Megatrends Now

Can the Middle East ADAPT?

When we shared our thinking on how global megatrends were reshaping realities in the Middle East, the resonance was huge. Our region is at the epicentre of the five long-term trends we defined – demographics, the shift in global power, urbanisation, climate change and technological breakthroughs. These powerful forces are raising profound challenges for governments and businesses in the Middle East, complicating an environment already hit by low oil prices.

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With insights from the megatrends, we have been able to shine a light on future strategic opportunities and threats.

As a region, however, we do not have the luxury of delaying a response to these challenges. They are not something for another generation to address. Nor can we tackle them using the modes of thinking and acting that have brought us to this point – however far-reaching and effective they may have been. The landscape has changed too dramatically.

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Megatrends and the need to ADAPT now

Opinion by Stephen Anderson, PwC Middle East Clients and Markets Leader

It has become apparent that the long-term phenomenon of the megatrends is already upon us. As we work with governments, policy makers, corporates and family businesses, the recurring question is not when will megatrends hit, but how and what should we do today.

Our answer is to focus on the near-term manifestations of the trends and the challenges confronting us, using a framework known as ADAPT.

ADAPT to the Hospitality and Tourism Industry in the Middle East

The hospitality and tourism industry is an industry that is widely affected by the ADAPT elements. As these elements interact and reinforce each other, we see important new implications on hospitality.

ADAPT in the Hospitality and Tourism industry


Asymmetry refers to the increasing disparity between a small wealthy elite and a growing cohort of citizens with limited wealth and income who are angry or disappointed at their inability to enjoy the life they expected. This polarisation is a global phenomenon – indeed, 50% of the world’s wealth is now held by 1% of the population.1


GCC youth unemployment 2017 (World Bank)


signed up for the Citizen Account benefits scheme to support citizens in need
over half the Saudi national population
Source: Ministry of Labour and Social Development

In parts of the GCC, the growing wealth disparity is exacerbating social tensions, especially among the large number of young nationals that are unable to find a job. One third of working-age Saudis under 25 are unemployed. In Oman, almost half of the young population cannot find a job, including almost 60,000 university graduates in 2017. In response, governments are trying to foster a job-creating private sector, replace expat workers with nationals, improve local skills and provide access to high quality and affordable public services, from healthcare to housing. The Saudi government has created a social security net to protect citizens in need – 13 million have signed up for benefits.


Disruption has become a central dynamic of today’s global economy, as breakthrough technologies redefine business models, blur lines between industries, create agile new players unencumbered by legacy organisations and destroy others that fail to adapt quickly enough. These changes have enormous social, political and economic implications – in the US, for example, PwC estimates that 47% of jobs could be lost to automation in the next 15 years.2

In the Middle East, a weak private sector combined with restricted archaic and protectionist regulations, have delayed large-scale digital transformation, despite the potential created by a young, tech-savvy population with access to good digital infrastructure. E-commerce accounts for just 2% of retail sales, for example, compared to 15% in developed markets. Nevertheless, even the first wave of change – the arrival of sharing economy models like Uber, the wide usage of social media and the pick-up in e-commerce – has started to erode customer bases and undermine business models.

2Source: PwC, CEO Agenda: Pulse on Robotics, 2016


Source: PwC's 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey

Both businesses and governments are ripe for rapid and profound disruption as the region catches up to the pace of change in the rest of the world. Many companies are still in denial, but some have started to study what has happened to their peers around the world and prepare for the onslaught. Banks in the GCC, for example, are consolidating to prepare to compete, while retailers are looking at the potential of digitalisation and robotics to cut costs and improve service. Dubai is trying to anticipate the impact of change by creating self-disrupting units in each government department and by turning the emirate in to a hub for best practice.


Age is driving the urgency of transformation throughout the region, since rapid population growth over the past few decades has created a youth bulge, with around 60% of GCC nationals under 30. The challenge is huge. For example, over 3 million new jobs would be needed to employ young Saudis coming on to the labour market by 2025. Ensuring suitable employment is particularly difficult since Saudis tend to work in the public sector. Three times as many nationals still work in government entities compared to the private sector, despite attempts in recent years to streamline the public sector.

