FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Dubai: Dubai Means Business

Feb 1, 2009
2009 / February 2009

During a trip to Dubai a few years ago, I became unnerved when people gathered outside my hotel to stare intently at its very peak. I was staying at the spectacular Burj Al Arab, which fashions itself as more luxurious than a 5-star hotel. Designed to look like an enormous billowing sail, the building dominates the Dubai coastline. However, that morning it seemed to be drawing more than the usual attention.

But, no, there wasn’t anything dangerous or threatening going on a thousand feet up. This was Dubai, after all, and it was only Andre Agassi and Roger Federer playing tennis on the Burj’s helicopter pad. And it wasn’t a real match, just a flashy promotion for the upcoming Dubai Open.

Is this tiny, rich country — which sprang from the desert just a generation ago — Las Vegas meets Disneyland? It has glittering hotels (but no gambling because of Islamic law) and an indoor ski slope. It has beautiful beaches, golf courses and scores of gourmet restaurants. It has malls the size of small towns, some with more than 600 stores.

“I would describe Dubai as East meets West, or tradition meets the 21st century,” said Frederic Bardin, senior vice president of Arabian Adventures (www.arabianadventures.com), a destination management company that arranges everything from travel to conventions for visitors to Dubai.

There is still the souk along Dubai Creek, the waterway that made Dubai an important stop on the ancient Spice Route. There is still an ancient Bedouin culture. On the other hand, the buildings that have been rising almost weekly are world-class in design, construction and standards. Alongside the old architecture they create an interesting mix. As The Guardian said recently, “If you want to see the future, go to Dubai.”

That future includes the Palm Islands and the World Island — built on sand reclaimed from the gulf — luxury villages, the world’s tallest building and an infrastructure that aims to stay ahead of, not behind, growth.

The number of tourists, conferences, meetings and conventions has grown steadily over the past decade, and an increasing percentage of those visitors are American. In 2008, Dubai was the site for meetings of 29 major international associations, including the World Economic Forum, the World Association of Chefs’ Societies, the International Dental Congress, the Global Travel and Tourism Summit and the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

The meeting and convention business is a logical extension of Dubai’s economic strategy. It began developing in the decade after oil was discovered in the U.A.E. Dubai’s visionary ruling concluded that because oil was a finite resource, the country needed to use oil income to build a diversified economy, based on technology, tourism and transportation — creating a Singapore-like air and sea hub.

It is Dubai’s place on the map — convenient to both Europe and Asia — that drives its development. Each week, 120 airlines serve Dubai from more than 200 destinations. Emirates, the fast-growing hometown airline, has added nonstop service from San Francisco, Houston and New York. There is a large hotel capacity — as many guestrooms as San Francisco — with a wide range of prices.

So why go to the Middle East for a meeting? “Convenience,” said Arabian Adventure’s Bardin, “and safety. The U.A.E. is often rated the safest destination on the planet. And the service levels are at par with the best in the world.”

For a country where the native population follows Islamic law, there is also a relaxed, tolerant atmosphere. Foreigners need not cover up on the beach — and they don’t. You see bikinis and burqas side by side. Alcohol is served in hotels and hotel restaurants. And nearly 89 percent of those who work in Dubai hail from somewhere else.

In addition to the indoor ski slope, sports facilities include world-class golf courses — there is still enough dese rt to accommodate everything from eco-tours to four-wheel vehicle rallies to bird watching.

Dubai also offers year-round sunshine, though a bit too much in summer, when it can be broiling. However, temperatures in the winter range from 68 to 77 degrees; in autumn and spring the range is 86 to 95 degrees.

The Burj Al Arab’s all-suite property isn’t the only luxury hotel. Every major world brand is represented in Dubai, along with the Jumeirah International, the luxury brand it’s exporting to other countries.

Just as the number of meetings has grown, so has the capacity of local companies to provide services of every kind, from airport and cruise ship transfers to meetings in exotic desert locations — even creating an exotic desert setting inside a hotel ballroom.

Arabian Adventures, for example, owns ancient fort ruins which it uses for special meetings of up to 4,500 people. It offers other desert venues featuring tents of various sizes, all air conditioned during summer. The company has handled as many as 15,000 conference participants in one week.


