Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Go Dubai

Six days in Dubai have been a head-turning experience. I first went there in 1972 as a Gillette brand manager when it was a small port town, then as a Marketing Manager at P&G in the early 80s, and again as regional CEO of Pepsi-Cola in the 90s. I’ve made four trips in the last decade as Saatchi & Saatchi CEO, and let me say first up that it is entirely possible to have a Zen-like experience in Dubai. For me this was a beautiful quiet hotel residence One&Only Royal Mirage, being accompanied by family (Rebecca and her cousin Luisa), tennis, the sound of the beach very close by and shady trees.

But step outside and meditation is immediately over. Dubai is a confronting experience. It’s massive, it’s focused, it’s been very well thought about (a seaplane tour of the city – New Zealand pilot of course – reveals a masterplan). In between mid-morning levitation and a foot high stack of faxes to process, I gave one presentation (P&G Dubai, fantastic to have continuity with the same, albeit a tad bigger group, that I was part of 36 years ago), one speech (to the Dubai advertising community where I said the work needed to get more emotional and less functional), had a book launch (Lovemarks, The Lovemarks Effect, Sisomo and One in a Billion) at Borders in the Mall of the Emirates (that's the one with the indoor ski-field), a regional Saatchi & Saatchi heads meeting, a client dinner and several media interviews.

One of Saatchi & Saatchi's clients is Nakheel, a government-owned property development company that announced last week that they are to build 100 new shopping malls (in between building housing for three million people). Another client is Atlantis,The Palm, which will bring uncompromised resort experiences and sensations to Dubai. I went on the hard-hat tour of the close-to-completed resort at the center of the crescent of The Palm Jumeirah; the 1,539 room ocean-themed destination, marine habitat and water thrill park opens in September. Red Bull is also a client, a perfect attitude for the city of altitude. The Burj Dubai has just been topped at 160 stories (project director is Greg Sang, a New Zealander who started his career as an engineer managing Takapuna’s water mains). A commonly quoted stat is that about 20% of the world's cranes are in Dubai (what is lesser know is that most of them are owed by one guy from India). A new airport, the world’s biggest, is being built with six parallel runways. It’s a car place like LA; one time at the lights there were five Toyotas spread out in front of me and a Lamborghini behind.

The Emirates is planning for 15 million tourists in a decade’s time (oil is just 6% of the current economy), with hundreds of billions of dollars being invested in infrastructure and real estate developments. It’s Vegas without the casinos. Nearby Abu Dhabi, currently the richest place in the world, has the Guggenheim and Louvre coming. Self-doubt and therapy are not part of the Dubai landscape, this is a place that’s going for it with unbelievable confidence. The Middle East has been a recent byword for conflict and war. Trade however has been in the DNA of Arab nations for a few thousand years, and the Emirates are showing a different hand that will change the perception of the region.

'Does Dubai have a soul?' is one question that passes a visitor’s lips. The number of neighborhood mosques suggests that the question is rhetorical. I think that the challenges for Dubai lie in harmonizing its relationship with nature, which will take only so much building and buffing; in balancing its spiritual integrity with a consumer paradise; in transforming a carbon-intensive urban/desert environment into a green/blue sustainable oasis; in being genuinely new rather than simply replicating; and in leveraging the power of riches for the benefit of the world’s poorest. It’s energizing to be in a place which has do-it-really-big vision. Dubai is all about FREDA (focus, re-invention, execution, distribution and accountability). Go Dubai.

Photos: One&Only Royal Mirage; Mall of the Emirates; Atlantis, The Palm; Burj Dubai under construction



Ciao Kevin, Dubai is the capitol of the impossible. It was a desert, it is a city. It was sea, now there are islands. The highest skyscraper of the world is there and it will possible reach 1000 meter. It is the city of the first and only 7 stars hotel and so on and so forth.

But I also feel that they need to reinvent themselves in a more genuine way. We already have too many New York today, don’t we? Environmental Sustainability can be a way to go. A necessity I would say. But is not the only one for them. I think they have to focus on their cultural back ground, which is a treasure full of mystery and sensuality. Dubai is very exotic. I also believe that the greatest challenge for Dubai is to manage the change itself. I dont know who are the citizen of Dubai. Dubai is a 1.4 mil people city today. Just a bit more of our beloved Auckland. The Burj Dubai is the highest ever and it is almost there and Dubai is getting done with all the other fancy things but the question is: who are and where are the Dubai citizens? And how do they plan to sustain their infrastructure? They want to live out of tourism? Well! And what do they offer? Italians want to know. Tourism is choice. A Guggeineim and a Louvre? They are not original to me. If I want to go to the Louvre I rather go to Paris. In Dubai, in example, I expect to touch that Muslim way of life, their art and enchanted architectures. Kevin, I believe that rushing too fast too quick is not the best way. It is like becoming rich in a day. Chances are you are going to lose it all soon after. The Dubai’s dream is too good to be true. And I feel there is overrun. It took you 50 odds year to think about Lovemarks, if you had thought about it 40 years ago you would not have paid attention to it. Wouldn’t you? Things have to happen step by step and you have to feel prepared for it. Is Dubai prepared? I don’t know. Sustainable grow is the key also for a city like Dubai. I also question why they are building such a city there that it is as hot as the sun. I have been there a few times, for biz and honey moon, I have been at the Jumierah complex where the 7 stars one is, I went out only once. You know life inside the resort is pretty good, but outside damn to hot. I preferred to receive people in. It averaged 35 degree in winter which is a lot, and in June, July and August it goes up to 50 degree. This is simply not sustainable. No one will go there if there is not need to. I would not send my father and mum there (with cardiac problem) or any other friend apart from suggesting them to have a look at those man made marvels. Tourism is something else to me and these are just an excellent add on. Besides, they like to say that their oil revenue accounts only for 6% of their GDP but how much is that 6%? A couple of billion dollars us for sure. If we had a couple of billions dollar extra per year just to spend in Auckland and for the past 15 odds year…….. I let you complete the dream. What is Dubai today for me? A not so “cool” and very luxurious location handy to stop over on my way to Rome. Ciao.

John said...

As you mention the real test for the future is finding the balance between power of technology and the force we call nature , spiritual integrity and material aspiration ... a good test for the creative and adventurous soul !

Chris said...

Hi mate!

I’ve done Dubai; Bahrain, (where I lived); Abu Dhabi & lots more of the Emirates! Dubai’s an interesting Financial and Resort type of town with some cool architecture. Lots of desert and dessert. Great desserts in Dubai. My multimillionaire tour operator mate in Asia made his millions selling ice cream slapped on hot doughnuts in the middle of a scorching Bahrain oasis! Take a look at my latest in-cam animated clip KR-it’s what love marks are made of :-)

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Once again I agree with Gianpaolo up there. Dubai is where the impossible happens.

Tallest building in the world. Check. Man made island. Check. Indoor ski resort. Check. What else are they going to come up with.

I was reading an article recently in SQ Magazine I believe about the way that Abu Dhabi is shaping its own identity while contending with Dubai for the same tourists. As far as I remember, Abu Dhabi was trying to cater more to the Middle eastern contingent with its attractions and benefits.

Either way, the entire situation there is fascinating, and it'll be interesting to see how tall that damn building ends up being.