The young population is not just demanding jobs. Young Saudis are worried that they are losing the privileges of their parents’ generation. They want a good education, high-paying jobs, and access to housing and healthcare they can afford. Both women and men also want opportunities for entertainment, sport and tourism – and they are happy to take to twitter to express their displeasure if they feel the government is not listening.

On the flip side, if the government can harness the ambition of its smart young people, they can accelerate the pace of innovation, investment and growth, bringing a demographic dividend to the region. Top-level business leaders in the region tend to be in their 40s compared to a global average of late 50s.

of the national population of GCC are
under 30

Note: excludes UAE where data breakdown does not exist



Growing populism and nationalism are the response to a breakdown in the global consensus that brought decades of openness to international trade, investment and skills. Countries around the world are turning inwards, discouraging immigration and outsourcing, while pushing companies to invest and create jobs locally. As a result, international conflict is growing and nations are experiencing greater levels of insecurity as they struggle to define national identities.

In our region, the challenges of populism, nationalism and identity are turbo-charged, for three reasons. First, geopolitical tensions and conflict are high throughout the Middle East, often claiming sectarian allegiances across borders, and ensuring that security is always a policy driver. Second, tribal identities remain stronger than national ones. That explains, for example, the challenges the UAE faces in forcing common policies for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the smaller emirates – despite the progress in nation-building in recent years.

Third, in the GCC, expatriates make up a large portion of the total resident population – ranging from a low of 37% in Saudi Arabia to a high of 89% in the UAE. They dominate the private sector and their relatively low-cost skills make it hard for nationals to compete without quotas and protectionism. Dubai has created a model that embraces a high degree of openness to both expats and foreign companies, and has built an economy that thrives on their skills, capital, labour and buying power. Saudi Arabia has taken a different approach, minimising expats to make way for nationals. But this closed economy risks losing skills, knowledge and money, and will make it harder to attract the foreign investors needed to realise the country’s ambitious privatisation programme.


In the UAE, trust towards institutions rose a combined 24 points, second only to China. Second highest gain in trust after China.

Source:Edelman Trust Barometer 2018

Lastly, a lack of trust in institutions and technology is making it harder globally for governments and corporations to act, while accelerating the spread of new peer-to-peer and social media based institutions. In the Middle East, these same trends are exacerbated by the immaturity of institutions and regulations, as well as the dependence on individual leaders to get things done. Where trust in the rulers is not as strong, as in Kuwait, the economy is stagnating and investors have moved on, despite its still-high oil revenues. Where leaders are highly trusted, as in the UAE, an atmosphere of confidence is pushing the pace of change and encouraging investment, while maintaining social peace and a high level of security. Its challenge now is to build future-focused institutions that can help to guarantee continued progress, while filling regulatory gaps to provide greater confidence in areas such as cybersecurity and data protection.

The Saudi National Transformation Plan is a bold attempt to build trust through reform, by redefining the roles and relationships of government, private sector and citizens for an economy that is no longer dependent on oil. Real progress has been slow, but initial scepticism has given way to greater clarity and a realisation that the government is very serious and working hard to get ready for major change. The stakes are high.

The challenges the whole region faces are complex and contradictory, making it hard to achieve the goal of creating a thriving globally competitive economy that meets its people needs. How best to create millions of jobs to employ young nationals at a time when automation is wiping out entire professions and redefining the future of work? How best to introduce new taxes in a world where the very basis of taxation is being rethought?

PwC’s CEO survey 2018 shows a rising level of concern about cyber threats in the Middle East

2018 - 77%; 2017 - 66%

Source: PwC’s 21st CEO Survey

The ADAPT framework is aimed at taking a holistic yet nuanced and detailed look at the multiple pressing challenges governments, organisations and individuals face. With its help, we are thinking through what is causing today’s problems, questioning assumptions on how to solve them and finding new future-proofed responses.

Contact us

Hani Ashkar

Hani Ashkar

Middle East Senior Partner, PwC Middle East

Stephen Anderson

Stephen Anderson

Strategy Leader, PwC Middle East

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