theolynn

Is Dubai the first truly postmodern city? Graduate Student Adventures in the City of Merchants – Episode One

In Arab World, Travel on June 7, 2009 at 3:04 pm
Members of the DCU Business School MBS in Marketing Class in Dubai, June 2009

Members of the DCU Business School MBS in Marketing Class in Dubai, June 2009

“It’s even better than the real thing”

It’s seven degrees in Dublin today; rainy and windy. It was 40 degrees yesterday…in Dubai. I have just returned from another trip to the Arab world but this time I brought six marketing graduate students – Eoin, Fiona, James, Linda, Neil, and Sarah (collectively know as “the Students”). Their two teams won the trip as part of an internal competition I held as part of an MMK Strategic Management module that I delivered last semester. Their prize was the result of their work on country profiles and integrated marketing communications campaigns prepared for the Arab Grid for Learning project. In January 2009, they presented to the Global Grid for Learning management team in Cambridge and thus from a snowy day in Cambridge they ended up in blistering sun on the edge of the Arabian Gulf.

Dr. Laurent Muzellec with DCU MBS Marketing Students in Cambridge, January 2009

Dr. Laurent Muzellec with DCU MBS Marketing Students in Cambridge, January 2009

Having seen their work and had the opportunity to spend an intensive few days with them, I would recommend these students to any employer.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of the demise of the Irish education system has been exaggerated.

We departed on the redeye to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night. An overnight flight would not normally be a great start to any trip however Etihad provided an exemplary service, even in coach. My age (and possibly experience) is showing and while I got some sleep, the students were happy to avail of the extensive on-demand and personalisable entertainment system. The only complaints being the server was down and thus we couldn’t try the multi-player games and chat system and there was no cash prizes for winning “Who wants to be a millionaire?”.

Having landed in Abu Dhabi at 7.30am, a minibus brought us across the desert to Dubai. In the past, the desert may have slowly laid waste to various civilisations but it was clear that modern urban design was quickly extracting revenge. As we progressed towards Dubai, everything seemed to be under construction and the signs of this could literally be seen everywhere.

 
All Projects Under Construction

All Projects Under Construction

Our accommodation for the trip was the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Dubai Marina – although the Students had to share rooms, student accommodation in Dubai is somewhat better than European counterparts, at least on this trip! After a buffet breakfast, the Students checked out the resort and hit the beach while I, again showing my age, hit the sack.

The Students Check Out The Resort

The Students Check Out The Resort

 

Peter Finan, an Irish legal consultant with DLA Piper, organised our first meeting in Dubai. DLA Piper are one of the w0rld’s largest legal services firms and are building their presence quickly in the region. Neil Isaacson, their Head of Marketing for the region, gave an excellent overview of their approach to marketing in the region which was given extra depth by Peter and Andrew Hodgman, one of the Partners. Their perspective on the critical success factors for their firm and the challenges of building brand presence in a market where legal services is still very nascent was enlightening. Commitment to the region, and not merely using a fly-in, fly-out model, cannot be overemphasised.

DCU Business School Students with Andrew Hodgman, Neil Isaacson and Peter Finan of DLA Piper, UAE

DCU Business School Students with Andrew Hodgman, Neil Isaacson and Peter Finan of DLA Piper, UAE

Peter joined us with Elle  Demianos (Brookfield Multiplex) for dinner at the Mango Tree at The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall. Peter and Elle gave us a very good insight in to working and living in Dubai; a life they described as excellent but revolving around interaction with a largely ex-pat community.

Elle  Demianos (Brookfield Multiplex), Dr. Theo Lynn (DCU Business School) and Peter Finan (DLA Piper) at the Mango Tree, Dubai Mall, June 2009

Elle Demianos (Brookfield Multiplex), Dr. Theo Lynn (DCU Business School) and Peter Finan (DLA Piper) at the Mango Tree, Dubai Mall, June 2009

The restaurant, with a thai fusion theme, looked out on the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building and we were presented with a showstopping fountain display (25% bigger than the Bellagio) every half hour as entertainment. Later, Peter informed us that if we wanted to watch the Lions rugby match, Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish Captain, owned a  bar near the restaurant. We declined but as we walked through the mall, it was clear that Dubai catered for every cultural or ethnic need, reflecting its diverse inhabitants. 

Eoin Healy with the Burj Dubai in the Background

Eoin Healy with the Burj Dubai in the Background

Later as we ended the day with a drink (yes, they do serve alcohol in Dubai) at the hotel, we reflected on our first day – it was great but somewhat surreal. In his book, “The Condition of Postmodernity“, David Harvey discusses the postmodern city with reference to the rise of historical eclecticism, multiculturalism, and spectacle. While it was clear Dubai was unique, it was not uniquely Arabic. Unlike Riyadh and even Doha, the architectural design was all very new and modern; while possibly inspired by traditional Arabic themes, it has more in common in with Manhattan or Los Angeles. In Riyadh and Doha, the minarets of mosques comingled with the modern in a subtle, unobtrusive but natural way, in Dubai this was missing. And while we saw people of every hue, we saw few Emirati. But there was spectacle, commercialisation and a lot of malls. If the postmodern city is the commercialisation of the built environment, then Dubai, the City of Merchants, is one.

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