Back to Black

Several things have recently alerted me to the fact that Dubai may be on the ‘up’ again:

1. I cannot, for love nor money, get a taxi to pick me up from my house after 7pm on the weekend

2. No-one has my dress size or my shoe size in anything expensive

3. I am getting endless phone calls and sms messages from estate agents wishing to buy or rent my house, BUT

4. I don’t seem to be getting as much spam about 75% off sales in Harvey Nicks

5. The DIFC (Dubai’s financial district) is packed full of busy looking suits again

6. The hotels are all fully booked

7. The restaurants are fully booked

8. Everyone is getting just a little bit more rude

9. Everything is getting just a little more expensive

10. Plans for an underwater hotel have just been announced

Yes, you read right. An underwater hotel. It’s true, despite the best link I could find being from the Daily Mail. Ambition clearly is not something this city is short of, even if the pennies have been a little lacking in recent years. And in any case it would seem the announcement of this latest crackpot scheme may well be indicative of Dubai’s apparent recovery. The Dubai Shopping Festival had a record number of visitors this year who collectively spent over AED 10 billion, and according to the latest census there are now also over 2 million residents in Dubai – an all time high. Restaurants and hotels are opening apace, and property prices are on the rise again. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Dubai is showing signs of recovery. After a few years of very difficult times, it is nice to see our house is now worth comfortably over 50% of what we paid for it for the first time since we moved in.

(No, it’s no good – it still hurst to talk about it. Moving on…)

Burj Al Arab and 360 degree club

The Burj al Arab: it all started here (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tourism is most definitely on the rise, with reports of visitor numbers climbing by 9% in the first quarter of 2012. Of course we have Arab Spring to thank for much of that. Whilst many other middle eastern countries are now off the table, Dubai and the UAE in general appear to be politically stable and the city has attracted many regional visitors that may traditionally have gone elsewhere. I should imagine the rotten weather Europe has had to endure so far this spring has also encouraged a larger number of tourists from the west, particularly now the ‘Dubai-bashers’ who took such great delight in reporting nothing but negative and exaggerated stories in the British press in the height of the crash have put a sock in it. Dubai has seemingly regained it’s position as the no.1 destination for shopping, eating, sunbathing and, well – just being rather glamourous, and the punters are flocking in.

And seriously, the city is really flourishing, in new ways as well as old. There are farmer’s markets selling organic locally grown produce, the industrial zone is home to a growing number of galleries, displaying both traditional and contemporary works – and (drumroll) there are large parts of the city that actually look like they are finished. The arts scene, neglected for so long, still has a long way to go – but the sheer number of artists, film makers, actors, musicians, photographers and writers that proliferate my Facebook, and the volume of projects that are being worked on, would suggest the city is getting ready to embrace culture in a new and very different way to anything that has gone before.

When it comes to dining, I can’t count the number of incredible restaurants and bars that have opened this past year or so, and certainly haven’t had time to eat in all of them – but it would also seem every chef and his celebrity dog now wants to get their slice of Dubai. The one exceptional departure has been that of Gordon Ramsey, who paved the way for Michelin-starred food in Dubai with his restaurant ‘Verre’, opening way back in 2001. Ramsey may have gone but he leaves behind a most important legacy: his chefs. In a bold move they’ve taken Ramsay’s old space and claimed it as their own. This is pretty unique in Dubai – ‘home grown’ talent running an independent fine dining restaurant. Most celeb chefs open up, stick their name on the door, and visit once a year. Table 9 is as sure sign as any that the Dubai dining scene is not only back on its feet, but finally starting to mature into something really exciting rather than just a money making machine.

So the city begins to grow a new soul. A very different one from that which was lost during the boom years. It’s true, Dubai’s old heart beats to a different drum and is, I fear, gone, along with so many of the residents that helped build it. The interim years of property booms and money madness were ugly ones. The place was charged with arrogance and selfishness and everything glittered, for sure, but it was not gold. Recent times have been quieter, people have tended to just get on with things, and during the recession it seems the city has reshaped itself and has really grown in some ways – emotionally if not literally. It’s only now things are starting to be on the ‘up’ that I have noticed the mood shift once more. There are signs that of that old personality that I did not like – tempers are a fraction shorter and good manners a littler harder to come by as the city fills up and gets busier, and the ‘Do you have any idea who I ams’ are more prevalent than before. I hope this time, though, that Dubai will try and keep it real. To say no to the shysters and refuse to accept rude and shallow behaviour as the norm. To be generous and accepting and to give back as well as take. Dubai is an amazing city that can continue to grow in all senses of the word. And this time around, as the good times roll, we need to enrich as well as get rich. Now, where’s that taxi?