I have just returned from a short trip to Dubai - in part to see the World Expo 2020, which is now being held in 2021 (because of COVID). In this piece, I would like to stay with my impressions of Dubai, a country I visited for the first time 45 years ago.
It was a time when there were few roads, much of the territory was desert, the best hotel in town was the Carlton (not 5-star, but comfortable), from where you could see the dhows slowly streaming in and out from the river to the sea, and even reaching Iran!
Whatever you needed—from electronics to skate shoes for my children, or pani puri to meat rolls—was available within walking distance from the Carlton. The town centre was Deira. And two days was enough to cover the town, unless you wanted to drive to another Emirate an hour away, which was Abu Dhabi.
In November 2021, I arrive at a totally different Dubai. A large and sophisticated airport—not just with technology and trains running between terminals every five minutes, but one where the human touch is still present in spite of all the technology.
This is mirrored in the fact that within minutes of the lines at immigration getting too long, new attendants immediately make their appearance at the unmanned counters to help clear the crowds. They succeed in doing this. It is something most other airports need to learn.
Dubai city is today completely different from what it was 45 years ago. It looks like a part of New York (especially with the twin towers), with tall commercial and residential buildings, well- maintained roads (not a single pothole); few people at bus stops; a clean and efficient metro system; a fair amount of green and trees (more than in some tropical countries); and traffic moving smoothly, with not a hint of air pollution.
Dubai has no oil reserves. It depends only on trade and commerce. But they set up and implement projects so well that they could win the prize for best smart city in the world! This is something governments around the world have been talking about for 50 years. But Dubai has created a model in only 50 years, which others can follow, if they have the system of ‘plan-implement-follow up’, which Dubai has mastered, and most others have not…
The beautiful and well-planned buildings and roads and bridges that Dubai has, is only the exterior and the result of the ‘spirit and vision’ of Dubai. It is a core group of just six specialists led by a coordinator or leader from the royal house who keep planning every step where Dubai will go, and when, and how slow or fast. They are always looking at things to do, which will help the economy, and also make it ‘the place to have a happy and contented life’.
“Where shall we go to lunch?” my host asked me one day. “Would you like to sit out by the beachside and eat?” When I said yes, he took me to a beachfront where there were seven restaurants in a row, spotlessly clean and well-appointed—and each restaurant specialising in a different cuisine from Thai to French and others in between.
When you went to the opera in Dubai, you were transported to another world, and it made the Anna Karenina opera from Russia an evening to remember for a long, long time. Suffice it to say that whether you are eating Hot Pot Mongolian food at an average restaurant or whether you go to a swank private supper club with two months reservation and a maximum capacity of eight, or go for a swim on the second floor terrace of Vida, overlooking the golf course on the one side and a profile of the towers on the other two sides…I was far away from the Dubai I had known 45 years ago!
But the Planning Group keeps planning and ensuring implementation. I am told that they contact a limited number of carefully chosen (target group) successful businessmen, in different parts of the world, who may be inclined to shift partially or fully to Dubai and can contribute to Dubai’s eco power.
I am also told that it takes just three meetings and three months to finalise all ‘start up’ formalities. And then, the field is yours! In that short time, they convert ‘Make in Dubai’ to ‘Made in Dubai’. It is a dream that many in South and South East Asia hope to realise some day, some time, in the future!
Can India learn from some of these lessons? I know that Dubai is small and easy to manage (an often quoted excuse) and India is very large, very diversified and difficult to manage. But is there some way in which we can take some systems for the whole country, or most systems for a small part of the country (difficult) to bring us closer to the concept of a smart city, and convert our dream into a reality?
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)