With a dynamic commercial environment and unmissable entertainment opportunities, the City of Gold has everything to offer the serious business traveller. Dubai has come a long way since its origins as a little village built on a mangrove swamp on the south-east coast of the Persian Gulf, inhabited by Nomadic cattle-herders.
If less than 20 years ago Dubai’s economy was heavily reliant on its oil reserves, today it is recognised as one of the biggest, most opulent and glitziest international centres of tourism – the seventh most-visited city in the world (more than 66 million visitors pass through the state-of-the-art Dubai International Airport annually), with the world’s fastest tourism growth rates. In fact, if the emirate’s tourist authority has its way, by 2020 Dubai will be the world’s premier tourist destination, overtaking the current title-holder, London, to draw some 20 million visitors every year.
Dubai is also a business success. The discovery of oil, the ‘black gold’, in 1966 and the creation of its own currency, the dirham, may have given it a leg-up, economically; however, subsequent factors such as a significant influx of foreign trade during the 1990s, the rise in oil prices, the recent development of free zones such as Dubai Internet City – and a pro-business government – are turning Dubai into a global centre for commerce and entrepreneurship and a dynamic host city for conferences and events.
In the fields of science and technology it is also fast becoming a recognised knowledge hub, making innovations in areas from software development to biotechnology and environmental engineering. Dubai had no universities 40 years ago, it now has over 70 – plus more than 25 international campuses, the highest number in the world, contributing to the 200-plus nationalities living and working in the city.
‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is the proposed theme for the 2020 World Expo, which Dubai successfully bid for the right to host last November. And creating the future is certainly something the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is committed to doing; the announcement of the DTCM’s ‘Tourism Vision for 2020′ at last year’s Arabian Travel Market being part of the emirate’s attempt to attract investment, maximise economic prospects and raise its international profile. Not that it needs much raising in the most literal senses; as evinced by the world’s tallest building, the 2,722ft-high Burj Khalifa, a cloud-puncturing skyscraper, it’s clear Dubai wants to make itself noticed.
And Dubai clearly means business – especially when that business is combined with pleasure. As Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, says: “It is not just that Dubai has one of the widest selection of retail brands in the world – it is the experience of shopping in Dubai for those brands.
Where else can you take a break from shopping to ski down an indoor mountain or swim with sharks? Our malls are destinations in their own right.” Both the New York Times and Trip Advisor agree, this year naming Dubai as a top destination to visit, with the latter awarding the city a Travellers’ Choice accolade.
As Kazim says: “The range of activities a visitor can do in one day is unparalleled.”
From a business tourism point of view, Dubai has everything to offer the events sector: a strong infrastructure network in a well-placed location; world-class conference space; and solid security – everything a premier business event destination needs on a safe and practical level.
Not only is public transport excellent here, but Interpol has also called the city one of the safest in the world. The Dubai Convention and Events Bureau (DCEB) is focused on establishing the emirate as a premier business tourism centre by helping to plan, organise and manage every aspect of an event.
Dubai makes things both easy and enjoyable the moment you step off the plane. There are 626 hotels (beach, desert or city-located) here, including the JW Marriott Marquis, Grand Hyatt Dubai, the gleaming Atlantis, and the Palm, and over 85,000 accommodation rooms; while the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, offering 90,000 sqm of meeting and exhibiting space, is located just 15 minutes from Dubai International Airport or a handful of stops on the Metro’s Red line.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s global positioning means business leaders are able to take direct flights from the city to more than 260 destinations, including many in Europe and the Americas. In this, DCEB is able to assist visitors every step of the way. Congress organisers can also take advantage of the Dubai Bid Alliance, which uniquely provides a bid package of pre-negotiated rates and specific discounts.
Those looking to be entertained are extremely well-catered for, too: whether that means diving headlong into the numerous water sports Dubai has to offer, grabbing a bargain at the Dubai Mall or following your nose at the exotic spice souks. Adrenaline-junkies might prefer to skydive over the Palm Jumeirah, or take in camel racing at the Al Marmoum Racetrack, before winding down in one of the world-class spas. While foodies and partygoers will savour the numerous restaurants serving everything from traditional Arabic to French and Mexican fare, and the vibrant nightlife respectively.
This captivating city really has everything – least of all year-round sunshine. As DCEB director Steen Jakobsen says: “Dubai is the number one business event destination in the Middle East. We aspire to grow our position to become a global hub for meetings, events, conferences and exhibitions.”