European Tour’s new home on course

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A modest course

The Jumeirah Golf Estates is looking like it might be completed and ready to host the Dubai World Championships in November. It’s part of the 2009 PGA European Tour, which starts with the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China and will culminate in the winner receiving a $20 million prize. This development will secure Dubai’s spot on the worldwide sporting map.

Out of all of Dubai’s new developments , Jumeirah Golf Estates seems to be on track and whether the  vast number of  residential properties are not finished by November the golf course and club house need to be in time for the tournament. There are four golfcourses being built and the Dubai Championships will be played on the Fire course.

The main developer is Leisurecorp, who also own the championship golf course at Turnberry in Scotland. Celebrities who will act as the club’s ambassadors include chef Jamie Oliver and legendary golfers Greg Norman, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia, who are responsible for the design of the courses.

The tournament will also be used for the leading 60 players on The Race to Dubai, which used to be the prestigious European Order of Merit, where players can win an additional $10 million.

This development will draw in a lot of interest, in particular with major golf fans-and that’s just on the property front. The clubhouse will have a Jamie Oliver restaurant, a gym, a spa and an organic market. Yet again it is another example of Dubai setting its sights high and giving tourists another reason to get over there fast. Of course the main motivation behind this project is the golf.

Good call from Sheikh Mohammed. Dubai will become The European Tour’s International Headquarters, operating from within Jumeirah Golf Estates. They just keep on plugging for all the big players. Literally.

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“Designed by Time, Shaped by Life”

Sky scrapers and sleek metallic towers are no rarity in Dubai. The majority look up at the ostentacious Burj Al Arab and upcoming tallest building in the world the Burj Dubai, but they’re dead weights now. They can’t move.

A new set of state of the art towers are to be built with revolving floors by 2010. That’s right-all 80 floors will move indenpently of each other at voice command. Gigantic wind turbines beneath each floor will power the spinning storeys, making it the first green initiative in Dubai.

The turbines will generate enough energy to power the whole structure, making it self-sufficient. This is a massive development for Dubai. But not so fast. It’s supposed to come off by 2010 at a mere $700 million-by Dubai’s standards.

But Italian architect, David Fisher has never built a skyscraper before. Like so many passionate innovators that enter Dubai, they are fantastic marketers with lashings of PR talent. As ambitious as this project is I’m just not convinced. Turbine moving floors in under two years? It would be more believable a year or so ago, but now that so many projects are getting cut, the outlook is bleak.

After all it is Dubai doing what they do best- adding another incredulous, mind boggling attraction to their ever expanding portfolio.

I’ve thought for some time now that Dubai would make a great ride at Universal Studios. Check out this video-it might make sense then.

Work, Emirati-style

Like any beach destination you\’d probably think that day to day life is quite slow, chilled and generally of a reclining  nature. But if you combine beach resorts and yachting clubs with media and business cities, sky scrapers and a rapidly evolving international financial centre, \’chilled\’ does not really come in to it.

\”It\’s very frenetic and intense, everything is work, work, work and the pace is fast\” says Jane Bovey, company founder of Bovey Property Consultants– a Dubai based property sourcing firm.

\”People are shocked at how different things are done  here and how fast paced working life is in comparison to London.

\”It\’s a huge melting pot of different nationalities and people have different approaches to working and priorities are not the same so you have to be adaptable and patient\” she says.

This accelerated momentum of working in Dubai is evident. It must catch up with the rest of the world and compete with other big cities, having only had a miniscule amount of time to do so- 30 years ago Dubai was tiny, with little more than desert and Bedouin tribes roaming the dunes. As Europe experienced the industrial destruction of the First World War Dubai still had no running water, no roads and the camel was the favoured mode of transport.

Now, camels are tourist attractions. They keep one at Jebel Ali Resort tied up on the beach, weighed down with  a heavy sadle and coloured bridles. It seems cruel treating it as a circuis ride and during the peak season it spends arduous days carrying people up  and down the beach. But they\’re camels, they\’re hard-it probably doesn\’t even faze them.

I digress. Working life is undoubtably fast, but often so is progression. It\’s not uncommon to get a job a few steps up the ladder to where you are professionally. Perhaps not as much at the moment, where redundancies are percolating through a lot of industries. But prior to the credit crunch it was the place of opportunity.

And not just in keeping with your area of expertise. If you want to switch jobs it\’s a hell of a lot easier in Dubai than London. This is meant in publishing and journalism-my only experience of it. Sales and marketing people have been known to cross over onto the editorial desks with little fuss. This made me sick when I heard about it. Can you imagaine that happening here? You\’d get laughed at.

Not that I am bitter about giving people the chance to do something different. Much.

The point is that even though things are churned out fast, so are opportunities. But you have to have a reasonable command of the English language-reasonable and literally that. If you can speak Arabic, you\’re on to a winner. It\’s not a necessity but if you deal with locals in your job and can converse in their language, my God, you\’ll be popular.

