theolynn

Ultra-luxury for the masses: Graduate Student Adventures in the City of Merchants – Episode Two

In Arab World, Travel on June 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Dervla Murphy, the Irish travel adventure writer, might think experiencing a culture, in itself, was the ultimate goal of travel. When over 80% of your population are ex-pats, that may be hard to achieve. But when your identity is highly correlated to ultra-luxury, the masses also increasingly expect celebrity. I would love to say that Dubai doesn’t deliver on either but, you guessed it, in our case it did.

The morning started off with what could be described, at best, as a distracted breakfast. Neil, one of our team, is a stalwart Manchester United fan. While abhorrent to many, this is nothing unusual for an Irish soccer fan. However, if you asked Neil what his abiding memory of our trip to Dubai was, it will not be experiencing the educational objectives I so carefully planned, the ultra-luxury of the Barj Al-Arab, the architectural phenomenon of The Palm or the heat of the desert. No, it will be Ryan Giggs. Yes, readers, what made Neil’s trip was that the venerable Welsh footballer was staying in our hotel. Could we leave the man have his breakfast in peace? No. We  had to have proof. Neil charged over and yes, objective achieved walked back with Ryan’s autograph. Dubai delivered. One satisfied student, five to go.

Ryan Gigg's Autograph on Back of Dubai Trip Itinerary, June 2009

Ryan Gigg's Autograph on Back of Dubai Trip Itinerary, June 2009

Our first meeting was only 5 minutes away. The Dubai Knowledge Village was launched in 2003, initially to support the nearby Media City and Internet City free zone business clusters. It is a self-sustaining knowledge business cluster with over 400 professional training and learning support organisations operating there including Manchester Business School Worldwide, the University of Wollongong in Dubai and the British Council. Our hosts, Ibrahim Moosa Jamel (Director, Business Development), Rania Rawass (Brand Manager) and their colleagues in events management and the business centre provided us with a detailed overview of the project and a tour of the facilities. The project is extremely ambitious however has already demonstrated a certain amount of success with over 12,000 students p.a. with its sister project Dubai International Academic City. It is a free zone so every partner located there has 100% ownership and operates on a tax free basis. Our hosts graciously answered our questions both about the project and marketing both Knowledge Village and their partners.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class and Dr. Theo Lynn with members of Dubai Knowledge Village Management Team.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class and Dr. Theo Lynn with members of Dubai Knowledge Village Management Team.

The tour was also informative as they seem to have provided for every student need including a 24/7 grocery store, a stationery store, a driving school, travel agent, barber/hairdresser, pharmacy, gym, food court and accommodation for students and visiting parents. We also visited their business centre, which acts as a business incubator unit, and their state-of-the-art ministerial-class conference centre which has been designed to cater for over 300 people.  The fit-out throughout the facility was world class andwe could see how Knowledge Village could be an ideal initial site for an organisation in the region.

After the tour of Knowledge Village, our driver took us 30 miles, mostly in to the desert, to Dubai International Academic City (DIAC – pronounced D-I-A-C and not “DIACK” which means rooster in Arabic!). Unfortunately our driver got lost (despite a map) so the amount of time we could spend at this project was limited. Chindu Mohsin, one of the Account Managers,  provided a good overview of the Dubai Strategic Plan and of Dubai Holdings and Tecom Investments, the companies that ultimately own both Knowledge Village and DIAC (and it would seem most of Dubai). The presentation was very well prepared and professional and we were all impressed with the ambition of the project and the scope of Tecom’s operations. Michigan State University, Heriott-Watt, MAHE and c. 18 other higher education institutions. It is an extension of Knowledge Village and from September all HE institutions must locate at DIAC. I, personally, am uncertain of this strategy. Although the space and fitout of DIAC is excellent, it is still in the middle of the desert, away from the bright lights, big city feel of downtown Dubai where Knowledge Village is located. At this early stage of development, it lacked a community feel and I think it would be hard to persuade faculty to locate there other than on a fly-in, fly-out basis. Maybe in a few years.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class and Dr. Theo Lynn with Chindu Mohsin and Taner Topcu of Dubai International Academic City, June 2009.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class and Dr. Theo Lynn with Chindu Mohsin and Taner Topcu of Dubai International Academic City, June 2009.

On our way back to downtown Dubai, we were reminded that urban design does not necessarily equate to urban planning. We noticed a tailback of trucks for several miles – “who were they,” we asked. “Sewage trucks”, our driver replied. Enough said on that matter.

