Over the past 15 years or so I’ve been coming back and forth to Dubai and the Gulf region a few times each year. We organised our construction masterclasses in most of the countries here. I’ve been incredibly lucky that my job has, and continues to allow me to see these fascinating places.
A phenomenal amount has changed over the years.
I can recall the very first time Keith Pickavance and I tried to organise a conference out here in 2001. There were very few communication networks and very little in the way of structured marketing or CPD events. We returned in 2006 and things were picking up. The Fairmont hotel was the latest and finest hotel in town. The marina and metro line were glints in Sheikh Khalifa’s eye. Hill International’s Dubai office had been there for years. As one of the first Western companies into the region they were based in the old town, Deira.
Now, as you fly down the Sheikh Zayed Road on the spotlessly clean and efficient Metro line, surrounded by skyscrapers and incredible feats of engineering, there are few remnants of old Dubai left. One notable old novelty is the ‘Emirates Macaroni Factory’. A squat industrial monolith it refuses to shift, nestled in a sea of shining steel and glass.
The region is fascinating. From the beauty and friendliness of Oman and Muscat, to the hedonism of Dubai and the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Each has its own challenges and its own opportunities.
On this month’s visit I couldn’t help wondering what next for Dubai? It seems it’s pretty much finished. With preparations for the construction of Expo 2020 continuing apace, how can the Emirate which has seen so much transformation keep going? Can it re-invent itself again? Can it find the next big thing?
One thing is for sure, the Emirates and Dubai are extremely shrewd. The creation of a huge international hub in Dubai airport, now fifth busiest in the world was no accident. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for DP World highlights the Emirate’s cunning grip on world trade.
Only time will tell what will happen next. Cranes on the horizon seem to be diminishing in number. Yet, it seems there’s now a level of growth and commerce here which should sustain a lot of industry for some time to come.
Political issues arise of course. Travel to Qatar is a lot more complex than when we first came here, and Iran is just across the water of course. But with growth and development come changes in culture. A shift which has been notable is the change (albeit gradual) in attitudes to different groups of people, women, cultures, etc. As the region changes and becomes more multicultural it seems almost inevitable that some (positive) aspects of that will rub off . It would be wrong to say it’s all sweetness and light, but Dubai is a very different and (in my view) better place now than it was in 2006. You never know, one day you might even be able to make a Skype call here…
Sincere thanks to everyone who over the years has supported our events and to those who recently showed me such hospitality on this visit.