A friend of my 21 year old brother is learning Arabic and is pretty good now. His ambition is to move out to the U.A.E and thinks it is a no brainer not to immerse yourself in business there. His tenacity is admirable and I think he will need that on his side in the future.

Public Decency Revised

Last summer two Brits highlighted the widening gap between Dubai’s Islamic values and the oblivious indulgences of westeners. Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors were caught by a policeman having sex on a Dubai beach after a boozy session at one of the notorious Friday brunches that a number of hotels offer. This scandal created an uproar amongst locals and left many older British expats ashamed of their fellow citizens.

It’s doesn’t come as a surprise then that a formal Code of Conduct has recently been issued in Dubai outlining a list of prohibited behaviour in the city. It’s nothing particularly new; more of a repeat of what Emiratis and expats have had to become accustomed to. The influx of expats, especially the British have landed in Dubai by the bucketload and a high number of them are in the 25-34 age bracket. Job opportunities, particularly in the media have enticed young ambitious people who are feb up of the UK. And of course the temperature, collection of beaches and absurd amount of shops have become rather beguiling attractions.

With this in mind western culture has inevitably come over with them. Clearly a little bit too much.

The Code sites a number of standard rules surrounding alcoholic purchase, such as:
“(a) Alcohol consumption will be confined to designated areas (i.e. licensed restaurants and venues that serve alcohol to their clients). Being caught under the effect of alcohol outside these places (even in light doses) can lead to a fine or incarceration.
(b) Buying and selling alcohol is controlled by very strict laws. Alcohol is exclusively sold by specialised licensed stores. It can only be bought by holders of an alcoholic-purchasing license (only attainable by non-Muslims). Buyers shall respect the local culture by carrying their alcohol in paper bags such that it cannot be seen.

These regulations seem fair and abiding by an Islamic code. There is something mildly amusing about the second part of section (a) where it says that being caught drunk outside of hotels (all restaurants are within hotels due to the licensing) can lead to getting thrown in prison temporarily. It is completely true. But the amount of drunken people seen entering, exiting and lingering around hotels is astonishing.

Well, it’s not anymore, it’s just the nightlife tapestry of Dubai. You hear stories about intoxicated young women stumbling around, some still with their glass of champagne in their hand, before being hastily escorted by a male chaperone. These chaperones are a mixture of nationalities and it’s not uncommon to see western women clutching the arms of Lebanese and Arabic men. Hypocritical? Yes. Typical? Pretty much.

Another rule from the code says that displays of affection in public areas ‘do not fit the local customs and culture’. A friend of mine who lives in Dubai was caught by some policemen kissing his girlfriend outside a hotel and was sharply interrogated. It took him sometime to convince them that he was a resident and worked for the hotel.

It is therefore total madness that a fellow resident, who’d been living in Dubai for three years could let this detail slip and have sex on a beach with a visting Brit. The couple spent a brief moment in jail and were promptly deported. A number of locals considered this a light and almost insulting sentence.

Full on sexual intercourse aside, it’s very difficult to stress stringent rules, like the Code states, when the nightlife of Dubai is so hyped up and nights like Plastik Beach Party give way to an Ibiza style of drinking and partying. Dubai still has their work cut out in balancing out their Islamic values and meeting the needs of western expats and tourists.

When visiting Dubai last summer with my 21-year old brother and six of his friends, they commented on the lively and seedy atmosphere of  many of the bars and we ended up leaving Barasti-the alcohol-fuelled meeting groud for Palmer and Acors- early.  Not at my request, but at theirs.

Adultery in Dubai

marnie-pearceThe recent news about Marnie Pearce, a 40 year old British expat in Dubai who was convicted of adultery has caused a number of human rights and British supporting organisations to speak up. Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock has said that she shouldn’t be in jail and “the sex lives of consenting adults shouldn’t be a criminal matter in the first place”.

Well, yes, sure. But in a Muslim country it goes against the Qur’an. Ms Pearce is not a Muslim and it is not clear whether her husband, Egyptian born Ihab El-Labban is either. But within Dubai islamic law it is illegal, irrelevant as to whether the accused are Muslims, but are living under islamic law. 

Ms Pearce has just lost her second appeal to be freed from jail and is now looking to endure a nasty custody battle over her two children.  The saddening aspect to this case is her two little boys, whose needs are at risk of being forgotten, while their mother stays in jail. She is set to serve a three month sentence before almost certain deportation.

She denies the adulterous claim and says her husband accused her to get full custudy of their children. Being in a Muslim country, a woman’s rights are automatically lower than a man’s and any hint of adultury is looked upon very seriously.

British based charity Prisoners Abroad, an organisation supporting Britons who are jailed overseas say that people need to be much more aware of laws in different countries that differ from laws in the UK. Cheif Executive Pauline Crowe told BBC News that “Acts which are not illegal in the UK, such as the alleged adultery in this case, are prohibited in certain countries, and if you are prosecuted locally you could find yourself in prison a long way from family and support networks.”

