Monday, November 30, 2009

Dubai - the benefit of hindsight

Now that the Dubai "miracle" is looking somewhat tarnished, it's interesting to see how many people "knew it was going to happen". Alas, none of these included the bankers, the builders and the expats who profited from the largesse of the tiny Emirate.

From 2004 to 2008, I visited Dubai around 30 times, to deliver training and consultancy to a range of companies, including Dubai Holdings, Dubai World and several large hotels. I was involved in working with senior managers for the media launch of DIFX, the Dubai Stock Exchange. Throughout that period, I was constantly astonished by the rate of growth and the sheer ambition of Dubai. When I was back in the UK, I often talked about it as "a Hollywood back-lot" - all front and no substance. But like many others, I took advantage of the plentiful opportunities that arose there. Interestingly, my day rates never matched what I charge in the UK, but I reasoned that it was an interesting time to be there, and I also had friends and colleagues in the region that I liked doing business with.

Did I see the crash coming? Not exactly. However, I did visit houses on the Palm islands that had cracks in the walls you could put your hand in, since they were built long before the newly-dredged sand had time to settle. I saw Indian labourers housed in stifling, crowded dormitories, working on sites where safety standards were lax, and the accident rate was high. I once saw a man emerge from a crashed Mercedes on the Sheikh Zayed road, throw a handful of cash into the window of the car he had hit, and walk away with a smile. But few people really predicted what's happening there now. Amazing how many seem to be wise after the event.

Just over a year ago, I had enough of the place, and I haven't been back since. On reflection, there was no way that the rate of growth could ever have been sustained. There was even talk of building a half-mile wide strip of buildings all the way either side of the 50km desert highway that linked Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Now it looks as though Abu Dhabi bankers will have to drive that road with cash to save their neighbour.

1 comment:

Max Atkinson said...

I found this very interesting. I may not have had the wisdom of forethought, but I did come away from the place feeling it was doomed - for reasons that you've inspired me to post on my blog at