Middle East

International (Destination)

March 2017

Exquisite spaces and desert backdrops are hallmarks of Dubai and Abu Dhabi

by Marlene Goldman

  • /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0317/MT_0317_UAE_Al_Sahara_Dubai_small.jpg

    Ja Al Sahra Desert Resort, Dubai

  • /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0317/MT_0317_UAE_EmiratesPalace_Abu_Dhabi.jpg

    Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

  • /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0317/MT_0317_UAE_shutterstock_151616084_small.jpg

    Dubai skyline

Ambitions are running high in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recently declared during the World Government Summit in Dubai a plan to colonize Mars by the year 2117. It is also setting its sights on sending an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE, a federation of seven emirates along the Arabian Peninsula of which Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the largest.

While meetings on Mars may be a few decades off, back here on Earth the UAE offers off-site venues and settings on an other-worldly level, making use of its cultural riches, sultry desert landscapes and sophisticated infrastructure and amenities.

The UAE capital of Abu Dhabi touts itself as a hub of culture, sports and leisure, and is home to such magnificent structures as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Etihad Towers. Meanwhile, Dubai boasts the tallest building in the world—Burj Khalifa tower—as well as oversize shopping malls, sprawling beach resorts and Ski Dubai, one of the world’s largest indoor ski slopes.  

Business First

“Dubai’s reputation for all things luxury is well-established, and while high-end experiences are certainly available here, they are only one part of the city’s offerings, which also include a substantial variety of value-for-money alternatives,” said Steen Jakobsen, director of Dubai Business Events, part of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. “Everything from transport options and a growing mid-market hotel sector, to restaurants and meeting venues, offer pricing that’s competitive with other global hubs in Europe, Asia and North America.”

Access is also key, according to Jakobsen, who noted that the government’s open- skies policy has made it possible for more than 140 airlines from around the world to bring visitors into Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport.

“Historically, global connectivity, great hospitality, state-of-the-art facilities and world-class infrastructure are reasons that the city has established such a robust business events offering,” Jakobsen said. “In addition, Dubai is moving beyond these traditional values and focusing on the vision of establishing the city as a knowledge hub, which is another key driver attracting more business events.”

Dubai is home to significant industry clusters within healthcare, education, technology, transportation, clean energy, water and space that can provide support, knowledge and expertise to international business events, Jakobsen noted.  

While hosting meetings in the Middle East may be a deterrent for some, Jakobsen emphasized the safety factor.

“UAE is one of the safest places in the world, ranked in the top three for safety and security according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015, with a stable government and a department of Dubai Police dedicated entirely to visitors,” Jakobsen said.

According to Lynda Baum, North American representative for Dubai-based DMC Gulf Dunes, “The trend is more visibility and increased interest from North America. Dubai is typically on the same wish list as Australia or Africa when clients are looking at long-haul, exotic locales. North American clients are quite comfortable here, with the familiarity of the transportation system, hotels and multitude of activities geared toward the luxury traveler.”

Gulf Dunes also operates in Abu Dhabi, which boasts one of the world’s lowest crime rates, according to the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, a division of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. Abu Dhabi recently hosted IBTM Arabia and will host the Special Olympics in 2019, expected to attract 10,000 participants.

Vast Venues

Groups at both desert locales can make use of the UAE’s natural assets as well as myriad extravagant indoor cultural venues.

According to Baum, Dubai’s Armani Pavilion, part of Armani Hotel Dubai, is a popular group venue for up to 600 overlooking The Dubai Fountain, with Burj Khalifa as the backdrop. The Clubhouse Terrace at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club can host 800, while for smaller groups, the Majlis Gallery, located in the historic Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, can host 100.


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