 

Miles of sewage trucks queue to unload in desert outside of Dubai, June 2009

Miles of sewage trucks queue to unload in desert outside of Dubai, June 2009

Enterprise Ireland’s office in Dubai is located in the prestigious Monarch Tower, home of the eponymous hotel. David Hamill, Marketing Executive for the Middle East and North Africa, gave us an overview of Enterprise Ireland in the region and some insight in to business norms and Irish activity in the region. David is on the EI International Graduate Programme so the Students were interested in both EI and David’s experience in Dubai and on the Programme. EI offer a wide range of support services to companies in the region and those thinking about entering it including organising meetings, local business networks, trade missions and providing hotdesk and temporary office space. There seems to be a lot of opportunity for Irish companies particularly in telecomms, construction, and ICT and EI have a goal of helping their clients generate over €35 million this year which they are on target to exceed. Again, the fly-in fly-out approach seems to be on the wane as demonstrating commitment to the region is a critical success factor. CR2, an Irish channel banking software company, has located it’s CEO in Dubai to show this commitment and it is has worked out extremely well so far. On a personal basis, David echoed Peter and Elle in that he had hoped to meet more Emirati but most of his social life, while admittedly good, is centred around the ex-pat community. While we were impressed with the activity of Irish businesses in the region, we were surprised at how small EI’s team and offices were. The Arab world represents a huge opportunity for Ireland, more investment is clearly needed.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class with David Hamill of Enterprise Ireland, Dubai 2009.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class with David Hamill of Enterprise Ireland, Dubai 2009.

Ironically, one of the best business lessons the Students experienced was afternoon tea at the Burj Al-Arab. Now, I know some will question the educational value of afternoon tea in an ultra-luxury hotel but as the ubiquitous “they” say “you can’t talk the talk unless you walk the walk”.  The Burj Al-Arab is one of the architectural icons of the world and is considered one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. You cannot get past the security check-points without a reservation; you literally have to be on “the list” as a guest or diner. We weren’t. 

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class at the Burj Al-Arab Guest Welcome Centre, Dubai, June 2009.

Members of DCU Business School MBS in Marketing class at the Burj Al-Arab Guest Welcome Centre, Dubai, June 2009.

After waiting nearly 40 minutes in the searing heat, we were finally let through the gates and to cross over the bridge to the hotel. Once we entered the hotel, we were immediatly made to feel special, ultra-special. After explaining our situation, the Maitre’d apologised profusely and organised a table for us and starting with glasses of champagne, the next six courses flowed seamlessly for us. As we soaked in the atmosphere at the bottom of the world’s tallest atrium and gazed out on to the panorama of Dubai from the Sahn Eddar lounge, I am sure the Students felt a lifetime away from exams and dissertations.

A view of the atrium of the Burj Al-Arab from the Sahn Eddar lounge, Dubai, June 2009.

A view of the atrium of the Burj Al-Arab from the Sahn Eddar lounge, Dubai, June 2009.

What can students learn from this? Firstly, to aspire to the best things in life, you must first experience them – this also applies to business. How can students be expected to manage or compete with such organisations without experiencing them as customers.  Secondly, our own experience started off as bad customer service story which was turned around by the subsequent experience. I cannot tell you how frustrated and extremely hot we were by the time we finally got to our table however the staff at the restaurant not only apologise (several times) but gave us an unforgettable dining experience.

 

James, Fiona and Theo (with obligatory Blackberry) enjoy afternoon tea at the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai, June 2009.

James, Fiona and Theo (with obligatory Blackberry) enjoy afternoon tea at the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai, June 2009.

 

After freshening up back at our own hotel (and more Ryan Gigg spottings), we visited the Mall of the Emirates where the Students took me out for a dinner of arabic and lebanese food. This was an entirely enjoyable affair followed by a browse around the extremely busy mall where thankfully there were some Emiratis. It was strange seeing everyday European brands next to some of the world’s most luxurious brands – expectations for the ignorant masses could be made. For example, we visited an Arabic perfume store which was again an interested experience in customer service. Every perfume seemed to be designed and made up there and then. After testing various scents, we asked the price – the equivalent of €1,000 per bottle…so much for that gift for the wives and girlfriends!

Eoin Healy reflected in the Porsche Design shop window looking at a wristwatch for sale in Mall of the Emirates at a price of 962,000 dirham (€187,500).

Eoin Healy reflected in the Porsche Design shop window looking at a wristwatch for sale in Mall of the Emirates at a price of 962,000 dirham (€187,500).

The visit to the Mall compounded my view of Dubai as a postmodern city – the mall, even at 11pm was extremely busy with the activity at hand, consumption. But what was truly surreal was Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort created in a mall in the middle of the desert…it has trees, real snow…with us in our mall looking at the skiers in their winterwonderland. Maybe the decision-makers in Dubai took Baudrillard’s “Desert of the Real” too far…

Ski Dubai through the looking glass in the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, June 2009

Ski Dubai through the looking glass in the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, June 2009

We finished the night over drinks in the Polo Bar of our hotel. Bizarrely, my watermelon juice cost nearly as much as a liquor! A busy day, a late night and as I left it looked like and even later one for the Students….

 

Sarah McPartlin and Linda Kelly at The Polo Bar (The Grand Habtoor Resort), Dubai, June 2009

Sarah McPartlin and Linda Kelly at The Polo Bar (The Grand Habtoor Resort), Dubai, June 2009

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To Be Continued.

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