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Dubai or Bust ?

Dubai Marina  looking Sth WestDubai the City State in what used to be the Trucial States on the Gulf of Oman, the land of Sun, Sand, Sea, 7 Star Hotels, Every type of Exotic Car and chunky motor bike one can imagine, the World’s fastest growing International Airline, Emirates, routinely flying the new A380 double decker planes to London, Australia, USA. Gold plated cars, Air conditioned bus stops, mobile phone aerials built to look like Palm Trees , Endless spectacular shopping malls, what is claimed to be the world’s biggest with 1300 stores opened in December 08 (as did three others in December! Joining the many already in existence yet another opens next month) Claims to have one fifth of the worlds construction cranes and pile drivers in use building remarkable tower blocks including when it opens in September The World’s tallest building the Burj Dubai (which it is claimed will have a telescopic spire at the top to ensure it retains the title as long as possible or least until the next to be built in Dubai and already announced, the Dubai City Tower at 2,400metres or in English 1.5 miles high!) Aside the Burj Dubai readers will be familiar with the iconic ships sail shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel, Burj incidentally is Arabic for Tower, the World’s tallest hotel the whole building being hotel accommodation unlike many other tower blocks where only a portion of the floors maybe given over to hotel space. The Gold Souk where it claims to have 2.5 tons of gold on display at any one time in the form of jewellery and small bars for those that want to secure their savings. Trays of cakes in many of the top hotels come with a sprinkling of real gold leaf as part of the trimmings.

But...................... The reality is slightly different certainly everything above does exist and can be seen as the City is not that large but Dubai is not without its problems. It is a town of extremes those that have and they really do have and those that do not living out of town in labour camps, a real third world existence surrounded by this glamour.

A little over thirty years ago Dubai was a small pearl fishing port when the various Sheikhs who led the seven Trucial States decided to band together and form the United Arab Emirates with the Capital being Abu Dhabi. Dubai as one of the smaller City States, with a limited amount of oil reserve decided to commit to developing Dubai as a holiday destination and international financial centre. With only ninety kilometres of coast there was an immediate problem but the solution was to build more so The Palm Island Jameriah with the Jabel Ali Island under construction and an off shore development called the World, a grouping of manmade islands set out in the Shape of the World and its various continents. These developments as they complete will extend the coast line to several hundred kilometres offering almost endless water side development. Complementing this if complementing is the right word are newly excavated inland water channels referred to as canals again surrounded by spectacular housing towers, I have a very nice flat on the 29th floor in one of these fortunately, as property is very expensive be it purchase or rental , supplied by my client, looking out on the canal, Dubai Marina and views across the Palm Island to the Atlantis Hotel of spectacular firework display fame when launched in October 08.

Realistic figures in the land of hyperbole are difficult to come by but at a simple level Dubai has a total population of +/- two million of these 80% are expatriates of which the larger part are Asian and Philippino who provide the labour force either as building site labour or fronting the service sector as house staff, maids, restaurant waiters etc. The town was full pre the financial crash, contributing to dreadful traffic problems, aggravated by the endless very basic white bus’s ferrying the Asian male labour force between massive labour camps out of town and the many and various building projects where these men labour twelve hour days in temperatures that can in the summer exceed fifty degrees and rarely drops below thirty degrees in the winter.

As a consequence of this huge and rapid expansion, I am constantly being told by locals where ever I am that a few years ago where I am now standing was desert. Dubai is full of dichotomies, the infra structure has not kept up so mains sewage is limited resulting in tanks requiring pump out and the truck drivers providing this service having to Q for up to twenty four hours to discharge their loads at the one sewage plant. This Q being one of the Dubai sights when leaving town for the sand dunes and one of the tourist activities, Four Wheel Drive Dune Bashing. What about fresh water I hear you ask, well strangely there is no limit, just along the coast out of town are gigantic sea water desalination plants, the salt, a side product being one of Dubai’s export activities. Roads are difficult, as with any seaside town the set-out is linear and consequently the traffic runs north south. Currently this net work is undergoing huge change to try and alleviate the traffic jams. In conjunction with the road works and further adding to the problem a comprehensive driverless Metro system is being fast track developed at a cost of 9 billion Dirham (5.5 dirham approx to the £) Driving standards are questionable particularly from in my experience and local press reporting on the part of the Asians and speeding despite mass’s of speed cameras is derigueur. As a consequence road deaths average almost one a day with crashes being very spectacular. Many of these crashes are Emirate Youths who have and drive cars way over their capability. It is said that the Labour Buses race one another to benefit on board gambling with the periodic crash adding to the thrill?.

