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The magic of Dubai

continues to attract investors and tourists

By Vinita Hirani

The Palm Jumeirah
Einheimischer Kunsthandwerker
Local Artisan

Spread across the banks of the historic creek – a natural body of fresh seawater that flows to and from the Arabian Gulf – Dubai has come a long way in the last five decades to become one of the best places in the world to live, work and enjoy life, since becoming part of the United Arab Emirates in December 1971.

The emirate, which is blessed with a 70-kilometre-long pristine beach with crystal clear waters lapping on the sandy beach every minute and with plenty of sand dunes deeper in the desert, which at one time was home to around 20 of the world’s 100 tallest skyscrapers, among 120,000 civilian structures that make up the urban fabric of this vibrant city called Dubai – a popular tourism destination known more for high-rise buildings, world-class infrastructure, luxury homes, yachts and the finest collection of luxury cars including and not limited to the Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Bugatti’s, Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s!

Dubai epitomises a perfect urban destination that hosts everything – from luxury homes, resorts, shopping malls, boulevards, one of the best utility providers, one of the world’s best airlines and airports and perhaps the best infrastructure that connects everything – all built within the last five decades, but mostly in the last 20 years, to be precise.

Al Seef - Old Dubai
Al Seef – Old Dubai
Die Dhow Cruise ist eine lokale Attraktion, die Touristen durch die 
Wasserstraßen von Dubai Marina führt
Dhow Cruise is a local attraction which takes tourists around the waterways in Dubai Marina

What the city or Dubai has achieved in the last 50 years, many countries would have taken a few centuries to achieve. It not only hosts one of the best man-made islands – the Palm Island – billed as the 8th Wonder of the World, it also hosts the tallest tower Burj Khalifa completed in 2010.

Looking back, Dubai’s tallest building in the 1960s was only a few storeys! When the 39-storeyed, 184 metres tall Dubai World Trade Centre was completed in 1979, it became the tallest building in the Middle East and Africa. Its inauguration was a matter of national pride, so much so that Queen Elizabeth II was invited to inaugurate this national treasure – the first building on Sheikh Zayed Road – that set the tone for the future developments. In Just 31 years, Dubai completed another landmark, Burj Khalifa, which is still the tallest tower in the world to date.

Der Dubai-Rahmen ist das neueste Bauwerk, das im Mittelpunkt der Skyline von Dubai steht. Der Dubai Rahmen bietet einen Blick aus der Vogelperspektive auf die berühmte und spektakuläre Skyline der Stadt, Sie können die Ansichten des alten und neuen Dubai erleben und sehen, wie sich die Stadt entwickelt hat
The Dubai Frame is the newest structure to take center stage in the Dubai Skyline, Dubai Frame provides a bird’s eye view of the city‘s famous and spectacular skyline, you can experience the views of Old and New Dubai and see how the city has evolved.

Although Dubai hosts more skyscrapers in a city than most mega-cities in the world, it still retains its age-old charm, the spice souk and the wholesale market in Murshid Bazar, the retail districts of Sabkha in Deira and the Meena Bazar on the Bur Dubai side, while the traditional wind towers of the Al Ras and Shindagha districts – reminds tourists of the life of yesteryears – the hardship and life without air-condition, power and even clean drinking water!

How did a former fishing settlement or small trading outpost become a global business, trading and financial hub? Looking at its economy, one would wonder more how this could have been achieved without a strong manufacturing or industrial base. How does one explain how Dubai’s non-oil foreign trade in the first half of 2021 jumped 31 percent to a whopping Dh722.3 billion, compared to Dh550.6 billion it recorded in the corresponding period in 2020?

Kamelritt in der Wüste der Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate
Camel ride in the UAE desert

There is only one explanation that one could think of – and that’s called ‘Vision-Driven Growth’. The emirate’s growth could only be attributed to its leadership and its vision. And it boils down to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a Sandhurst Military Academy alumnus, who at the age of 22, had become the world’s youngest Defence Minister of the UAE, in 1971.

Sheikh Mohammed had learnt the art of governance and development from the late Dubai Rulers – HH Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum, his grandfather and HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, his father – and prepared himself for the role. In 1985, he established Emirates Airline – the first international airline fully-owned by UAE royalty with US$10 million in seed funding – which went on to become the biggest driver of trade, business and tourism. The airline now carries more than 60 million passengers a year through Dubai and contributes more than 33 percent to Dubai’s roughly US$100 billion economy.

Die Dubai Metro - Dank des fortschrittlichen Schienennetzes der Stadt ist es einfach und schnell, sich in Dubai zu bewegen. Mit einer Länge von fast 90 Kilometern bietet die vollautomatische Dubai Metro eine effiziente Möglichkeit, die Stadt zu erkunden
The Dubai Metro – Getting around Dubai is quick and easy thanks to the city‘s advanced rail system. Spanning nearly 90kms, the fully-automated Dubai Metro presents an efficient way to explore the city.

