Dubai reaches the pinnacle of its developmental growth. Dubai has achieved extraordinary and rapid growth and is now wowing the world with much more than the beach life and bling that hit the global headlines. We meet the movers, shakers, doers, and makers who are redefining the city and giving it cultural clout.
You might think you know Dubai, even if you haven’t been. But while some of the preconceptions hold true – skyscrapers and year-round sun abound – there is even more on offer in the city, across all sectors, as a new wave of locals and expats populate the emirate with cultural institutions, businesses, design icons and hospitality and retail concepts that boom.
Dubai was once regarded as a city of opportunities for those willing to uproot for a few years to make an easy tax-free living before cashing in and returning to where they came from. Dubai has changed. It is still a land for prospectors but there are abundant opportunities for a nuanced quality of life that attracts a more discerning émigré.
Although the earliest written record of Dubai dates back to the 11th century, modern Dubai was founded as a fishing village in the early 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the city grew, from oil and trading revenues. Today less than 1 per cent of Dubai’s current GDP is derived from oil. Its wealth now comes from banking, financial services, property, trade, aviation and innovation. Dubai combines more tax treaties than Switzerland, Singapore and Lichtenstein, with a best-in-class regulatory and judicial framework. A beacon for women’s rights in the region, Dubai has no restrictions on work, driving or dress codes. Add to this its reputation as one of the world’s safest cities and Dubai’s global approach drives a positive brand of ambition on which the city continues to grow.
Browse all you need to know about this Gulf metropolis from the inside-out, from how it’s done to where to go and what to see. Or download the full guide below.
More than 80 percent of Dubai’s population comes from abroad and this has brought a diversity of thought and experience. The city is a great place to find regional talent and build teams because it attracts driven, curious and motivated people who are able to collaborate with others from different cultures and backgrounds. Dubai is a bridge to all walks of life.“
For a city built almost entirely within the past 50 years, you’d expect tip-top infrastructure and Dubai has happily obliged with a swift network of roads, an efficient metro system and the world’s busiest international airport a handful of sand’s throw from the city centre. Dubai banked on connectivity and it has paid off in spades.
The good life, by design
Getting into and around Dubai is a desert breeze. Dubai International Airport is a 15-minute taxi ride from Downtown. The world’s busiest air transport hub for international passenger traffic, DXB plays a key role in the success of the city: 141 airlines offer direct access to more than 265 global destinations. It is within a four-hour flight of one-third of the world’s population and within eight hours of two-thirds so work or leisure trips are easy. The Emirates airline is a core driver of the economy, propping up trade and industry with its impeccable service and unbeatable global reach.
Dubai is the region’s technology hub and the city’s infrastructure has innovation set into every aspect of the urban fabric. An efficient driverless metro system that serves the city center is bolstered by car-sharing services such as Ekar and Udrive that facilitate easy hops across the city. Dubai is straightforward to traverse, with the beaches just a 20-minute trip from Downtown, the desert a further 20 minutes and the mountains less than 90 minutes away. In short, Dubai has a bigger capital infrastructure on an intimate scale.
Palm Jumeirah: This iconic artificial residential island is constructed in the shape of palm fronds.
Dubai Marina: An affluent district known for yachts, The Beach at JBR, outdoor activities and alfresco dining.
JLT: Jumeirah Lakes Towers (80 mixed-use towers on the waterside, great for promenades) is a project by the Dubai Multi Commodities Center.
Motor City/Sports City: These two residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of town close to the autodrome have fantastic sporting facilities.
Arabian Ranches: This high-end residential development is envied for its villas, golf club and equestrian and polo club.
D3 (Dubai Design District): The city’s creative hub, where innovation and invention keep the city powering forward.
Jumeirah: The most relaxed place to live in the city, Jumeirah runs along the coast and is enjoyed for its beach and laid- back attitude.
It’s no secret that Dubai is a great place to do business but what are the elements and initiatives that make it tick? We discover the emirate’s magnetic pull.
Dubai is a vital player in the new economy. Home to more than 100 international and regional fintech businesses and 100 blockchain companies, it plans to have the world’s first blockchain-powered government and to become the globe’s fintech capital.
