Dubai – multicultural, cosmopolitan and always expanding – is the focal point of the Arabian Gulf. Its rich history of business began centuries ago when it became a trading post on the well-trodden route between Oman and Iraq. Pearls were Dubai’s traditional source of wealth until the discovery of oil in the 1960s. With oil came investment, then wealth, then expansion. Dubai is now home to over two million people, drawn in by the diverse business scene, the incomparable leisure options, the shining sun, and the tax-free salaries. But with so much to do and see, you’ll need our handy guide to navigate the city.
When to go:
Dubai is warm all year and sun is likely whatever the month. However, summer can be overwhelming, with temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees Centigrade from June to September. Winter offers reprieve, with average temperatures around 20 degrees. Regardless, the city’s business facilities are well air-conditioned, so no need to worry about sweating inside your suit.
Fly into one of the emirate’s two impressive airports. Dubai International Airport is served by more than 145 airlines flying to more than 260 destinations across six continents. It is currently the world’s second busiest airport for international passengers, with almost 66.5 million in 2013.
October 2013 saw the opening of Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central. Currently Dubai’s second airport, Al Maktoum International aims to become the world’s largest airport, with an eventual capacity of 160 million passengers.
Once you’ve landed, get around the city on the Dubai Metro – a fast, convenient and, vitally, air-conditioned train system. Or if public transport isn’t your thing, try a reliable taxi from government-run Dubai Taxi Corporation. Look out for cars labelled DTC.
The area becomes habitable and nomadic peoples move in
Jumeirah becomes a caravan station on a trade route connecting what is now Oman and Iraq. Area is under control of Sassanid Empire
Umayyad dynasty moves into the area
The earliest written mention of Dubai, by Al-Bakri, an Andalusian Muslim explorer and historian
Al Abu Falasa dynasty of the Bani Yas tribe establish Dubai
Dubai breaks from Abu Dhabi, becoming a separate sheikhdom
Sheikh Maktoum signs business deal with the British. Dubai becomes British protectorate, granting tax exemption for foreign traders
Uprising, but new government only lasts a few months before sheikhdom is restored
Oil is discovered offshore in the Fateh field
Dubai exports oil for the first time with a shipment of 180,000 barrels
Britain leaves the Persian Gulf and the UAE is formed, with Dubai as a member
Government-owned Emirates National Oil Company opens Dubai’s first oil refinery
Work begins on the manmade Palm Islands
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum becomes Emir. He is credited with much of Dubai’s rapid expansion and economic success
Burj Khalifa opens – it is the world’s tallest skyscraper
Dubai wins bid to host World Expo 2020
Leisure in Dubai
From pre-historic ruins and ancient marketplaces to modern-day luxuries and mankind’s most innovative feats of engineering, Dubai is quickly establishing itself as the base of a proverbial cosmopolitan renaissance
What to see:
In the last two decades, Dubai has become synonymous with extravagant contemporary architecture, yet this ancient emirate has a rich heritage. This is evident in Dubai’s Bastakia Quarter. A winding maze of courtyard houses and wind towers built from coral and gypsum, the neighbourhood is home to an oasis of traditional Arabian souks. From fragrant spices to glittering gold, the open-air markets prove an intoxicating trip through time.
From there, stroll up to The Creek, a natural seawater inlet that cuts through the city. Along its banks, traditional dhows sell foreign goods from their holds, or offer romantic excursions across the harbour. To explore further, seek out the ancient Jumeirah archaeological site –one of the most significant historical sites in the Middle East, the well-preserved ruins date back to the third century AD when the Persian Sassanid Empire ruled the region.
Culture fans wishing to explore Dubai’s more recent cosmopolitan influences will find satisfaction at the Global Village – a sprawling entertainment pavilion, jam-packed with mouth-watering cuisine and local crafts.
What to eat:
In a city littered with world-class restaurants and Michelin-star chefs, it’s easy to get lost in a jumble of contemporary cuisine. Yet there are scores of tantalising Emirati eateries in Dubai, such as Bait 1971 or Al Fanar, where distinct local flavours are served in delectable dishes. One of the city’s most beloved courses is shawarma, a lamb dish accompanied by a colourful array of fresh vegetables and a spicy garlic sauce. Other staples include ghuzi – a distinct roasted lamb recipe exemplifying the core, earthy flavours of classic Emirati cuisine.
