On the road #2: Dubai11.03.2013

“We welcome you on board this Boeing 777 on our way from Hamburg to Dubai. The languages spoken by our cabin crew today are Arabic, English, French, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, Korean, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, Filipino, Hindi, Malyalam, Farsi and Sinhala…” Even the EMIRATES flight to Dubai gives you a foretaste of what the city has to offer – superlatives and a melting pot of cultures.

I have lived in Dubai for two years, and it took me nearly six months to get used to the rhythm of the city, its climate and its culture, not to mention my new workplace.

Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), not the capital – that’s Abu Dhabi – nor is it an independent state with lots of oil, as I originally assumed. Also, Dubai does not consist entirely of sheikhs, desert and camels. Not entirely – though they do exist, of course. Out of all the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the emirate of superlatives: the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world; the Burj Al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world; and the artificial islands forming the Palm Jumeirah off the coast – these are only a few of the city’s remarkable construction projects.
But if you think Dubai’s going to stop there, you couldn’t be more wrong. Dubai never tires of planning ever more ambitious projects, such as the Mohamed bin Rashid City, Taj Arabia and the Dubai Modern Art Museum for 2013.

Dubai’s economy has seen formidable growth for decades as a result of its liberal economic policy. Its inhabitants are not taxed directly – only alcoholic drinks are taxed, at 30%. There is no income tax, and, with a few exceptions, no VAT. About 80% of the total population are expats, who come from all continents to work in Dubai. There are also more and more of us Germans.

At Plan.Net Middle East we have 25 employees from 14 nations. Our biggest clients are BMW, MINI, RR, Continental Tyres and the insurance company Takaful Emarat. Our agency is located in Dubai Media City, the regional hub of media corporations such as Leo Burnett and Y&R, as well as the big television companies NBC, BBC, FOX, etc. Dubai Media City is a free trade zone, meaning that we do not need a local sponsor to act as a sleeping partner for the company.

The summer in Dubai is certainly one of the greatest differences. It poses real challenges for me, as a northern European. In general you can divide the year into two halves. The first is warm, the second is hot. Temperatures of 40° – 45° are not uncommon in summer, which means that your clothes are wet with sweat the minute you step outside. Just imagine: the day begins, the sun is shining, I leave my tower block with my nice apartment on the 20th floor, step out of the door, and the first thing that happens is: a wall of heat. My shirt, my whole suit, is sticking to my body. Beads of sweat on my brow. Very neat and tidy! And have I mentioned the 80% humidity? Quick, into the taxi.
It doesn’t even cool down in the evenings, and the day’s activities are based on moving from air conditioning to air conditioning. They do a lot to make life in summer more attractive: for instance, the Dubai World Trade Centre is converted into Dubai Sports World. Running, football, basketball, tennis – everything is offered for free, and anyone can take part. And there is always the option of travelling to one of the neighbouring countries, such as Oman, Sri Lanka, India or Lebanon.

Another thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the culture. The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, and the public holidays Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha etc. are actively celebrated in the agency. At these times daily life practically comes to a standstill. In the agency the working day is reduced to six hours, and the lunch delivery service stops. If you want to order a coffee at Starbucks you have to knock on the closed security blind, which is then pulled up barely a metre (so as not to let out the smell of coffee), and slip underneath.  We drink water in darkened rooms, and we don’t eat anything in the agency, out of consideration for our Muslim colleagues. It’s a good opportunity to lose a few pounds, but in the end everyone is glad when it’s over.

Our life at the agency is not much different from that in Germany. The meeting culture may be somewhat more relaxed, but the pressure on brands to succeed is just as high in this region as at home. Many of our clients see Dubai as an emerging market, and as a ticket to the Asian and North African markets.
Many big European brands have Dubai as their headquarters for the region.

If you believe the theories regarding the future of economics and politics, and if I can trust my own gut feeling, Dubai can look forward to an interesting future. Its economic development, stimulation and construction run in parallel with its cultural evolution.  This is making itself felt in drastic increases in the cost of living, including the explosion in rent prices.  Hello tomorrow.

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    Jan-Philipp Jahn
    Client Services Director, Plan.Net Middle East

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