The World Economic Forum placed the United Arab Emirates first for macroeconomic stability in 2019. The UAE regulators have proactively established policy frameworks, setting up “sandboxes” to test ideas and providing quick and low-cost test licenses for fintech firms. New crowdfunding regulations will provide new operating licenses in a city where small and medium-size enterprises account for 43 percent of the total workforce and 40 percent of the emirate’s GDP. Dubai is the preferred choice for fast-growth start-ups in diverse sectors ranging from health tech, edtech, AI and robotics to renewable energy, transport and logistics. It is also home to accelerators (short-term growth programs) such as Dubai Future, DIFC Fintech Hive and Smart City. Beyond the new economy, a healthy industry in independent manufacturing is growing.
Why is Dubai successful at attracting ex-pats?
What Dubai did well in the past was to build a strong value proposition for attracting people by changing the way company ownership works, which was different to the rest of the region. It defined the free zones. If you want to grow your population, you need companies to be based here because they build teams to work for them.
What about the property market?
The second step was to loosen property ownership. Historically, only locals could own property in Dubai but over the past 20 years many areas in the city have been designated – similar to the free zone concept – where ex-pats can own 100 percent of a property. Who is moving to Dubai? The profile of people coming to Dubai has changed. The city is maturing because the variety of options is now comparable to what you have in European or more cosmopolitan cities and that has changed to mean a more discerning resident.
The font is founder and CEO of property company Luxhabitat Sotheby’s, luxhabitat.ae
“More than 80 per cent of Dubai’s population comes from abroad and has brought a diversity of thought and experience. The city is a great place to find regional talent and build teams because it attracts driven, curious and motivated people who are able to collaborate with others from different cultures and backgrounds. Dubai is a bridge to all walks of life.”
Sweid is the founder and general partner at Global Ventures investment firm, global.vc
Case study: Beco Capital
Venture capital firm Beco Capital supports early-stage technology ventures in the Middle East. Beco helps firms to raise funds, access key decision-makers to help build teams and external networks, and provides analytics insights via their in-house data engines. becocapital.com
More to see in the city on the sea
We spent a considerable amount of time speaking to Dubai’s most influential thinkers about what makes the city tick, its big plans for the future and what it means to live and work here. There are still some essential attractions and customs that mustn’t be missed, which we share with you here for more memorable moments.
1. Go camel racing: Hump down to the Al Marmoom race track where His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, often opens the annual Camel Trek Race.
2. Try desert safaris: Head out on a three-day adventure where you can see the Sea desert by bike, balloon and camel, all on one trip. It is touristy but a lot of fun. There is far more to the desert than sand dunes.
3. Enjoy people-watching: Two of our favorite spots to sit back and drink in the scene are Mimi Kakushi at the Four Seasons and The Dubai Mall to admire Emirati men in impeccable white and impossibly well-pressed kanduras.
4. Relax at public beaches: For an authentic day by the coast, visit one of the chilled public beaches rather than a busy beach club. Be sure to drop in on Scott Chambers and the folks at Surfhouse Dubai at Jumeirah beach.
5. Splurge at Sal: The beach club and spa at the self-styled seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel is suitably over-the-top and provides guests with a one-off experience and prices to rival the stunning spectacle of the ocean views.
11. Scale the Burj Khalifa: A miracle of engineering, the world’s tallest building has astonishing views, which would be a shame to miss in the misguided notion that it’s too touristy. Go at sunrise or sunset to avoid the daytime haze.
12. Travel in time: See what Dubai was like before the boom with a visit to Al Fahidi, the Old Town, which dates back to the mid-19th century. This low-built neighborhood is a slow-paced reminder of the city’s roots.
13. Jump on the metro: You will find that you spend most of your time traveling in taxis but try the metro. It’s an unusual vantage point from which to see the city as it winds above the roads and through the buildings.
14. Swing by Foundry: Dubai’s newest, most progressive art venue has a co-working space, library, podcast room and café. Foundry also hosts art tours, talks, and screenings with Cinema Akil, among other partners.
15. Scoop up Dri Dri: Based in London with an Italian heart and now delighting the crowds in Dubai, this gelato maker creates some of the world’s best ice cream. The arachidic & cioccolato swirl is a taste of paradise. Give it a lick.