Future Forward
Global Traveler|September 2020
Future Forward
A visionary approach influences the shape of things to come in Dubai.
SHERYL NANCE-NASH

When it comes to transformation, Dubai is a master. It’s hard to imagine this cosmopolitan city, the fourth-most visited in the world, once tied its livelihood to fishing, trading and pearl diving. The discovery of oil in 1966 marked the beginning of a new era. But even with that good fortune, Dubai was not content to be a one-trick pony and in the 1970s started diversifying its economy. Today oil represents less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product, whereas at one time it embodied more than 50 percent.

Dubai thrives on reinvention and innovation. The bulk of its varied economy relies on a mix of trade, logistics, financial services, hospitality and tourism, construction, real estate and manufacturing. In 2004 the Dubai International Finance Centre became part of the landscape, establishing the city as a go-to place for service industries like IT and finance. Dubai boasts an Internet City — home to the likes of Microsoft, Dell, Oracle and IBM, among others — as well as Media City, with the BBC, CNN, Reuters and other news operations. Dubai remains one of the world’s leading aviation and automotive export hubs. (You’ve never seen so many Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley and exotic car dealerships in one place.) Its port, Jebel Ali, is the ninth-busiest in the world and the heart of export trade in the Middle East. It’s not surprising Dubai is the second-wealthiest emirate, behind Abu Dhabi.

The powers that be in Dubai grasped the concept of “If you build it, they will come,” a paraphrase of the much-quoted line in the movie Field of Dreams. While the city’s first highrise, the World Trade Centre, appeared in 1979, the building boom didn’t explode until the 1990s. The city longed to become a top tourist destination, but back then it didn’t offer much in the way of hotels. The answer was the Burj Project (Burj Al Arab hotel). That kickstarted the building of fantastic hotels and skyscrapers that are now the city’s hallmark.

Dubai built, and people came, reaching an all-time high of 16.73 million international overnight visitors in 2019. That number may increase exponentially when Dubai hosts Expo 2020 next year. Originally scheduled to open this October, the six-month, multibillion-dollar global innovation fair was postponed until Oct. 1, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. This will be the largest event ever held in the Arab world, with some 25 million visitors expected. According to the Bureau International des Expositions, “Expo 2020 Dubai is gearing up to help shape a post-pandemic world and create a better future for all,” focusing on “a collective desire for new thinking to identify solutions to some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

The benefits of the Expo will linger long after the final day of events. District 2020 will emerge at the Expo site, with more than 80 percent of the Expo-built structures retained and repurposed. Expo 2020’s Sustainability Pavilion will become a Children and Science Centre. Many other major structures, including Al Wasl Plaza and the Mobility Pavilion, will remain as permanent fixtures. The ecosystem will comprise commercial and residential space; parks and gardens incorporating water elements; world-class social and cultural platforms; education facilities; and diverse hospitality, retail and food and beverage offerings. It will also become a focal point for the region’s meetings and events industry as the home of Dubai Exhibition Centre, furthering the U.A.E.’s reputation as a destination for major conferences and driving business growth. The goal is to create a meaningful legacy that will benefit generations to come.

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Avani Ibn Battuta Hotel

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September 2020