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Quick facts on Dubai
Dubai is the largest city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is also the capital of the Emirate of Dubai. With a population estimated at 2.7m as of March 2017, it represents about one third of the UAE population. The 2nd biggest city being Abu Dhabi.
The UAE were created in 1971 after the Emirates independence from Great Britain. Originally known for its pearls business, Dubai really started to develop in the 1950s with the development of infrastructure projects, airport, electricity and telephone services. It is actually in 1959 that Dubai saw its first hotel built. Who would believe it now!
The infrastructure projects and the development of Dubai’s economy accelerated in the 1960s with the first oil discovery in the region. With the intention to diversify its economy, the Emirate has reduced oil business to 7% of its GDP.
Today, Dubai is a fast growing economy with large exposure to trade, storage and financial services. The biggest industry remains real estate and construction. The city is also a tourism destination and a major airline hub with Emirates having its base there. The airline is among the biggest airlines in the world.
The city looks like a long stretch along the coastline and the country expressways. Being in the desert, it has clearly taken advantage of its position on the Persian Gulf and a few artificial islands have emerged such as the Palm Jumeirah, a development composed of hotels, properties, restaurants and retail. The city is otherwise a large metropolis composed of skyscrapers, modern buildings, and giant shopping malls.
- Demographics: Only 15% of the population of Dubai is composed of UAE Citizen who are mainly Muslim. The expat population is about 85% Asian with also a sizeable caucasian community.
- Language: Arabic and English as second language. Given the extremely large foreign community, it is never a problem to be understood in English.
- Currency: United Arab Emirates dirham (AED).
- Weather: Dubai is under a hot desert climate which means that the relative humidity is rather low with hardly any precipitations. The average lower temperature in January is 14c but goes above 40c in August! As you can see, the timing of your trip is important. In general, May to September are slower months for business and many expats and locals will take holiday to head north. It is also fairly uncomfortable to go around in suit when it is 40c outside!
- Electricity: plug type G identical to the British one (220-240V).
- Health: the phone number to use in case of emergency is 999. The City has an good network of quality clinics and hospitals catering to its large expat community.
- Safety: very safe country by most standards. Crime is rare and the risk of theft or violence is low. Be mindful however of the local Sharia laws. One of them being that it is illegal to have sex outside marriage. Arrests do happen ! It is however rarely a problem unless you draw attention of the police for some reason.
Dubai has quickly emerged out of the sand and infrastructure has for long been a problem. It was the realm of the car where being a pedestrian was not possible. No public transport to speak of, hardly any decent sidewalks, etc. However, things have changed a bit. It is not yet on par with large western cities, but it has developed a good bus and train network. The Metro is composed of 2 lines and connects with the airport. While it doesn’t go everywhere, it is a fast way to go through the city and a good alternative to the expressway and its traffic. The Metro has a 1st class cabin generally at the front of the train.
Dubai International Airport ( DXB)
The airport is an impressive hub, the biggest in the world in terms of international passengers traffic. It employs about 90,000 people and more than 60% of its passenger traffic is with Emirates. It currently has 3 terminals.
DXB has a reputation of being easy to use and is probably one notch above European airports but still not there when compared to bases like Singapore or Seoul. While it may always look crowded, It has nevertheless a good number of shops, facilities, lounges, hotels and even a swimming pool. When departing from DXB, you should be at checkin 2 hours before departure to avoid bad surprises. You will note a clear difference between the more recent Terminal 3 (Emirates) and the older Terminal 1 (other airlines). While the latter is still fine to use, it would clearly need a refurbishment.
Many asian airlines serve Dubai Airport. Obviously, Emirates (EK) can be the easy choice and is present in many cities in Asia; 6 cities in China, 10 in India and 5 across Australia. It also offers many connections in the region if your business trip includes other Middle East cities. While EK would deserve an article on its own, it is worth saying that its Business and First class are among the best. Economy class is more about mass transit and pricing. Indeed, with a fleet of about 240 wide-body aircrafts, the airline is agressive with its pricing and can sometimes be inconsistent with service when it comes with the back of the plane. It is however worth comparing prices when it comes to choose.
From the Airport
- Taxi: The default solution and the easiest. The airport is fairly close to the city, expect to pay around USD 15. As stated above, Dubai spreads along the coastline and your journey may take longer (Dubai Mall is 25 min from the airport).
- Uber: Uber is a convenient alternative in the city as its UberSelect product is priced competitively with taxis but generally has nicer cars (Almost always Lexus).
- Train: The underground train is the cheapest but doesn’t have an extensive network yet. It may be convenient if your first stop is close to a station. Be however mindful of the local temperature. You don’t want to walk 15min in the sun with your luggage when it is 43c outside! Expect to pay up to USD 3 if you choose the Gold class (1st class cabin).
As mentioned above, the heat can be a major factor whenever you travel around town. It is not really advisable to walk on the sidewalk and most people drive and take a taxi. Generally, it is a good idea to study your itinerary first on Google Maps. Let’s say you stay at the Sofitel Downtown, it would then be very convinient to take a train from the airport and avoid the expressway traffic. On the other side, if you stay at the Park Hyatt, the only choice is the taxi as the hotel would be too far from a station to be any convenient.
Public transport is cheap and is especially good for longer trips. It is otherwise advised to use taxis and Car services such as Uber as your default option. It will make your day far easier and comfortable.
For public transport, you can get the Nol card. The smart card uses a reloadable purse function and can be used on trains, buses and public parking. For visitors and if you are not planing that many trips, we would recommend using the red ticket. This is a paper ticket that can be reloaded for 10 trips. You need to choose your destination before starting your journey. More information can be found here: http://www.nol.ae.
Usual Cost & Tips
- Accommodation: there are more than 500 hotels in Dubai and clearly the choice is yours. Prices will vary depending on the location and season but are generally lower than Europe and similar to Asia. During Ramadan, you will certainly find very low prices, even though there might not be any reason fo you to come as many people leave the city during that period. Standard is usually good and the main international chains are recommended over no-brand hotels. It is important to decide first on the best location. Count about USD 200-250 for a 5* hotel, USD 100-130 for a 3*. Reviews can be found on this website.
- Food: You will find a lot of variety in Dubai. While the local Arabic gastronomy is excellent and plenty, the city also has a large offering of international and European cuisine, mainly found in hotels and shopping malls where some Celebrity chefs have opened their outlet. From a business traveler perspective, hotels will often be the default solution. Restaurants are of good quality and are ideal for business meetings. Hotels often have several of them with various influences (Steakhouse, Italian, etc) and can be easily accessible to your guests. However, do not leave the country before trying some local food!
- Sights & Activities: to be honest, Dubai is not a place you visit for its sights! We will however mention the Dubai Museum which show traditional reed houses and a reconstructed souq from the pearling days. Also the Jumeirah Mosque is the largest in the city and is a nice example of Islamic architecture. Finally, souks are also worth mentioning and are generally located around the creek.