Jan 10, 2024
The Middle East is at the center of the tech revolution. Governments and organizations continue to pour millions into immersive tools and environments like the metaverse. These organizations understand the new opportunities this space presents for innovation and economic development across a range of industries. In the UAE, Dubai is arguably at the forefront of it all; having launched ambitious metaverse strategies to bolster its economy and create new job opportunities in the space. In Saudi Arabia, substantial investments are also being made in immersive web startups, with projects like the NEOM city development integrating metaverse components to revolutionize construction and urban planning.
This blog dives into the growing interest in immersive technologies across the Middle East, highlighting trends that will shape the coming year.
The Middle East is leveraging the metaverse to enhance collaboration and showcase its rich cultural heritage through various virtual experiences. Here are some notable ones:
Virtual art galleries: These allow users to walk into these spaces from anywhere in the world. These virtual simulations provide a platform for regional art and heritage to reach a fully global audience. Alserkal Avenue in Dubai launched a VR experience that enables visitors to access over 15 galleries and the work of 80 artists in a 360-degree immersive environment.
Virtual tourism and historical landmarks: Immersive tours of historical landmarks like the Hegra World Heritage site or Petra in Jordan are being created in the metaverse, offering immersive and interactive experiences for global visitors. Another noteworthy initiative, the 'Baalbek Reborn' project, a collaboration between the German Archaeological Institute, the General Directorate of Antiquities of Lebanon, the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, and Flyover Zone, offers tourists a VR experience to explore the Roman Heliopolis in Lebanon.
Virtual museums and exhibitions: 3D replicas of museums and exhibitions can be created in the metaverse to deepen the understanding of a region’s history. For instance, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exhibition “Furusiyya: The Art of Chivalry Between East and West” can be experienced as a virtual walk-through so that viewers can see and interact with ancient artifacts, objects, and manuscripts from anywhere in the world.
These initiatives in preserve and promote the Middle East's cultural heritage and provide innovative and sustainable ways for global audiences to engage with the region's rich history and art.
The Middle East is quickly realizing the economic potential of the metaverse, with various countries implementing innovative strategies and projects. Dubai has launched a comprehensive metaverse strategy to contribute $4 billion to its economy and create 40,000 jobs by 2030. The adoption of 3D technologies in the Middle East is opening up a wealth of opportunities for economic growth and innovation, particularly in e-commerce, marketing, and collaboration.
Metaverse e-commerce and retail
Integrating immersive technology into e-commerce offers customers interactive environments to connect with brands and purchase virtual or physical products, leading to more engaging and personalized shopping experiences. A report by Ciena states that in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, particularly, shopping is cited as the primary reason to use the metaverse, with 57% and 47% of respondents stating so, respectively. Naturally, using the metaverse as a channel for shopping, enhances customer satisfaction and drives sales, contributing significantly to the GDP of the region.
In Jordan, IKEA implemented a virtual reality experience, allowing customers to explore products in a 360° virtual environment. This innovative approach led to a 20% increase in footfall and sales in their physical stores, showcasing the power of virtual platforms in enhancing customer engagement and driving retail success.
The metaverse is a unique platform for connecting with specific customer segments. According to a Citi report, the growing interest in the space could lead to 5 billion people interacting with immersive platforms by 2030. This growth presents a massive opportunity to market brands through engaging formats in a web3 environment. A leading example in the Middle East was when Emirates Airlines made a strategic move that served as a marketing and innovation initiative. The brand focused on building signature brand experiences within the metaverse and launched a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), such as utility tokens and collectibles. This significant investment is designed to enhance customer experience by providing an interactive and engaging medium.
The 3D internet also allows colleagues to connect and collaborate from anywhere in the world in an immersive and realistic environment. Such simulations can enhance employee engagement and accelerate business growth through efficient processes. A notable example of launching a collaborative space is NEOM City, which aims to have mixed reality functionalities. These capabilities will allow an individual to be present simultaneously across offices through a virtual representation, allowing for efficient communication wherever they are.
Virtual real estate and development
Real estate like virtual land, buildings, and storefronts is picking up, with the value of assets estimated to have already touched over $1 billion in 2021, as per an interview by Forbes with Andrew Kiguel, the founder and CEO of Tokens.com Group. The Middle East has been at the center of this new space, rapidly unlocking opportunities in virtual real estate.
This trend is not just about creating digital spaces but also involves redefining property management and sales through immersive experiences, leveraging both AI and blockchain technologies. Digital land owners can build residential spaces or hotels, attracting larger visitors and driving up the value of the land. The property's resale value increases, and owners can rent it, sell it, or use it to offer advertising space in the metaverse.
Here are a few examples of real estate projects in the metaverse:
NEOM city: Saudi Arabia's NEOM project includes a metaverse component to enhance city development, offering a platform for collaboration in real estate projects. TONOMUS, NEOM’s technology and digital subsidiary, is working on creating XVRS, a digital twin of the city, and has invested over $1 billion in 2022 in AI and metaverse technologies for the project. The digital replica will allow people to virtually explore the cognitive city while also using it to assist in physically constructing the city’s properties.
Union Square House’s metaverse mansions: Dubai-based firm Union Square House recently announced plans to launch metaverse mansions to build and sell ultra-luxury properties as NFTs. They aim to target 80% of Dubai’s population which consists of young individuals in the region familiar with digital real estate.
Dubai in the metaverse: Replicating the real city, Metaverse Holdings aims to develop a virtual version of Dubai in the 3D internet. This project aims to mimic the city’s iconic landmarks and provide spaces for business, education, shopping, tourism, and virtual residences.
The Middle East, particularly the UAE, is at the forefront of embracing the metaverse, with several government-led initiatives, policies, and investments contributing to its growth.
Launched under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Dubai Metaverse Strategy aims to position Dubai as one of the top ten global hubs for the metaverse. The strategy encourages innovation, enhances the metaverse's economic contributions through R&D collaborations, and promotes digital infrastructure development. It seeks to create new job opportunities and contribute significantly to the economy by creating web3 technologies to advance tourism, education, retail, and healthcare sectors.
Additionally, the Metaverse Accelerator Programme, initiated by the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) in January 2023, is designed to attract leading startups worldwide, focusing on the next step of blockchain technology and the metaverse. The program offers opportunities to build proofs-of-concept, attend workshops, receive support services, get marketing exposure, and leverage networking opportunities for government and private institutions to overcome challenges in the space.
In 2024, the Middle East will undergo a substantial transformation driven by the immersive web. Nations like the UAE and Saudi Arabia will continue to spearhead metaverse adoption, with other countries in the region following their lead.
Cultural experiences using metaverse technology are flourishing through a rise in virtual art galleries, tourism experiences, and museums, preserving and showcasing the region's heritage. Economically, the 3D internet is reshaping e-commerce, marketing, and collaboration, offering immersive platforms for conducting business and connecting with consumers and employees. The virtual real estate market is also worth keeping tabs on in 2024. Projects like NEOM city and Metaverse Holdings’ virtual replica of Dubai will drive the region's commitment to digitally-driven urban development innovation. On top of these trends, government-led initiatives will further propel the Middle East into a metaverse-driven future, positioning it as a global hub for the space. As the metaverse continues to evolve, the Middle East is poised to become a key player.
If you’re a brand or government body looking to build a virtual and immersive experience? We can help you build, scale, and monetize your project. Get in touch with us!
Jan 10, 2024
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