DUBAI: City of the Future

By Habeeb Salloum

DUBAI -- Some 30 years ago Dubai was a nondescript place on the map of the Middle East. Today, the second largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates is a distinctive blend of a modern city and timeless desert, blending East and West. This metropolis literally stuns a traveller with its fascinating kaleidoscope of colours and contrasts. A leading centre of business and tourism in the Middle East and the economic heart of the United Arab Emirates, it offers visitors the exotic past wrapped in a modern package of fashionable malls, glass skyscrapers and multi-lane highways.

Located on the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf between Europe and the eastern Orient Dubai has been a meeting place of people since ancient times. A leading trading hub, this once sleepy Arabian Gulf town has transformed recently into one of the most opulent cities in the world. However, with a culture deeply rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia, the city still retains its unique Arab flavour and personality evolved to fit into an international lifestyle.

Combining a 21st century aura with the unique charm, mystery and hospitality of traditional Arabia, Dubai's some 1,000,000 inhabitants live in a dynamic and expanding ultra-modern urban centre, defusing an air of oriental splendour. This eastern lure plus its tourist facilities, oozing with modern comfort and conveniences, have made it a focal point for an ever-increasing number of vacationers.

All this change was due to the far-sighted vision and determination of its rulers, especially Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Dubai and Minister of Defence of the United Arab Emirates, to initiate fast-track world-class infrastructure developments on the back of the oil boom. In the past four decades, Dubai underwent phenomenal economic and demographic growth transforming it from a small trading port to a major economic, trading, tourist and financial centre.

No nation in our times has been transformed in such a short period of time. Airplanes and some of the best superhighways in the world have replaced dhows and camel trails as means of transportation. Skyscrapers and other mega structures have erased the once mud huts and nomad tents. It is a fantasyland come true - a spic and span metropolis luring tourists and businesspeople - and Dubai tourist officials are making sure this trend continues.

Today, some of the world's most noted landmarks pepper the skyline including the world's tallest freestanding hotel, world's third tallest officer tower, world's tallest all-residential tower, and world's longest pedestrian bridge between two buildings.

Visionary ideas for many megaprojects are being quickly implemented as Dubai works its way to become the world's premier 'nation resort'. The country's officials dream big, and it seems always realize their dreams. Their achievements have been responsible for the prestigious Financial Times publication, fDi Magazine to name Dubai as the 'Middle Eastern City of the Future'.

All this activity has sent this throbbing heart of the United Arab Emirates into an unstoppable building boom as represented by the Palm Islands - three partially completed enormous manmade islands resembling palm trees that will add some 520 km (323 mi) to Dubai's coastline. One of the most important building sites in the world, the Palm Islands project is mind- boggling in its scope that can only be described as a legend in the making. It is a fantastic conception - islands, resembling palm trees, rising from the sea as if by magic to change forever Dubai's skyline. Self-declared the 'eighth wonder of the world', they are, besides the Great Wall of China, the only manmade structure that can be seen from outer space. One of these islands has been completed and the other two are due in the next few years.

Keeping pace with these gigantic creations are 'The World's Islands,' a series of 300 manmade islands, covering an area 7 by 9 km (4.4 by 5.6) and positioned strategically to form the shape of the globe's continents. Each island will vary in size and shape. The project will be completed in 2008 and will cater to the elite residential and tourist markets. A person who buys an island can build whatever they fancy as long as their plans do not conflict with the country's laws.

Even more intriguing and seemingly out of the fantasy world, Ski Dubai Snow Park is the first snow playground in the Middle East. An indoor sports resort due to be completed in 2006, it will offer besides skiing, all types of winter sports. The cornerstone of the entertainment and leisure complex, 'Mall of the Emirates', the most exciting retail and leisure complex in the Arab world, it will bring the snow of the north to the hot desert sands.

Adding more fairytale aura to these 'Believe it or Not' projects is a luxury under-water hotel, whose building, for now, has been put on hold. It will be anchored off shore 20 m (76 ft) below the surface and will be only accessible by a 520 m (1,700 ft) transparent tunnel via a shuttle train and will be the only under-water luxury hotel in the world.

Atop ground, spectacular wordclass hotels, many the ultimate in luxury, are springing up everywhere. The six or seven star, depending on to whom one talks, Burj Al Arab, shaped like a mammoth sailboat and towering 400 m (1,312 ft) high, is called the most luxurious hotel in the world. However, it is being challenged by the two boutique hotels of the next-door Madinat Jumeirah, an extensive Arabian theme-leisure complex oozing with traditional architecture, more spectacular than any the world has seen in the last quarter century.

