If Dubai builds it, tourists will come
Dubai is booming. It’s a city of cranes and construction — everywhere you look there’s another development, another architectural achievement, another world’s-biggest something in progress.
With thousands of high-end villas, some 40 malls and five-star hotels, Dubai is a poster child for urban excess. It’s been dubbed the Vegas of the Middle East, and boasts the world’s best hotel, the world’s biggest man-made islands, and soon, the world’s tallest tower.
Driving through the sprawl of development, it’s hard to believe that in the early 1970s, Dubai wasn’t much more than desert. Vision, ambition and limitless budgets have created a cosmopolitan city from nothing. Thirty years of lightning-speed development turned this small port into an economic hub, a tourist Mecca and a playground for the world’s rich and elite.
From Gulf Coast sheiks to celebrities like David Beckham, the rich are stocking up on million-dollar villas like us regular folks do toilet paper.
One of the most impressive real estate properties flying off the market today is the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island which was created in an attempt to expand the coastline and draw tourists. As the name would suggest, the island is built in the shape of a palm tree, with a suburb of expensive waterfront villas along its fronds. The Palm Jumeirah is being hailed as the 8th Wonder Of The World. But this is Dubai for you, a place where marketing gimmicks take precedence over truth.
Take the iconic Burj al Arab, the self-proclaimed seven-star hotel. Well, there’s no such thing as a seven-star hotel — but why let that get in the way of a good promotional ploy?
Another massive development on the horizon is Dubailand, an “entertainment and leisure complex” with 45 separate zones of fun from Olympic-sized stadiums to man-made volcanoes, to a dinosaur theme park. The plans are ambitious and developers hope to attract 15 million tourists by 2010.
Dubai has put the maxim “If you build it, they will come” into practice. Tourists are flocking for a peek at the city’s futuristic architecture and experimental engineering.
Blinded by the glitz, it’s easy to forget about the people who actually construct the buildings. Migrant workers, most of whom are contracted from India, toil day and night to build condos for the rich. According to Human Rights Watch, these workers are subjected to abusive labour practices, denied proper medical care and live in squalid conditions. It’s an ethics issue that my mind keeps coming back to whenever I see Dubai’s endless panorama of construction.
While service in Dubai is impeccable, the accommodations over-the-top and the shopping luxury, I can’t help but feel like there’s something missing. Dubai lacks soul. Though developers have managed to build the world’s biggest skyscrapers, they’ve failed at building a sense of community.
Sure Dubai is booming but, for the traveller who craves culture, the city is a bust. With fake theme parks and fake islands, I’m left wondering if there’s anything real in this city of artifice.
This article was first published in Metro metronews.ca
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