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Incentive Travel in Dubai
by Anne Thornley-Brown


A Front Row Seat to Dubai's Dramatic Transformation

In 2000, I had a stopover in Dubai after I had delivered a seminar in Mumbai.  "You just have to see Dubai" my travel agent advised me and I followed his suggestion.  I arrived in Dubai  the morning after Ramadan had started. There were giant photos welcoming their much beloved leader H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan back to the United Arab Emirates. He was returning from having a kidney transplant in the USA. The city was beautifully lit up for Ramadan and it had a dreamlike quality. I spent the next few days in what felt like a futuristic Arabian Nights fantasy. During that trip to Dubai, I had a number of truly memorable experiences. I went on my first desert safari and an enchanting Dhow dinner cruise on the Dubai Creek.  I was mesmerized by the view as a I floated past the Dubai Heritage Village while nibbling on chocolate delicacies. I remember thinking that I must be dreaming.  At the time, I had no idea how dramatically Dubai was about to change.

One incident stands out in my mind. After a riding lesson at the Dubai Polo Club, I relaxed while I watched some polo. When I was ready to leave, I started to call taxi.  A handsome polo player from Rajasthan offered me a lift back to the hotel. My father's words "Never take a ride from a stranger" echoed in my mind. I politely declined with my usual “Oh I wouldn’t want to take you out of your way”. His response was “Out of my way? The whole place is about 5 miles wide.” I laughed accepted his offer and he safely took me to my destination in no time flat.

On that trip, I met an elderly couple from the UK. The husband told me that when he had been in Dubai to help put in the infrastructure for electricity, the area around the clock was desert. At that time, the clock tower was a prominent landmark. When I went to Dubai in 2007 and 2008, I couldn’t even find the clock. It had been dwarfed by all of the new developments.

In January, 2007, as I travelled downtown from the Oasis Beach Hotel where I was staying, I counted 100 mega high rises under construction before I gave up and stopped counting. This was an area that, at the time of my first trip was just desert and beach. On that same trip, as the taxi took me out to Bab Al Shams to go riding, I noticed huge displays in the desert showcasing the shape of things to come. That part of the desert is slated for development and 40 upscale luxury resorts will soon be springing from the desert sands.

Notice the desert in front. The display shows what will be built in future.

Dubai: A Unique Destination for Incentive Travel

They say that the Dubai skyline changes every 6 months and I believe it. I like to think of Dubai as not one but 3 dramatically different incentive travel destinations, the Dubai of the past, present and future.

Dubai of the past includes Diera and the area around the Dubai Creek.

Dubai of the present is an area of explosive growth towering skyscrapers under construction and modern shopping centres. It can best be seen from any of the beach hotels.

Dubai of the future includes the Palm Island trilogy and The Map by our clients upscale developers Nakheel. It also takes in the part of the desert slated for development that I described earlier. You’ll pass this area on your way to the Bab Al Shams resort. It has been a pleasure to watch the new Dubai take shape and each time I return, I look forward to seeing the changes that have taken place due to the dramatic transformation.

If you're considering Dubai as the destination for your next incentive trip, I hope that you will find some of these suggestions based on what I have observed during the last 81/2 years to be of value. Keeping these guidelines in mind will ensure your comfort and help you spend an enjoyable and memorable time in Dubai. It will be a unique incentive trip that your team will be talking about for years.

Surefire Tips for Incentive Travel in Dubai

Plan WELL Ahead for Best Accommodation in Dubai

The most important thing to remember is that it is to important to plan WELL ahead, especially if your group is large. As space becomes scarcer, prices do go up for accommodation and airline flights. Popular hotels like the One and Only Royal Mirage and Madinat Jumeriah’s Al Qasr sell out really fast. To avoid disappointment, some of the most popular attractions must also be reserved well ahead of time to ensure availability for groups.

Travel Between October and April

The best time to travel is between mid October and the end of April. At that time the temperatures are more comfortable and you can spend more time outdoors. Be flexible with your dates and don’t lock them in until you have given your incentive travel planner an opportunity to confirm availability of hotels and attractions. It would be a shame to lose out on an incredible location that could be available if your dates were more flexible.

Build in Enough Time for Your Group to Explore

Add an extra day to your group’s itinerary so that you can have a chance to explore the heritage section and get a sense of Dubai’s rich history and culture. Why travel to another country and learn nothing about the people and their culture.

