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Dubai rises from the champagne coloured desert dunes like a shimmering mirage – there’s an air of unreality, as if its gleaming towers and glittering palaces could float into the air, or back into the lamp of some hyperactive genie. It’s a phenomenon: the first truly 21st century city, breathtaking in its modernity and creative energy, bursting onto the world stage and taking everyone by surprise. Just how did this dizzy desert upstart emerge out of the sands to captivate the world?
Dubai is the vision of the remarkable Al Maktoum dynasty – probably the most wildly successful ruling family in modern times. Their story begins in 1833, when Sheikh Maktoum bin Buti and around 800 followers moved from Abu Dhabi to set up trading in Dubai. At that time Dubai was a sleepy desert outpost perched on the banks of the Creek, where boats sailed up from the Arabian Gulf to sell their wares. The arrival of the Al Maktoums changed everything. Their drive, ambition, and business acumen transformed Dubai into a top trading port, attracting merchants from as far afield as India, Africa and Persia. Along with trade, Dubai’s pearl industry flourished and was a major source of wealth until the invention of
But Dubai’s big moment came in 1966, when oil was discovered. The petrodollars poured in, but instead of squandering the cash on palatial palaces and fleets of Rolls Royces, the visionary Al Maktoum rulers invested in Dubai. They created a viable infrastructure and set long term goals for the city’s development. Creating stability in the region was one of these goals. Working closely with former trade rivals Abu Dhabi and other Emirates, in 1971 the group decided to band together as one political entity, the United Arab Emirates. The policy has been a great success, enabling the region to prosper.
Because Dubai’s oil supply was limited (unlike next door Abu Dhabi, whose oil reserves are vast), they needed other means of creating wealth to sustain growth. With its sunny climate, beautiful beaches and welcoming culture, tourism was an ideal choice, initially promoted by offering duty free shopping as an incentive. But Dubai needed a symbol of its desire to be one of the world’s top travel destinations.
All great cities have a great hotel to represent it. In 1999 the Burj Al Arab was
opened to huge acclaim. Its remarkable billowing sail structure and exceptional standards of luxury made it unique – so much so that it was billed as the ‘world’s only 7 star hotel’. Dubai had arrived.
Today Dubai stands as a symbol of stability and prosperity in the Middle East.
It is also one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities: 80% of its population is
expatriate, with people from more than 200 countries living and working together in pursuit of their dreams. As their dynamic ruler Sheikh Mohammed himself puts it, ‘To dream of the future is one of the most beautiful things in life. We are not content only to dream, we also work hard, because our ambitions are great and so are our dreams.’
Dubai is also one of the world’s fastest growing cities, so if you wonder why parts of town resemble a giant building site, here’s why: in the next ten years Dubai plans to evolve into the greatest tourist destination on the planet, the financial powerhouse of the Middle East and an active presence on the world stage. The sheer scale of the projects is astounding, involving billions of dollars and the creative vision of some of the world’s most talented designers, architects, futurists and entrepreneurs.
For visitors, Dubai is a master of seduction, with a genuine desire to please.
Whatever your holiday fantasy, chances are you’ll find it here, with hotels, dining, nightlife and shopping to rival the best anywhere. Dubai combines an ancient Arabic culture and history with the latest trends. In minutes you can travel from post-modern skyscrapers to timeless sand dunes, hip beach bars to Bedouin tents. Where else can you go snorkelling in the morning, ski down snowy slopes in the afternoon, enjoy a camel ride into the desert at sunset, then have a Michelin-starred meal in the evening, and dance ’til dawn to the hottest DJ at a nightclub? Dubai is an almost surreal experience. Like a story out of 1001 Nights, her kaleidoscopic mix of experiences is an adrenaline rush to the senses.
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