It all started about 5 years back when Dubai embarked on speedy growth path by virtue of offering freehold and leasehold properties to expats. The basic motive of such move was to ensure that money flow out of the country is restricted as primarily 80% population in Dubai / UAE is expat and largely from Asian continent.
The construction boom which ensued in next 4 years made Dubai one of the largest construction zone in world with about 460 high rise towers under construction at one point of time. The running after assets brought in more people and population growth brought issues like crime, traffic jams, hyper inflation, shortage of accommodation, labor camps with basic amenities missing, violation of basic labor laws etc. Government did best to streamline all aspects and make the place best to live in. Oil boom during same period gave further impetus to this.
Come 2008 and economic troubles which started with USA slowly started gathering pace and engulfed the gulf also in it. Dubai had highest exposure to foreign funds and debts due to its growth story. Suddenly people started finding themselves out of jobs, salary cuts, falling real estate prices and no buyers. The exodus emanates from this. The laws on mortagage are very strict with any default on payment considered criminal and punishable by law. People started finding vanishing overnight as better option than looking forward to jail terms.
As such there is no official indication on actual state of affairs on economic turmoil, one can just guess looking at non-moving cranes on construction sites, mushrooming of “to let” boards on building which were turning away any possible tenent last year, continuous promotions in shops and malls, empty arrival terminal, easy availability of taxis without any increase in nos., reduction in traffic on roads, substantial drop in rentals and property prices. It is estimated that there would sizeable contraction in UAE population this year. Most of the people in construction industry are seeing bleak future for atleast 4-5 years now.
I do note that some of the indicators are bad but eventually Dubai would bounce back, it is matter of some time (may be few months or years).