When there are so many religious and cultural clashes non-Muslims need to be completely up to date with what is expected of them if they choose to make a home in a Muslim country. Whether Ms Pearce is innocent or not, the accusation is sufficient enough for her to loose the custody fight for her children. It seems outrageous that her children’s welfare should be factored into her punishment. All they will be getting out of it is to not have their mother for the next three months if not longer. 

Just like so many other facets of Dubai it is that severe collision of cultures that is tarnishing that bright and happy way of life that Sheikh Rashid is so set on creating.

The Big Fast

Iftar

Iftar

When there is such an inherent beach and poolside culture in a destination, as a visitor it’s always hard to imagine what working life would be like there. Or you don’t consider it seeing that you are on holiday and don’t really give two hoots.

After spending a month working in Dubai last year it gave me a glimpse into working life there, especially because it was during Ramadan-an Islamic relgious period that takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; the month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This was last August-the hottest month in Dubai. Muslims must fast from dawn to sunset every day during Ramadan, which also includes water. Once sunset breaks the evening feast, Iftar is enjoyed, which is usually a large affair, often taking most of the day to prepare.

In Dubai most hotels prepare some incredible Iftars, like at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. A huge marquee is erected backing on to the beach, with colourful lighting and impressive table settings. A friend and I decided to go, bearing in mind that during Ramadan it’s slim pickings for a night out, and I was looking forward to a glass of wine, but was disappointed as Iftar is dry. Of course. A day of fasting equals a lot of hungry people so the buffet was vast, consisting of traditional Arabic stews and tagines, rice, spicey potato salads and fish curries. It’s delicious and good value and you soon forget about the missing few units of alcohol.

What’s interesting about Ramadan isn’t the evenings so much but during the day. No-one is supposed to eat or drink in public, Muslim or not and few restaurants are open. I was freelancing for an Interiors Design magazine at the time and there was one restaurant open around the corner. In the office it is only respectful to eat and drink in private, which made things rather awkward-you could go onto the patio, where other non-Muslims eat their lunch, but that was still in the open. The best way around it was to simply ask  whether the Muslims minded you having a quick slurp or bite. Some were really laid back about it, others were not.

The working hours seemed like a breeze. They were generally 11ish to four-ish at a push. But in the intense 40 degree heat with no food and water, it’s pretty understandable. The art editor on the magazine was amazing. She traipsed around the city going to different shoots with nothing in her belly and wearing high heels every day.

My stepfather regularly commented on how fabulous Ramadan must be-it’s just one long holiday. Sure, getting in at 11 is great and leaving at four is even better but no food all day, until sunset? That’s tough. But then again they have managed to perfect it rather well over the years. It’s now very much a part of Emirati life in Dubai. Even non-Muslims look forward to the sumptious Iftar.

Hotels on the up?

Hot Stuff: Burj Al Arab

Hot Stuff: Burj Al Arab

Hotels in Dubai have enjoyed a reputation of being among the most luxurious in the world for some time now.That cannot be denied. Even the Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, which is one of Dubai’s oldest hotels-about 15 years-is still beautiful, if not, more appealing than the newer hot shot structures that are the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Going to the Palm Tree Court and Spa-part of the Jebel Ali Resort-last September with my mother was pure bliss. We had hamman massages that last for over an hour, which includes your hair getting washed, a sea salt srcub and generally allowing you to sink into a deep state of relaxation. But it was quite empty. September should be a booming month for Dubai and according to Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing a record number of seven million people visited Dubai last year.

Dubai International Airport was the only airport among the top ten airports globally to register growth during the last quarter of 2008.  A six per cent year-on-year growth in passenger traffic at the airport was recorded.

An optimistic approach really is key. But they don’t stop there.

The hotels have also been visited by the growth-in-numbers fairy. Revenues have increased by 15 per cent-a staggering figure during this economic climate.

Not all industry employees are convinced. A spokesman from Lastminute.com who is developing the Middle Eastern hotel market said that room rates have come down as much as 20 per cent and as a result there’s been at least a 30 per cent drop in hotel sales. A curious conflict of figures to what Dubai Tourism say.

“Now that the exchange rate has come down from 7AED to the pound to 5AED, you don’t really notice the discounts hotels are offering here if you are coming from the UK” he said. 

Recently there have been more tourists coming to Dubai from around the Middle East, eastern Africa and Asia as well as further afield destinations. The launch of the Toronto and New York direct routes might have contributed to the boost in passenger traffic in the last few months.

With this in mind Dubai is becoming more accessible. It is deemed the new, cool place to go for a week, especially by wealthy New Yorkers. So traffic may be on the up, but revenues? It doesn’t seem as optimistic.

In terms of development a lot of construction is slowing up and building companies are waiting  to see if the cost of certain materials, such as, steel, will drop further. Other projects have been either downsized, delayed or scrapped entirely. 

Just ten years ago construction was going up so fast that if you were away for a few months it looked like a different city when you returned. Now residential and commercial properties are built at a snail’s pace, demonstrating the dramatic change Dubai has experienced in such a short time.