Dubai is a symbol of the modern world, energy hungry, multinational and dedicated to consumerism and the pursuit of luxury. Thirty years ago it barely existed, a minor port in the Arabian Gulf; one of the less significant of the United Arab Emirates. Today it boasts the World’s tallest building, the tallest hotel and one of the busiest international airports.
Location is everything in retail and Dubai sells itself to investors and consumers by being slap bang in the middle between the high growth economies of the East and the old economies of the West. Just seven hours from London and eight from Shanghai with a liberal attitude to incoming money and people Dubai proves, like Las Vegas, that you can make something out of nothing. Emirati natives make up a mere 20% of the population of 2.2 Million, with a male/female ratio of 3:1. This small country runs on ex-pat labour from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia with significant cash flowing out to support families back home. I met with three academics at a partner university – a Sudanese professor, an Iraqi associate dean and a Syrian lecturer. My taxi driver was Nepalese, the hotel receptionist was Kenyan and the belly dancer at our evening entertainment hailed from Brazil.
The UAE realised about 20 years ago that a modern and growing economy has to import money and labour to thrive and survive. Dubai has done this in a spectacular fashion. Property prices boomed and then crashed, and are slowly recovering. The streets are choked with luxury vehicles. I have never seen so many Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, Range Rovers and other high-end brands. The majority are British brands as Dubai is very UK centric. The three academics had all been educated in the UK – Bristol, Hull and Manchester and had remained loyal to my country ever since.
Dubai is an artificial construct, completely dependent on air conditioning as the temperatures soar to 50C with desperate humidity during the summer months, rising out of the desert sand in a mere 20 years. It is in stark contrast to the UK which seems to be pulling up the drawbridge and making itself as unattractive as possible to overseas labour, blaming foreigners for all of its ills instead of seeing the energy and enterprise that they can bring. It is a mere 2,500 miles from Clacton- upon- Sea to the exploding economy and golden sands of Dubai, but it might as well be on a different planet. The North Sea is no longer the World’s trading basin, that honour has shifted to the Indian and Pacific oceans.
If we are not careful we will be left far behind.