Dubai emerging leaner, stronger

Five months is a long time to be away from my home in Dubai  –  my second home, that is  –  and as we touched down at Dubai International, courtesy of Emirates Airlines, (probably the best airline anywhere), I wondered if things had really got as bad as the scare-stories would have us believe.

For the world’s media have certainly seized upon Dubai as the fallen idol of the Middle East  –  once, they wrote, ‘the byword for 21st century, futuristic architecture and unrivalled prosperity, the epitome of luxury and excellence’ – and now depicted as a ghost town of empty shops and restaurants, and huge deserted building-sites topped by motionless  cranes.

Generally, I have tried to keep these stories in proportion, assuming that the media would take the opportunity of exaggerating them into a new mythology of hubris and nemesis.

Knowing the Dubai business world as I do  –  from the major internationals to the local corner-shops, and from CEOs to taxi-drivers  –  I did not believe that these resilient people would lose heart to that kind of degree.

Even the reported mass-flight of the expats sounded highly exaggerated. When our plane landed, I’d already made a note to look at the airport car-park. Was it really littered with abandoned Mercedes and Lamborghinis left over from the boom, as their owners fled home? Well, not that I could see!

Next stop was my usual check-in at the Royal Home Hotel Apartments in Bur Dubai, where my welcome was as effusive as ever. No sign of low morale there. However, the view from my window did show the building site opposite, as unchanged since last time, confirming the real-estate slump.

Then for lunch at the Kamat Indian restaurant nearby which, I reckoned, would probably be as good a barometer of trading conditions as any. The classic aroma of fresh lime pickle and saffron was as wholesome as ever, signalling business as usual  –  or nearly so, said the manager, as business was maybe down a little but was now steadily increasing again.

Hope of the future

And then to work  –  my first assignment was a presentation to Dubai Internet City Toastmaster’s Group, on ‘Using the Internet to gain Business’. No sign of pessimism here, but a group of local business people full of enthusiasm for the growth of the local economy. This worldwide leader of communication and leadership development celebrated 85 years in business this week, having taken quite a few recessions in its stride, and it was an honour and a pleasure for me to address them.  Next stop would be the Women in Leadership conference at the Atlantis …

Travelling back to the hotel along the Sheikh Zayed Road (noting in passing that the new Metro does not seem to have had much effect on the traffic congestion), my vision is inevitably dominated by the awesome Burj Dubai, due for completion in December, apparently supremely unaffected by the recent recession.

But of course the Burj is something more than just real-estate. It’s a symbol of everything Dubai stands for, and it truly represents the hope of the future. When I consider the sheer extent of the teamwork and technical expertise that must have gone into this great engineering miracle, I am reassured that Dubai has what it takes to survive the recession and emerge triumphantly at the other end.

For it is not just Emiratis whose vision is dominated by the Burj, but the whole astonished world. Don’t believe what you may read abroad about Dubai failing to cope with its first recession. Dubai is emerging leaner and stronger – a miracle of faith, planning and the genius of the vision of HM Sheikh Mohammed.

Are you working in Dubai?  How is the recession affecting you?  In our readers comments box now…

[Reproduced with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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