Wednesday, February 13, 2008

does Dubai really make sense?

Dubai is turning itself into the world's largest resort town. a recent post on one of my favorite blogs reminded me of this. and i just can't understand it.

they'll have the world's tallest buildings, most man-made islands, largest theme park, biggest sports stadiums, largest indoor skiing area, busiest airport, and who know what other ridiculous things. so, is it like Disney World or Las Vegas (build it and they will come)?

i can't see that it is for some pretty good reasons:

1) it is in the UAE, a thoroughly Muslim country with a creepy name "United Arab Emirates". what are emirates and why should i trust them? it seems to me most people in the world with money to go to theme parks are at least a little bit wary of Muslim countries with creepy names and unknown politics.

2) they have no mickey mouse equivalent or sexy image. Disney uses cartoons to brainwash kids into nagging their parents into taking them to Disney World. Las Vegas has built an image of decadence and moral degradation over decades. will a Muslim nation be able to build a similar image on either count? will they want to?

3) so what is the theoretical attraction to Dubai? if my kids don't want to go there and middle-class people don't want to go there, what is left? are there really 200,000 rich people per day (the expected airport traffic) that want to fly across the world to stay in a ridiculously expensive hotel in a ridiculously hot desert?


ryan said...

I've been thoroughly enjoying your blog thus far for its insightful commentary on matters of import, but I really have to question this post.
I think you're failing to take into account 4 things:

1) Decadence is the new black. Forget kids nagging their parents, this is a leave-the-kids-at-home-and-spend-their-college-fund-on-massages-and-caviar kind of resort. As for Vegas, did you happen to notice that not only are people visiting, they're moving there in droves?

2) Non-American people have money too. And as your economy is on its way down the crapper (a point which you've been covering extensively) you're increasingly not the ones people have in mind when building massive resorts.

3) Did you happen to notice that Dubai is really close to India? And closer to China and Europe than is the US? Did you stop to think that maybe the US is no longer the centre of the world? America is already a country that many people can't freely travel to and is fast becoming a country that people don't actually want to travel to (there's just something off-putting about having to surrender your dignity at the immigration counter...)

4) Dubai has boatloads of money. More money than they know what to do with obviously. They're the only ones in the world that could build anything like this. They also happen to know that their oil-fueled windfall isn't going to last forever so they'd better come up with something else fast.

And I take special issue with your contention that "most people in the world with money to go to theme parks are wary of Muslim countries with creepy names and unknown politics". First, see: non-americans have money too (above). Shockingly, some of those non-americans are muslim. Second, I suspect that for most theme park-going americans, 'unknown politics' covers, well, every country in the world (including, largely, their own). And finally, if that were actually true, then how do you explain Bali?

ps. please look up "emirates" in the dictionary. It's not scary, I promise. In fact, it's far less scary than going to a 'magic kingdom' ruled by a giant mouse.

shaun said...

1) decadence was the new black in the 80s. today, sustainability is far more chic. overconsumption is embarrassing. see the rise of eco-tourism, luxuriously price organic foods, premiums paid for green energy, and the toyota prius for proof. people were buying property in Las Vegas in droves 5 years ago. today, it is one of the areas with the fastest rates of property value declines, because the run-up was speculative investment more than it was population growth.

2) yes, of course, lots of people have money. there is a thin crust of ultra-rich spread across the planet, but Dubai expects 200,000 people/day to pass through their airport. that means dipping well into the more common parts of the population. last i checked, the only areas of the world with hundreds of thousands of millionaires were the US and Europe. also, i think the global economy is heading for tough times, not just the US. there are good arguments for why China and India will be the hardest hit (manufacturing economies tend to be much more strongly impacted by recessions than service economies and rising energy prices will hit them harder because they produce fewer dollars per barrel than modern industrial nations do), which covers point 3.

4)just because it is their only choice doesn't mean it is a good one

i have no doubt that Dubai acts as and will continue to act as a regional center of tourism for middle-eastern oil princes and owners of public works monopolies in 3rd world countries (like the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim). i just don't see how that adds up to 200,000 people per day. that sounds much more like 2,000 people per day to me. maybe 20,000.

celtalitha said...

Haha I noticed this last week at my fiance's house when every other commercial on Persian TV was for a highrise or resort or real estate in Dubai. I was like, uh, WHY?!?! Are Iranians suddenly flocking to Dubai these days? What the heck is going on? And my fiance' and his family just shrugged and changed the channel and I am still wondering. At least I am not the only one.