CONVENTION CENTERS

DUBAI AIRPORT EXPO
This smaller facility has about 110,000 square feet of exhibition space, used mostly for trade and consumer start-up exhibitions, as well as office space inside the hall and extensive storage space outside. Multipurpose rooms can accommodate from 25 to 180 people. The facility offers a full range of services, including catering. Located just two minutes from the Dubai International Airport. tel 971 4 224 4422, www.dubaiairportexpo.com

DUBAI EXHIBITION CENTRE
This huge new venue is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in October. Typical of Dubai’s planning, it is being built near the new Al Maktoum International Airport (JXB), which is not yet open. Located 30 minutes from downtown Dubai and 90 minutes from Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Exhibition Centre will be the region’s first integrated business, event, trade and retail destination, providing a permanent home for many essential businesses as well as a meeting point for international executives. www.dwtc.com

DUBAI INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE
Located in the heart of the city, this massive state-of-the-art facility is just 15 minutes from Dubai International Airport (DXB). It is convenient to most of Dubai’s city hotels, although several hotels are also connected to the center. The DICEC opened with the 2003 annual general meeting of the International Monetary Fund and contains more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space. It offers full audio and video services, office and storage space, mobile food service stations, cafés and fine dining restaurants. The center’s 80 chefs can produce a five-course banquet for up to 6,000 people. The buildings, including an adjacent tower, reflect the most modern side of Dubai’s architecture. Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dicec.ae

OTHER VENUES
Many smaller venues and business services take advantage of Dubai’s location and resources. They include Al Boom Tourist Village (www.alboom.ae), Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club (www.dubaigolf.com), Emirates Golf Club (www.dubaigolf.com/egc), Dubai Internet City (www.dubaiinternetcity.com), Dubai Media City (www.dubaimediacity.com) and Dubai Knowledge Village (www.kv.ae).

MEETING HOTELS

BURJ AL ARAB
The 5-star hotel with its attention-grabbing architecture features duplex suites, butler service, lavish amenities and gold leaf everywhere. It attracts celebrities and world leaders as well as business travelers and conferences. Meeting rooms range from boardrooms to ballrooms to breakout rooms. The hotel is enhanced by its exceptional restaurants.$$$$
BURJ AL ARAB
Jumeirah Beach Road
tel 971 4 301 7777
www.burj-al-arab.com

CROWNE PLA ZA DUBAI FESTIVAL CITY
This 5-star property is connected to the Festival Centre along the banks of historic Dubai Creek, a short cab ride from the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. It features 316 guestrooms and suites as well as extensive conference facilities with 22 meeting rooms. The Festival Centre boasts 600 shops, restaurants, cafés and bistros.$$$$
CROWNE PLAZA DUBAI FESTIVAL CITY
Dubai Festival City
tel 971 4 701 1111
www.crowneplaza.com

HILTON DUBAI CREEK
On the water, this luxury hotel has 154 guestrooms as well as meeting rooms and an executive lounge. A selection of onsite world-class restaurants — including Verre by Gordon Ramsay — feature cuisine from Europe and the East.$$$$
HILTON DUBAI CREEK
Beniyas Road
tel 971 4 227 1111
www.hilton.com

HOTEL IBIS WORLD TRADE CENTRE DUBAI
This 3-star business economy hotel, connected to the International Convention and Exhibition Centre, has 210 spacious guestrooms, conference facilities, WiFi Internet access, two restaurants and two bars.$$$
HOTEL IBIS WORLD TRADE CENTRE DUBAI
Sheikh Zayed Road
tel 971 4 332 4444
www.ibishotel.com

HOTEL NOVOTEL WORLD TRADE CENTRE DUBAI
Connected to the International Convention and Exhibition Centre, this new 4-star luxury hotel has 412 guestrooms, eight meeting rooms for conferences and seminars, onsite restaurants and a fitness center.$$$$
HOTEL NOVOTEL WORLD TRADE CENTRE DUBAI
Sheikh Zayed Road
tel 971 4 332 0000
www.novotel.com

KEMPINSKI HOTEL MALL OF THE EMIRATES
This 5-star hotel is connected to the largest shopping center outside of North America. It features 393 guestrooms as well as conference facilities and a full range of fitness and leisure amenities. Hotel restaurants feature cuisine from around the world and entertainment. $$$$
KEMPINSKI HOTEL MALL OF THE EMIRATES
Sheikh Zayed Road
tel 971 4 341 0000
www.kempinski-dubai.com

SHANGRI-LA HOTEL DUBAI
This recently opened 5-star hotel in the heart of downtown is convenient to the Convention and Exhibition Centre. It has 301 guestrooms and features a number of dining options, including Shang Palace, the hotel’s acclaimed Cantonese restaurant.$$$$
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL DUBAI
Sheikh Zayed Road
tel 971 4 343 8888
www.shangri-la.com

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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