Upon Arrival

Upon arrival, you will fill in an immigration and customs form. A portion of the card will be retained and you will be required to surrender it upon departure so don’t lose it. Visa requirements will be changed dramatically as of August 1, 2008 so make certain that you carefully verify what is required. Remember:

  • Illegal drugs are a definite no-no and penalties are STIFF. Remember that American ad from a number of years ago "When you're busted for drug over there, you're in for the hassle of your life". My advice is don't even think about it.
  • Even some prescription medication that is perfectly legal in North America and Europe is prohibited (e.g. codeine). Some drugs that are over the counter in other countries are controlled substances in UAE. It is always best to check ahead of time and to carry your prescription and the original container.

(Check with your nearest United Arab Emirates consulate for updates before departure)

  • Pornography is prohibited and possession carries stiff penalties.

Take Precautions for the Climate

Even though Dubai is ultra modern, remember that you are in what was up until recently a desert:

  • Wear a scarf or hat to protect your head from the sun and avoid sunstroke.
  • To avoid dehydration, ALWAYS carry water with you and drink plenty of it.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally and often.
  • Be sure to pack cotton shirts, dresses, and blouses to ensure comfort.

Plan Around the Traffic

Until the LRT is ready in September 2009, traffic congestion will continue to be a problem. Plan your itinerary and then book your accommodation so that you are close to the attractions you want to see on certain days. This will be much more comfortable than sitting in gridlock for hours at time.

Respect Traditions

Dubai is ultra modern. You will find that technology is even more advanced than what you’re used to back home. I’ve never seen so many Ferraris and custom made Mercedes Benz’s in my life. It is important to remember that, even though Dubai is ultra-modern, it is also rooted in tradition and a proud history. Sometimes people forget that they are are travelling to a Muslim country with a vastly different culture from North America or Europe. The key is to make sure that you are aware of local customs and laws and that you respect them. Here are some examples:

  • Show respect for your hosts and keep noise level to a minimum during prayer time.
  • When eating be sure to remember to avoid using the left hand as this is reserved for toilet functions and is considered unclean at the dinner table.
  • Consumption of alcohol is permitted at some hotels, restaurants, night spots, and tourist attractions. Other than these venues, it should never be consumed in public. You can actually be charged for being drunk in public.
  • Neighbouring Sharjah is a dry Emirate and penalties for possession or consumption of alcohol are STIFF. Don’t even think of taking it there.
  • Kissing, holding hands or making out are not considered to be appropriate in public.
  • Don’t even think of having sex in public. (Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors recently learned this the hard way after their arrest on Jumeirah Beach.)
  • Sex between unmarried couples is illegal and you are unlikely to be permitted to check into a hotel with someone who is not your spouse.
  • Women should not even think of topless sunbathing.
  • Nude sunbathing and changing of clothes in public is to be avoided by both sexes. (Authorities have recently cracked down on this and there have been numerous arrests.)

Dress Modestly

While Dubai is more tolerant than some other Muslim countries and you will see some tourists wearing bikinis on public beaches, out of respect for your hosts, it is best to opt for a modest bathing suit.

  • Long walking shorts are fine for the beach, resorts and desert safari but, other than that, they should be avoided.
  • Women should be sure to wear blouses and dresses with sleeves that come to just above the elbows or longer.
  • Sleeveless tops are frowned upon for men and women but especially for women.
  • Skirts and dresses should be to the knees or longer.
  • Showing cleavage is a definite no-no.

Attractions to Build into Your Group’s Itinerary in Dubai

  • A MUST: A tour of the heritage section including Dubai Heritage Village, the Dubai Museum, the gold and spice souks, lunch at Al Dawaar Revolving Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, and a Dhow Dinner Cruise
  • A desert safari (overnight for a special treat)
  • Jumana Desert Show
  • A day trip to Al Ain
  • A Day trip to Abu Dhabi
  • Leave some time for shopping - Best Shopping: Souk at Madinat Jumeirah, Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Battuta (named after the great Arabian explorer)

Enjoy Dubai!


The Author

Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly organizes incentive travel, executive retreats and team building in Dubai. They provide a one stop shopping service with a personalized approach to incentive travel. Customized itineraries include travel, transfers, hotel, tours, team building activities, and special events for corporate groups of up to 25. Their clients have included a number of Middle Eastern and gulf companies.

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Many more articles in Globalness in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2008 by Anne Thornley-Brown. All rights reserved.

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