In 1994, Sheikh Mohammed separated the business licensing from Dubai Municipality and created the Department of Economic Development to regulate the private sector, and launched the Dubai Quality Awards to promote the best business practices at an international level.

He launched Dubai Taxi Corporation and incorporated all the taxi cabs under one body, which was later placed under the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). However, Sheikh Mohammed’s biggest moment came when he was named Crown Prince of Dubai in 1995 – that gave him more power to bring changes to Dubai’s economy.

In 1996, he launched Dubai Shopping Festival and later Dubai Summer Surprises to help stimulate the retail sector and create attractions for shopping and tourism. In 1997, he launched Dubai Financial Market – the first stock market in Dubai.

Deira Clock Tower - Der Deira Clocktower, auch bekannt als Dubai Clocktower, ist ein historisches Denkmal an der Kreuzung von Umm Hurair Road und D89.
Deira Clock Tower- Fondly known as the Dubai Clocktower, the Deira Clocktower is a historical monument on the intersection of Umm Hurair Road and D89

Sheikh Mohammed’s Vision for Dubai started to crystallise when he launched Emaar Properties – a real estate development company in 1997 – which went on to create one of the largest clusters of neighbourhoods in Dubai and expanded the urban developments in Dubai Marina, Emirates Hills, the Greens, Emirates Lakes, the Meadows, Downtown Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, Dubai Creek Harbour and Dubai Hills Estate.

The same year, Sheikh Mohammed launched Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and later Dubai Knowledge Village – to create the knowledge economy for the future – as part of his Vision 2010 and Vision 2020. In 2000, he launched Dubai E-Government to consolidate all public services into one digital portal, eliminating long queues in public offices. Right after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, Sheikh Mohammed placed massive orders to buy jumbo jets for Emirates to create one of the largest airlines in the world that would later connect people from all major cities in six continents with Dubai and offer non-stop flights to Dubai. This has had its intended effect on Dubai’s economy as traders from all over the world started travelling to Dubai to purchase products for their country.

In May 2002, Dubai Government launched Nakheel, another master property developer, which later built the Palm Jumeirah, the Gardens, Discovery Gardens, Jumeirah Lake Towers, International City and Dragon Mart – that hosts more than 4,000 Chinese traders creating a hub for Chinese products where international traders can buy goods.

Lokaler arabischer Tanz während der Feierlichkeiten zum Nationalfeiertag (Gründung der VAE)
Local Arabic Dance during the celebration of the National day (Foundation of the UAE)
Einheimische Männer in ihrer traditionellen Tracht, der Kandura
Local Arabic Men in their traditional attire called the Kandura

Sheikh Mohammed then launched Dubai Holding – another investment branch that undertakes projects in Dubai and key international markets. In 2005, he established Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), to reposition Dubai as a global financial hub.

Later he separated the Roads and Highways Department from Dubai Municipality to create the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to spearhead the infrastructure development and eliminate traffic bottlenecks. As a result, Dubai opened the first metro-rail system in the Gulf in 2009.

Dubai’s growth and development as well as its resilience helped the emirate to bounce back from the fallouts of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-09 and recover. All these developments helped attract massive international investment to Dubai in the real estate and tourism sectors. Palm Jumeirah itself hosts more than 25 hotels and resorts while many more are being built on the island.

Perhaps this explains how Dubai, an emirate with less than 10 million people, serves more than 80 million international passengers and 1 million guests in its 700 hotels and service apartments, with annual trade exceeding Dh1.18 trillion, or US$322.05 billion in 2020. The emirate’s success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic once again demonstrated the emirates resilience – to such an extent that foreigners had started to relocate to Dubai in late 2020 and throughout 2021 – due to the safety and security provided by the Government. Despite the pandemic, Dubai attracted more than 24.1 million visitors to Dubai Expo 2020 – which helped boost the emirate’s economy.

Dubai’s economic success can’t be explained in any other way. It is the result of the vision of one man, a leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. Over the last 27 years, since becoming the Crown Prince of Dubai in 1995 and Ruler of Dubai in 2006, he has built and perhaps over-built Dubai to the extent that the current infrastructure will serve its citizens and residents for the next 30-40 years.

This also explains why and how Dubai recorded more than Dh300 billion (US$81.75 billion) worth of land and real estate transactions in 2021 – a year marred by different variants of the COVID-19 virus. This is the highest recorded number of transactions in a year in the history of the emirate. It sums up all the reasons behind the phenomenal success and magic of Dubai.