Dubai Marina looking NthSo why am I here? Having a background that has taken in the management of theatres, concert halls arenas and stadiums I have one of the most diverse building management careers and an interesting Little Black Book of contacts as a consequence. Some years ago I branched out on my own offering that experience and my contacts to the benefit of others business’s. So I undertake Interim Management, Programming, Marketing, all sorts of operational issues and business planning. I don’t advertise my services but rather rely on word of mouth and recommendation which I am glad to say has been more than enough to keep me busy on a wide variety of leading venue activity in the UK and occasionally abroad. Even as I write this in Dubai I have two other projects running which I am able to deal with electronically but it does make things difficult some times as sods law will apply there will be time/delivery clashes. In that curious way but fortunately for me that the grapevine works, last summer I received a call from a Lebanese gentleman in London researching experienced expertise that could aid his development of a new events venue in Dubai. We met in a Mayfair office, the base for a well known promoter, the next day and agreed terms and the necessity for me to meet the completion of what I was doing at the time and a month later I was in Dubai on a research visit and have been here apart trips home ever since.

The UAE does have theatres there are two in Dubai seating around 500 and in Abu Dhabi three more, one seating 1200 plus two 500 seats. All have fabulous no expense spared auditoriums but rather restricted stages. Programme consists of a mixture of UK tours such as Birmingham Stage Company and Shakespear4Kidz plus shows that are produced in the UK just for the Middle East market. Pop and Rock does visit the UAE, Iron Maiden were here last night, Fatboy Slim two days ago, James Blunt and Cold Play will be here soon and there are of course lots of Asian Bollywood and Philapino shows. All the large scale shows take place outdoors but the available sites are very limited and because of the heat have to be seasonal as from Mid May to Mid September it is too hot.

The Dubai Palladium will open shortly and be the first purpose built large scale events venue in the Middle East. With full air conditioning the Palladium in different formats will offer tiered seated concert capacity up to 3,000, a standing capacity up to 6000 supported by a double purchase full flying stage tower of twenty-five metres with an adjustable stage floor area 25metres x 60metres. Dressing rooms and other necessary support space for a full range of staged performances. The seating on three levels can be electrically stored offering a clear span floor area of 2,500 sq metres for niche exhibitions or social functions with a dining capacity up to 1500. Other facilities include three restaurants, one Mediterranean themed, one a more casual cafe and the third a fine dining experience all individually staffed and operated by the Jabel Ali Hotel group. Further FOH space accommodates two exhibition/hospitality/meeting rooms. There is a mezzanine floor below the auditorium and above the underground car parking that holds a full suite of rooms that will operate principally as a conference and meeting centre. Ticketing in the UAE is rather basic and due local tax regime unnecessarily complex, we hope that the Palladium will be able to introduce a western ticketing service with a full range of purchase routes and fully auditable sales records.

The programme will be everything and anything that can fit the technical capabilities and which has an audience potential that makes it viable, with a various diverse population that is likely to range across western artistes and productions as well as Arab, Indian and far Eastern shows as they surface. To further aid the Palladiums financial performance there are a range of high quality offices for lease by local business.

As the Palladium opens I will return to the UK and other projects, give me a call if you need my unusual expertise.

Oh! And I forgot to mention the jeweller s I walk by every day which has a ladies evening wear waistcoat knitted in 24 carat gold! Rather at odds with the man I also pass sweeping sand, surely out here, a job for life!

RWE March 09

Footnote

Roger wrote this in early 09 in response to a request from a UK Industry Association on noting his email address for some observations on his Dubai experience for inclusion in a members newsletter. During his time in the UAE he saw the fantastic Dubai boom up until Christmas of 08, followed in the New Year by very rapid close down of the very many speculative building projects and huge reduction in the labour force as the World Crash took hold. Despite the crash Roger’s project continued its build until he returned to the UK in mid 2010 having completed his role in the development of the Dubai Palladium. He says that he enjoyed his time in the UAE, found it a very interesting experience in third world development but that he has two words of advice for anyone interested in Dubai “don’t bother” It is an over hyped destination full of pretence, doubtful standards with everything overpriced, and the Palladium? As with so much in Dubai proved unsustainable and soon closed to be sold but has remained closed . 

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