Klayya Bakery along Al Barsha is one of Dubai’s top bakeries, offering sweet breads and chai teas that pack enough punch for a day of sightseeing. For dinner, seek out Dubai’s top delicacy – stuffed camel. Boasting the Guinness World Record for the globe’s largest dish, Emirati camel is slow-roasted on a spit and stuffed with a combination of lamb, chicken, boiled eggs, fish and rice. Wash it down with erk soos, a black, bittersweet drink made from liquorice root and filtered for maximum smoothness – it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The traditional drink is typically associated with Ramadan but can be purchased year round.
Where to stay:
Navigating Dubai’s seemingly infinite accommodation options is no easy task. Thanks to sky-high demand and substantial foreign investment, new luxury hotels appear along the harbour every year. Yet for all the competition, there are several clear standouts.
The Burj Al Arab is one of the city’s most imposing hotels. Officially, there’s no such thing as a ‘seven-star hotel’, but the mythical rating has been bestowed upon the lavish Burj Al Arab regardless. The billow-shaped hotel is the world’s tallest, and its interior is awe-inspiring. Every inch is liberally adorned with gold leaf, and impossibly cavernous foyers give a grandiose aura. The hotel’s fleet of Rolls Royces and hourly firework displays are the icing on the cake. But be warned: the only way to gain entry into the hotel without buying a room is by booking a table at one of its countless eateries.
Across town, along Dubai’s renowned man-made palm island, sits the equally majestic Atlantis. The hotel’s imaginative architecture is reason enough to book a room. More importantly, the perfectly situated resort boasts some of the emirate’s top white beaches, multiple world-class spas and plenty of water rides to occupy younger guests. For those who prefer a quiet hideaway from Dubai’s sleepless city centre, desert escape Al Maha is the ideal choice. Nestled in a dramatic oasis southeast of the city, Al Maha is Dubai’s original dune retreat. The eco-friendly hotel proves a relaxing escape, and is adorned with all the lavish comforts one would expect to find in the inner city.
By 2016, it is estimated over 100 new hotels will provide an additional 29,000 rooms. Although hotels with five (and seven!) stars will always be popular here, Dubai is also expanding its three- and four-star offerings, catering for a wider segment of business and leisure travellers.
Dubai is also home to some of the globe’s most ambitious, cosmopolitan distractions. Ski Dubai is one such amusement. Situated in the city centre, Ski Dubai offers overheated visitors the opportunity to hit the slopes on its imposing indoor mountain. It offers everything from skiing and tobogganing to extreme sports. It even goes the extra mile by providing guests with their own winter clothing options – few visitors to the city will have packed a parka.
After your fill of snow, however, visiting one of the city’s immaculate, man-made islands is a necessity. The aptly named Palm Jumeirah archipelago was built in 2001 to provide guests with better access to world-class beaches. Now, they’ve got miles to choose from. Further inland, would-be racers can experience life in the fast lane at The Dubai Autodrome – a 5.39km circuit with eventual Formula One ambitions. Its ‘arrive and drive’ service lets guests get behind the wheel of single-seat racecars for a daylong crash-course in competitive driving.
No visit to Dubai is complete without a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa. At a whopping 828m, the world’s tallest building is an engineering marvel. Above the tower’s 124 floors, the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck offers breath-taking views unlike anywhere else on earth. Like the city it overlooks, the Burj Khalifa is an astounding testament to the region’s progressive atmosphere and its lofty ambitions.
Learn the language
How are you?
Do you speak English?
How do I get to?
Where is the bathroom?
Thank you (very much)
Can I see the menu, please?
The bill, please
hal TaTaKalam alanglizia
Kaeef yomKanany El Hosool ala?
Ayna Al Hamam
qā’imatu t-tacām, min fadlik
‘al-fātūra, min fadlik
Business in Dubai
Like its emirate cousins, Dubai rose to prominence in the oil boom of the 1960s. Its leaders accumulated vast wealth as a succession of offshore fields was discovered – at its peak, Dubai’s oil industry was pumping out 410,000 barrels per day. Although the emirate’s role in extraction and production is slowing – by 2030, experts reckon Dubai’s four billion-barrel reserves will have gone – that doesn’t mean Dubai will lose its leading role in the global oil sector.
