The emirate of Dubai is a relatively new state, a city which sprung directly from the surrounding desert in little more than a single generation. It has become synonymous with ‘over the top’ luxury. Making most of its dollars from tourism, the economy is built on providing visitors with the biggest, the best, the highest and the most luxurious.
The completion of the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest existing man-made structure in the world provides the perfect example. The space age glass needle reaches high into the clear sky, it seems to embody everything that the emirate stands for and adequately symbolises the state.
Commerce is another large part of the Dubai plan and attracting global corporations is equally as important as attracting tourists. Although there have been issues with the economy many large conglomerates have offices and even headquarters here.
Every major hotel group also seems to have a presence here, each attempting to out do the others with grander, more extravagant designs. Reaching for the heavens has long been an ambition of architects but in Dubai grandiose is the other dimension. There does not appear to be any limit on the outlandish and building designers are given free reign to be as creative as they wish.
In every detail of the city there is the intention to impress, from the large shopping malls, numerous high-rise buildings, spotless esplanade and the famous dancing fountains. The choreographed display of erupting water which lasts several minutes is impressive enough during the daytime, all lit up at night it must appear quite amazing.
However strolling around Downtown Dubai I could not help but feel it is artificial, too sterile and lacking in soul or character. It all appears very pretty but lacks it own culture, it is a ‘borrowed’ culture, a very westernised culture. Dubai could be almost any modern city in North America, Australia or Europe.
There are several shopping malls and they have all the modern stores that can be expected in every retail centre in most of the world’s great cities. There are Bloomingdales, Debenhams and even Tim Horton’s the only visible giveaway you are in a United Arab Emirates member state is that hijab and burqa are in greater evidence. A wide variety of international restaurants and chic coffee shops offer plenty of choice but a similar range could be found in Vancouver or Melbourne.
Every visitor is a celebrity here, spending money is the pay-off, celebrities are usually big spenders. This is what Dubai is about, the city which invented the shopping festival, providing a reason to travel to the emirate to spend some hard earned cash.
Following a sign to a local souk, which is my normally my favourite form of retail therapy I was quite dismayed to find the sanitised version on offer here. It is indoor and little more than another shopping mall, whilst fairly quiet the individual ‘stalls’ are like designer outlets. Art galleries, decorative rugs, jewellery and high end traditional robes are available products though bartering doesn’t seem on the agenda. I usually enjoy spending several hours browsing in a souk, taking dozens of photographs however the only excuse for lingering in the Dubai version was the free WiFi.
The emirate is perceived by many as being materialistic, even obscenely so however it’s unlikely few will be offended by the VIP treatment or resent the luxurious surroundings. Dubai may not offer the authentic culture we expect from other Arab states, it’s culture may seem false but possibly luxury retail is a culture all of its own. It may not be to everybody’s taste, it may appear a little soulless but many other travellers will enjoy being treated like royalty in space age surroundings.
I only had a day to spend in Dubai, so maybe my opinions are slightly unfair and a further visit spending a more time exploring the emirate is required to provide a more balanced view. Perhaps you can help provide that balance, have you visited Dubai, what were your perceptions, do you feel it has culture and most importantly did you enjoy it?