A letter from Dubai…

29 April 2011
A letter from Dubai…

With Dubai emerging from the economic doldrums to once again become a magnet for hospitality professionals, Learnpurple chief executive Jane Sunley captures the conditions in a letter from the emirate

In the five years since my first visit, Dubai has gone through rapid change. Having experienced boom and bust it now seems to be developing in a more ‘normal' way.

The United Arab Emirates is a melting pot of labour with people drafted in from all over the world to work; so they really want to get the ‘people stuff' right in order to achieve business success and growth. We're here to launch our first international office, learn-purple UAE, to work with businesses dealing with a variety of cultures and abilities. Consequently I've been answering many questions about how organisations can attract, develop, engage and retain the best talent and become great places to work.

Tourism is huge for Dubai. Not only is it a very busy place, but it seems to be fully booked everywhere; including our hotel, which has upwards of 800 rooms and had rack rates varying from £300 to £3,000 per night (room only).

Many hoteliers are enjoying high occupancy as the combined result of a general influx of international tourists plus people shifting from other, more troubled parts of the region. It's not a cheap city either, yet food and beverage is seemingly always in demand - the people who are here really want to spend.

Service here is a hot topic because not everyone knows how to get it right. There's much emphasis on process and standard operating procedures, and less on the emotional side. Of course some process is always required, though this should not be to the detriment of the guest experience. This, we believe necessary, shift is easier said than done but it is perfectly possible and one of the reasons we chose to open an office here.

One feature of Dubai is its Friday brunch. Aside from the impressive food offer, which puts even New York's Waldorf Astoria to shame, there's the drinking. Ex-pats and tourists drink not only as much fizz as they like (and we're talking hours of wall-to-wall Moët and Laurent Perrier here) there are also the cocktails. I hope these are offered as promotions by the drinks companies because otherwise profits must take some hit.

I couldn't write a letter from Dubai without mentioning the two worlds you experience whilst visiting. Within the confines of the hotels more or less anything goes; outside is another matter. Serenely beautiful Arab women in black burkas rub shoulders with micro-mini-skirted Only-Way-is-Essex-alikes. But there's zero tolerance on many things. If you have a traffic accident, for example, the police come and decide on the spot who's at fault - decision final, move on.

As with most places, if you respect the culture and play by the rules, there's no doubt that Dubai is an interesting place to visit, work and even open an outpost of your business - there is even a Waitrose and a Marks & Spencer.

In this part of the world they want to do it bigger and better than anyone, or anywhere, else. The fastest roller coaster (Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi); the longest water chute (Atlantis on The Palm); the most luxurious hotel (Burj Al Arab); and the tallest building (the Burj Khalifa).

At just over 800m high, the Burj Khalifa is three times higher than One Canada Square in Canary Wharf and will shadow the eventual height of London's Shard by more than double. There's a hotel (Armani, of course); residences and corporate suites; restaurants; offices and a shopping mall. And naturally the Dubai Mall is the world's largest shopping and entertainment destination; at the size of 50 football fields.

The Burj Khalifa also has the world's largest dancing fountain. It is set on a 30-acre lake and shoots 22,000 gallons of airborne water as high as a 50-storey building. After a trip to floor 126 of the tower, we had an early dinner in Wafi Gourmet (Lebanese). I looked over to the adjacent Carluccios which was, like Wafi, completely packed out at only 6.30pm - I guess it helps to have the fountain opposite!

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