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    Jo Hopworth on Justice For Natalie – Na…
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    • Criminal Complaint filed against Al Fajer Properties Sheikh Maktoum
      Criminal Complaint filed in Germany against Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Juma Al Maktoum CEO of Dubai Developer Al Fajer Properties The Dubai Sheikh who mislead and extort a German Couple  Germany – Dubai 2011 A German elderly couple , today 80 + 50 years old who have been Dubai Tourists since a decade, bought in 2005 an apartment at Nakheel´s Dubai Residen […]
    • UAE: Human Rights Blogger, Sorbonne Lecturer Charged With ‘Humiliating' Officials
      source Human Rights Watch www.hrw.org (Beirut) - The United Arab Emirates attorney general should immediately drop all charges against five pro-democracy activists to halt their trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The charges of "humiliating" top officials relate solely to the defendants' peaceful use of speech to criticize the UAE governmen […]
    • Nakheel Dubai Sunland Case
      June 5, 2011After 21 hearings, Chris O'Donnell, the Australian chief executive of Dubai's major developer, Nakheel, came to the defence of his former colleagues Matthew Joyce and Marcus Lee. Mr Joyce and Mr Lee are accused of profiting from the sale of land that had been earmarked for a colossal high-rise development, which was to include the futur […]
    • Dubai Nakheel CEO decided to leave the company
      Dubai June 7, 2011 Nakheel said on Wednesday that its CEO Chris O'Donnell had left the company "after completing his contract terms". O'Donnell, an Australian who joined the developer in 2006, said he had decided to leave Nakheel following five years spent with the company, the statement added. O'Donnell has overseen a traumatic time […]
    • Owner of Dubai Developer Damac Hussain Sajwani files case against Egypt corruption ruling
      Dubai property developer Damac said on Tuesday it had filed an international arbitration case against Egypt over a land dispute and the conviction of its chairman and owner, Hussain Sajwani.A Cairo court last week sentenced Sajwani in his absence to jail and ordered him to pay a $40.5 million fine in connection with his 2006 purchase of land at Egypt's […]
    • Dubai Palm Jumeriah - Investors plan to take legal action
      Investors in Dubai Palm Jumeirah’s Golden Mile complex will this week serve the developer behind the project with a legal ultimatum to hand over their units or issue them with a refund.Up to ten investors in the luxury complex plan to issue Souq Residences with legal notice in a bid to force a resolution to a dispute that has been ongoing for more than a yea […]
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FT.com / World – Tourists bring in money – and a cultural clash

Posted by 7starsdubai on October 5, 2008


FT.com / World – Tourists bring in money – and a cultural clash

By Simeon Kerr

When the airline Emirates was ramping up its business in the 1990s, management suggested to Dubai’s rulers that they should build hotels on its pristine beachfront. The rulers, it is said, scratched their heads and wondered why anyone would pay to come to a harsh, desolate desert.

More than a decade on and Dubai has led the charge in developing itself as a tourism destination. As the emirate has realised that its limited oil reserves will soon dry up, tourism now accounts for a third of the city-state’s economy.

But as the summer heat grips the Gulf, hotels are slashing rates in a bid to fill rooms as cities turn into ghost towns. A week-long package at a top beach hotel is now cheaper than a scheduled return flight. Packs of bejewelled men from northern Europe now prowl the shopping malls sporting football tops. Local wags, playing on a British word for such downmarket types, dub it the summer chavalanche.

Even if Dubai’s “luxury lifestyle” has become more affordable for aspirational British holidaymakers, hoteliers say this summer is one of the worst in recent years.
Occupancy and room rates are way down, they say.

Many Gulf tourists have fled to Beirut as political tensions have eased.

Geneva and London are thronging with increasingly wealthy Arabs escaping climates such as Dubai’s for the temperate climes of Europe.

Oman is chasing upmarket tourists who want to experience the mud forts of “real Arabia”, or those who would rather trek across craggy mountain ranges than wander Dubai’s malls. Abu Dhabi and Qatar are ploughing their hydrocarbon billions into art and architectural marvels, hoping to elevate their emirates into destinations for the culturati.

Even Saudi Arabia has said it will also develop a tourism industry albeit one catering specifically for Muslims, although stringent visa regulations hamper any meaningful growth beyond the Hajj pilgrimage and business travellers.

It is easy for tourism to seduce governments. States find quick returns on their investment and can rapidly develop their non-oil sectors, a barometer for economic sustainability. Local landowners, including ruling families, see real estate values sky-rocket. Oil companies may drive an economy, but they do not necessarily employ many people. In 2000 BP was one of the biggest investors in Algeria but the Algiers Sheraton hotel directly employed more locals than the oil company.

Only Oman has had much success corralling its nationals into tourism jobs. Bahrain is battling hard to fight a cultural resistance that sees families dissuade their children from working in hotels. Such a disinclination is not surprising. Many of Dubai and Manama’s three-star hotels are thought of as fleshpots, besmirching the reputation of the Gulf’s hospitality industry. Little wonder that Sharia- compliant, alcohol-free hotels are cropping up all over the region.

Dubai’s tourism vision is the grandest – and the most risky as it seeks to double the number of tourists who visit the emirate by 2015. The Palm Jumeirah has just opened, with dozens of resorts rising up on its fronds; two more Palms are set to follow, along with offshore islands and inland canal developments aiming to lengthen Dubai’s limited beachfront.

Then there is Bawadi, a development that is trying to portray itself as Las Vegas without the gambling. Dozens of geographically themed hotels, including the world’s largest, are planned in the desert. Next door, numerous theme parks, celebrating characters from Bob the Builder to the Marvel comic heroes, are targeting tourists from India, Pakistan and central Asia, as well as Europe.

To fill these rooms, a relentless drive downmarket is likely, as occupancy levels rather than margins rule the day. The effect is likely to be an uncomfortable clash of two very different cultures.

Dubai’s minority nationals are increasingly uncomfortable with the pace of change and the growing sense that they are strangers in their own land. The recent, highly publicised arrest of two Britons caught in flagrante delicto, following an alcoholic Friday brunch, is a graphic example of the excessive behaviour which breaks the taboos of a conservative local society.

The emirate has thrived through its adoption of that old Field Of Dreams wisdom: “Build it and they will come.”

But does the emirate really want them to come?

Do Dubai’s rulers understand what they are unleashing?

The writer is the FT’s Gulf business correspondent, based in Dubai
simeonkerr@gmail.com

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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