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MENA Cities, Dubai Leads the Pack of Ascending Wealth Magnets of Tomorrow

Philippe Amarante

Philippe Amarante

Philippe Amarante is the Head of Middle East at Henley & Partners.

On 28 April 2024, the Government of Dubai unveiled a transformative plan for its aviation industry, announcing the development of a new hub, Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport. Despite its existing airport being the busiest in the world for international passengers, with a record 87 million travelers in 2023, Dubai’s USD 35 billion new project is poised to redefine global air travel, with a projected annual capacity of 260 million passengers.

Dubai saw the second-highest net inflow of millionaires globally in 2023 and it is fair to say that the emirate’s remarkable advancements in the aviation sector are closely intertwined with its extraordinary economic development. Its strategic focus on developing state-of-the-art aviation facilities and expanding its air transport capacities has not only cemented its status as a crucial international hub but has also significantly fueled Dubai’s wealth growth, positioning it as one of the wealthiest and most sought-after cities by the global high-net-worth community, ranking as the 21st-wealthiest city globally in the World’s Wealthiest Cities Report 2024.

Modern skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Dubai’s aviation advancement and wealth growth

Although successfully executing its visionary aviation super-hub strategy is extremely complex, the core idea is rather simple: capitalizing on connectivity to attract high-net-worth individuals to spotlight Dubai’s luxury real estate sector, elite tourism industry, and dynamic business landscape. This synergy between aviation prowess and economic prosperity exemplifies how infrastructure can drive wealth accumulation in a globalized world.

Dubai’s upward trajectory is further propelled by progressive policies and immigration frameworks, signaling its government’s commitment to offering a welcoming business environment. This is evidenced by the robust performance of leading free economic zones such as those of IFZA and the Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA) Free Zone, which have both seen company formations and renewals surge by over 170% year-over-year — a testament to Dubai’s capacity to attract and retain businesses.

Proactive migration policies to attract wealth and top talent

Moreover, the introduction of the UAE’s Residence by Investment offering, the Golden Visa, of which over 150,000 were issued from 2019 to 2022, and the Green Visa — a five-year residence permit aimed at highly-skilled workers and freelancers — reflects a proactive approach to migration. These initiatives are crucial levers in Dubai’s strategy to draw even more global talent and investment.

Dubai’s appeal to the world’s affluent is multi-faceted as the city offers a cutting-edge business ecosystem, a dynamic can-do attitude, a vast pool of international talent, and strategic market access. Additionally, it provides a high quality of life, with a rich array of premium real estate, world-class educational opportunities, and high-end lifestyle amenities.

Given these attributes, it is hardly surprising that over the past decade, Dubai has seen a 78% increase in its millionaire population, making it one of the most densely populated high-net-worth individual destinations per capita — a status underscored in a recent report, which highlighted that sales of homes valued at USD 10 million nearly doubled in 2023, reaching USD 7.6 billion and surpassing luxury real estate markets such as London and New York.

With its infrastructure enhancements and continuous influx of capital and talent, Dubai’s narrative is far more than a post-pandemic recovery story; it is a calculated transformation into a global nexus for high-net-worth individuals, family offices, and tomorrow’s innovators. Dubai’s announcement of its new air gateway is a timely and necessary step in sustaining economic momentum and ensuring its future as a world-leading hub that will remain at the forefront of global attention and aspiration.

Abu Dhabi an increasingly attractive option for the discerning investor

About an hour’s drive southwest of Dubai along the Persian Gulf coast lies the unobtrusive yet buzzing city of Abu Dhabi, not only the largest emirate in the UAE, but also its capital and home to another great success story — the Abu Dhabi Global Market, its international financial center and free zone .

Albeit in a different manner, like Dubai, Abu Dhabi is witnessing a record-breaking surge in incoming talent and capital, leading the government-owned premium developer Aldaar to build more luxury housing to serve global investor demand.

The two cities are in close proximity and their value propositions are a perfect complement to one other. In contrast to the comparative boldness of Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s attraction to millionaires lies in its relative subtlety and discreet yet constantly accomplishing spirit. The fact that Abu Dhabi is perennially voted as the safest city in the world holds appeal for investors from an asset protection perspective alone. Dubbed by Bloomberg as “the world’s newest wealth haven for billionaires”, it is no coincidence that the Louvre, with a wealth of art, is beautifully anchored in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is top of the Cities to Watch list in the World’s Wealthiest Cities Report 2024, with  a millionaire growth rate of 75% between 2013 and 2023, just 3% less than Dubai’s, but since some data points are not fully accessible, this number might well be higher. Nevertheless, each has its own merits and capacity, and both cities attract large numbers of millionaires and their families for good reason.

In another parallel, Abu Dhabi, too has recently invested significant funds into a newly opened terminal at Zayed International Airport (previously Abu Dhabi International Airport), which, despite not having the enormous capacity of Dubai’s new hub, proves the bullish positioning of Abu Dhabi, like Dubai, in continuing to attract individuals across all cohorts, from students to entrepreneurs, from career starters to billionaires, from corporations to retirees.


Another MENA wealth hub on the Cities to Watch list is Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has recorded 40% growth in millionaires over the last 10 years. Albeit that important economic and social reforms are in full swing, Riyadh’s efforts to attract and retain high-net-worth individuals began much later than Dubai’s or Abu Dhabi’s.

However, with the latest launch of Premium Residency, with options for various categories such as real estate investors, entrepreneurs, and business investors, Saudi Arabia has entered the regional competition, providing valuable investment and residence routes, which allow investors to become stakeholders in one of the most dynamic and fascinating market transformations of recent times.

In terms of aviation as a growth indicator in the private and public sectors, although there have been announcements regarding giga-projects in the Kingdom, a new airport of the scale of Dubai’s has not been mentioned — yet. However, with the support of the Public Investment Fund, Riyadh Air has recently been launched as Saudi Arabia’s second flag carrier and, with an option order of 72 wide-body aircraft, is perfectly equipped to emulate some of the success factors Dubai and Abu Dhabi have showcased: make your proposition accessible and welcoming, and the world will come.

This strategic evolution in Riyadh represents not just an expansion in infrastructure, but also a profound shift towards embracing a global, interconnected marketplace that promises to draw further attention and investment to the region.

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