On the Ground in Dubai, and Taking Baby Steps

Two weeks ago, comments I left in response to editorial columns in The Guardian and The Economist generated several hundred visits to this humble blog.

Why such great interest in a tiny Emirate that scarcely anyone other than oil barons had heard of less than 30 years ago? Jealousy perhaps? Or is it, as I speculated in an earlier post, that some people just like to see a giant fall ?

Who knows what drives some, ummm, “journalists,” to write vitriolic opinion based more on fiction than in fact? I’m sure I don’t.

What I do know, however, is what I see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and experience for myself as I navigate through these troubled times.

For all you Dubai watchers out there, here are some facts:

I run my own one-woman Dubai-based communications consultancy specializing in presentation skills training and coaching.

My business revenue for the first quarter of 2009 is down 40 per cent from last year. I haven’t had any paid work in six weeks, and I have none scheduled until the end of this month.

At the moment, my projected revenue for the first half of 2009 is down 50 per cent compared with 2008. Meanwhile, my cost of living and business expenses remain the same.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a period without revenue since I established my business 10 years ago; it probably won’t be the last. We’re in the midst of a worldwide recession after all, and this situation isn’t unexpected.

Bad Times Are No Excuse for Bad Behaviour

What IS unexpected, however, is bad behaviour.

Someone for whom I worked in 2008, for example, owes me a significant sum of money, which is now 120 days overdue. The client, a major international architectural and design firm, is adding insult to injury by answering my emails and phone calls with a silent stonewall.

Clearly things aren’t going well for them. One of their employees told me a couple of weeks ago that the company’s Dubai office complement has been reduced to 80 people from the 220 that were there when I conducted workshops for them in November. Not good.

Nevertheless, I would have hoped a reputable (or at least I thought they were) international company such as this one would pay its suppliers, if not on time, then at least sometime.

Surely they could have the good grace to tell me when and how the account will be settled. That would be the professional, not to mention polite, thing to do. Bad times are no excuse for bad behaviour.

Look For Silver Linings

So I’m out of pocket, and out of work. Just as an estimated 30 million people around the world will likely be in 2009. We’re all in the same boat. An ocean-liner-sized boat, by the sounds of it.

On the other hand, I’ve just been invited to bid on a small project for an arm of the Dubai Government, and single-sourced to do a three-day workshop for a client I worked with two years ago. I’m hopeful that these two pieces of business will materialize, and that I’ll be fully paid for them!

Likewise, two friends of mine, both talented young women in the advertising industry, were made redundant last week. However, both are exploring new opportunities in areas they might never have considered otherwise. They’re positive and excited about future possibilities.

The Dubai property market is now a rollercoaster ride, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. But bad news for sellers could be good news for buyers.

As always there are silver linings and opportunities in most situations if you look for them hard enough.

Fashion Is Always in Fashion, Even in a Recession

The retail scene is tougher to gauge in the absence of concrete data. I’m not a big shopper, so my personal experience is limited.

However, last Saturday morning I popped into Dubai Mall for the first time since it opened several months ago. Frankly, it was quiet, except for the buzz around the aquarium (which looked amazing BTW), and there seemed to me to be lots of unoccupied retail space…

The malls in Dubai, like the roads, don’t feel as congested as they were a year ago. Maybe bad for the economy, but a pleasant relief from throngs of people and choked thoroughfares that had become the norm.

kissing.jpgSaturday afternoon, I attended the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race. The women were as imaginatively and beautifully turned out as ever – a veritable cornucopia of international fashionistas (maybe that’s why the mall had been so empty, the shopping had all been done, and the results were on show at the races).

The atmosphere was fabulous, despite the occasional rain shower. And the racing was thrilling as always. Although, to be honest, I didn’t see as much of it as I would have liked – too busy being a fashion filly myself, thanks to my friend Arif, who kindly agreed to be my escort in the best-dressed couple competition (ahhh the tribulations of being a single woman lol).

Taking Baby Steps

It goes without saying that these kind of events are for the privileged few, recession or not. Ironically, the cost of these displays of conspicuous consumption are far beyond the reach of the labourers whose sweat and toil make such pleasures possible for the rest of us.

Is Dubai alone in abusing the disadvantaged? I think not. Clearly, there’s something wrong with a global system in which 10 per cent of the population (in which I include myself), enjoys 90 per cent of the wealth.

Human history is replete with tragic examples of how the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, and the powerful get more powerful at the expense the weak.

Although, thankfully, even in the midst of all of this poverty, conflict, and desperation, I think there are signs that we, as a species, may be on the verge of seeing the error in our ways.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and taking baby steps of my own here on the ground in Dubai.

Related Links:

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Dubai Frozen In Time (But Likely Not For Long)

Views From Top Of Burj Dubai Spire – SCARY!!

2010: The Trailer, A Creative Concept Well Executed

A Little Behind Schedule, But Oh-So-Spectacular On Video

Metaphor For Love To Hate Dubai Debate

How High is
High in Dubai?

Towers: Who’s On Top And Who’s Not

Why Blame It On Dubai?
Letter to Johann Hari

Dubai-bashing becoming an art form