Abu Dhabi: Increasing consumer demand along with a gradual return to global trade are starting to show signs of a recovery for the UAE’s leading port operators, with officials from both DP World and Abu Dhabi Ports saying they are optimistic on a post pandemic turnaround.

“We started seeing some signs of recovery, consumption is increasing, the region has been going through lockdown and [as a result a] huge demand is coming,” said Shahab Al Jassmi, commercial director, DP World – UAE Region. “If you go and visit any of the main stores in Dubai on the weekend you will see [a big] crowd, you will see people demanding a lot of cargo which is an obvious indication for a very rapid recovery,” he added.

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Al Jassmi said the numbers were also pointing to a recovery, with Jebel Ali reporting a six per cent increase in volume in the last month.

“We are now going to a different stage of the pandemic, where people are more outgoing; regions are learning from the lockdown process they had in the past, and I believe there will be less restrictions in terms of cargo movement and people movement,” he added.

In terms of how the pandemic affected DP world’s own operations and cargo traffic, Al Jassmi said the impact was not as heavy as compared to other ports around the world.

“The total capacity decline that we know is around 34 per cent on the Asia-Europe route, and about 25 per cent on the US-Asia route. This should have had a huge impact on all the terminal operators including Jebel Ali, but the fact is that we have been impacted at a much lower pace.

“When everyone closed their doors [during the lockdowns] we were welcoming everyone to divert their cargo to Jebel Ali,” he added.

“We have prepared and developed a very robust procedure in terms of having a very seamless operation and accepting all types of cargo that other regions couldn’t really accept.”

Ross Thompson, chief strategy and growth officer at Abu Dhabi Ports, said the recovery would see different trajectories depending on the sectors as well, with some industries facing more volatility than others.

“If you look at things like the food sector then the growth never went away… We see some sectors that have been harder hit than others, so if you look at for example the movement of vehicles in the automotive sector, that’s certainly been hit harder than the retail sector.

“Certain sectors will bounce back quickly, they will be things like food, pharmaceuticals and these type of products. [Other] sectors will take longer to come back because they’re more dependent on consumer confidence and the economy,” he added.

Thompson said that one major change the pandemic has brought to the ports industry here in the UAE is the acceleration towards more digital services.

“It’s demanded by all the customers and the markets as well – visibility and speed of transaction, these are big customer drivers from ports.

“You’re going to see a lot of developments over the next five years that are going to completely change the game about how we deploy technology within ports and container terminals, how we deliver things to ships and how ships interconnect with port systems,” he added.