared up misunderstandings, he said.
“We achieved in those five days what would have probably taken us at least two months.” Said Mr van der Heijden. âBut it’s really boring. I was really, really, really happy to be leaving.
While Singapore has isolated itself from the world, Dubai has remained open during the pandemic without the kind of toll incurred in the United States or Europe. The United Arab Emirates, a country of 10 million people, saw a spike in cases in January and February, in part due to an influx of tourists to Dubai, which prompted the UK to suspend flights direct. Since, a rapid vaccination campaign reduced the average number of deaths over seven days from 80% to three.
Samuel Cardillo, a 25-year-old Israeli-Belgian entrepreneur, arrived in Dubai in late November, trying to get past lockdowns when moving from Tel Aviv to London to Belgium. Since arriving, Cardillo said he has secured funding from visiting US investors for his geospatial intelligence firm, ShadowBreak. âIt’s pretty crazy to think that I was able to have these face to face meetings during Covid,â he said.
With one of the most intensive Covid-19 testing regimes in the world, the UAE attracted thousands of foreign business visitors to the Gitex information technology fair in December and the Gulfood meeting of the food industry in February, the first such global meetings since the start of the pandemic. . Abu Dhabi, the neighboring capital of the United Arab Emirates, still forces most visitors to self-quarantine. In February, however, it lifted the restriction for thousands of attendees from 59 countries to attend the biennial IDEX arms industry fair.
Tatiana Koffman, 33, who is launching a cryptocurrency quantitative strategies fund, came to Dubai from Los Angeles in October for a short trip. Ms Koffman has postponed her departure until she sets up her own business and obtains a residence permit in the UAE.
âYou can actually sit down with someone in person, break bread and do business like you could have done two years ago,â she says.
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