Still under construction, Burj Dubai, the world's largest habitable tower with its motto "History Rising", will rise 350 m (1,148 ft), making it the tallest building in the Middle East. Even more grand is the 4 billion $U.S. Dubai Marina complex of apartment and hotels, which, when completed, will house a community of 75,000. Driving around this massive construction site, one is mind-boggled with the enormity of the project.

There seems to be no end to colossal projects. Dubailand, Dubai's answer to Disneyland, a massive $5 billion US shopping mall with 50 hotels and a theme park as well as an artificial rain forest under an enormous glass dome is slated to open in 2008. In addition, nearing completion, among others in the next few years are: the Dubai Festival City - a retail and entertainment centre; the Lost City, - a re-recreation of a series of old lost cities from different parts of the ancient world; Dubai light rail, a futuristic project, aimed at curing the city's traffic ills: and in the works is Dubai Healthcare City aimed at turning Dubai into a global hub for specialized healthcare where patients will recover in an atmosphere of a five star hotel.

Dubai's building frenzy to boost investment and tourism with grandiose projects, climaxed this year when plans were unleashed to begin work on a gigantic waterfront development at Jebel Ali. A beachfront landmark, it will be larger than Manhattan and form the first phase of a larger project that will include Madinat Al Arab (City of the Arabs) and the 75 km (47 mi) Arabian Canal - the world's largest manmade canal.

Like the legendary and beautiful Arabian horse, Dubai is galloping ahead on its competitive tracks with a grace that dazzles the world. According to Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman, Manager of Media Relations at Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, 'these massive projects are only the beginning. There will be many more'.

Due to heavy incoming traffic, Dubai International Airport has become one of the fastest growing airports in the world. The award winning Emirates Airline, Dubai's star emblem, is expanding by leaps and bounds, bringing masses of tourists to this playground of the Arabian Gulf.

The Dubai's Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Director General, Mr. Khalid bin Sulayem, when discussing tourism in Dubai remarked: "Tourism has been shaping our economy and contributed enormously in giving new directions of growth and expansion for Dubai. As far as we could see, the future appears bright."

When visitors reach Dubai, they will find the city super modern, spotless - a model metropolis with uncrowded, clean sandy beaches, no taxes, free health care, virtually no crime and countless modern shopping malls, making it a shopper's paradise. Its population consisting of some 150 nationalities, makes it a cosmopolitan world city of unmatched excellence.

For recreation, both expatriates and tourists, golfing has become a Dubai speciality. There are now seven courses almost all created in the style of Americas' best golf resorts and more are on the way - there are five more planned in the next two years. The Emirates Golf Club, home of Dubai's Classic, has hosted such famous golfers as Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Mark O'Meara. The thousands of affluent Europeans and North Americans working in the country and golf addicted tourists, ensure that this sport will live on and even increase.

For others, riding the sand dunes in the desert or taking a tour on an ancient dhow, shopping in the countless malls or traditional souks, and dining on the food of the world or on the traditional cuisine of the Arab Gulf countries are choices visitors are offered - and the options are increasing regularly.

In the words of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, entrepreneur extraordinaire and the driving force behind most of Dubai's grand projects, "What I achieved for Dubai is only 10 per cent of my vision."


photo: Habeeb Salloum

If You Go:

Dubai has regular daily flights worldwide. Some 106 airlines operate from the city. The airport has been expanded and has become one of the world's inter-continental transit centres, processing some 22 million passengers. By 2010 visitors are expected to reach 60 million.

Most western European, American and Canadian citizens can enter the UAE without a prior visitor's visa. They can obtain their visas at the entry points. Autos rent at a reasonable price. A small auto, fully insured, costs about $30. per day - less if you bargain.

The U.S. dollar is equal to 3.67 UAE dirhams. The rate has remained the same for over two decades. Exchange cash or traveller cheques at the money exchangers - they do not take commission.

A great way of seeing Dubai is to take a tour of the Creek by traditional dhow. Some of Dubai's major landmarks can be viewed from this waterway.

Major international hotel chains are well represented in Dubai with many other reasonably priced accommodations. The best time to visit is from mid January to mid February during the month-long 'Shopping Festival' with its street parties as well as its shopping sales and bargains.

No travellers should leave Dubai without going on a desert safari with its sand duning, camel riding and desert feast.

For other activities, attend some of the horse racing and camel racing events held during the cool winter months.

Dubai is a shoppers' dream world. The most popular gifts visitors take back home are: Arabian coffee pots, silver and wooden miniature dhows, gold jewellery and Persian carpets.

Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars.

For Further Information, Contact: Government of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Tel: (971 4) 223 0000. Fax: (971 4) 223 00 22. E-Mail:; website:

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All text & photos 2002-10.