Dubai’s peak oil production in barrels per day
The number of shipping lines connected by Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port
At firms such as Dubai Petroleum and Dragon Oil, focus has shifted from domestic production to international exploration. New fields in Tunisia, Iraq and the Philippines are being managed from Dubai – transforming the city into a vital trade link. State-owned Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) has taken particular interest in Dubai’s geographical advantages by shifting its business focus from refining to trade and storage. The firm has also established an up-and-coming shipping business.
Port-based trade and shipping now make up nearly a third of Dubai’s economic activity. In the last two years, government officials have made bilateral trade agreements allowing an unprecedented rise in exports passing through Dubai’s harbour. In the last five years, Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port has grown to become the largest container port between Rotterdam and Singapore. Connecting over 170 shipping lines, the port has allowed owners DP World to become one of the largest marine terminal operators in history. The port’s status as an entrepôt (duty-free) zone hasn’t hurt either, and by 2020 the $3.1bn business is expected to double its reach across the globe.
With impressive streams of revenue pouring into the emirate, it’s hardly surprising Dubai has established itself as a global leader in finance. Banking, trading and asset management now account for roughly 11 percent of the local economy.
The charge has been led by Emirates NBD. Although it suffered with the rest of the emirate after Dubai’s real estate bubble burst in 2009, there’s renewed momentum on the bank’s consumer side. First quarter profits were up 25 percent on 2013, and new acquisitions have boosted the bank’s wealth management business. Emirates NBD is now the largest bank in the Middle East in terms of total assets.
Equally important is Dubai’s trading activity. Established in March 2000, the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) has grown to become the Middle East’s top secondary market for local and international securities. Simultaneously, the recently formed Nasdaq Dubai dominates regional markets in the trading of equities, derivatives and Islamic financial products. Local commodity exchanges are equally dynamic. With over 600 tonnes of gold passing through every year, Dubai is now ‘the city of gold’. In turn, riches earned from the emirate’s thriving financial sector are funding Dubai’s infamously lavish real estate industry.
In 2004, government officials shifted investment towards infrastructure to safeguard the economy from overdependence on oil. Now, property and construction in Dubai account for nearly a quarter of its economy. Great building incentives have afforded city developers the chance to pursue adventurous feats of engineering, with gulf construction giant Arabtec Construction LLC leading the way. Arabtec is responsible for Dubai’s most awe-inspiring undertakings – from the man-made Palm Islands and the Burj Al Arab to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Where to entertain:
Dubai has a plethora of unique venues in which to wine and dine potential clients. A popular city spot is the Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Located in the city’s heart, close to the emirate’s top golf club, Jumeirah applies its five-star quality to its corporate suites. The palatial hotel boasts 12 boardroom-style meeting rooms alongside a number of outdoor venues – all of which are catered by Jumeirah’s 15 world-class restaurants. The hotel is perfect for a press launch or board meeting.
For a creative atmosphere, head up the road to Al Fattan Marine Towers. Within lies MAKE – the city’s top communal workspace. The minimalist interior, curvy shared desks and high-tech conference pods at this hybrid café and business hub are sure to get the creative juices flowing. For something more imposing, try Dubai World Trade Centre. With space for 12 to 12,000 people, the centre is ideal for professional expos. The venue can handle ostentatious entertainment (compete with pyrotechnics), boasts a team of 135 contemporary chefs, and will make a powerful business statement.
Investors in Dubai jump at an attractive portfolio, but would-be partners must observe rules of etiquette.
Dubai’s working week runs from Sunday to Thursday (although some people will still work a half-day on Saturday) so bear this in mind when organising meetings. Forward planning is a critical Islamic business principle – a pitch will be better received if presented as part of a well-defined agenda.
Refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol is served in some hotels and bars, but is not widely available, and public drunkenness is against the law. Shunning these habits during meetings demonstrates respect.
Western business attire is appropriate, but should remain conservative. Men should wear full-length trousers and sleeves, and women wearing skirts should pick items reaching below the knee.
Finally, efforts to speak Arabic won’t go unnoticed. When greeting a potential partner try the traditional Islamic greeting “Assalam Alaikum” or a pleasantry such as “Forsa saeeda” (nice to meet you). Above all, it’s essential that documents be translated into all relevant languages to ensure complete understanding between parties.