04 Jul 2014|Added Value

Dubai has long been a city of constant re-invention. A city of rapid change, unparalleled attention to detail and grand statements, from ski slopes in the desert, air conditioned sandy beaches to man-made islands visible from space. With a flair for excess & showmanship, it has emerged as the Middle East’s glittering jewel, striding ahead of its bigger, richer sister, Abu Dhabi.

Much of Dubai’s ethos dates back to the early 1900s when Iranians were encouraged to settle in Dubai, bringing their trades, new ideas and creativity to a place eager to evolve. It is this willingness to learn from other cultures, as well as taking the odd gamble, that has developed Dubai’s vibrancy.

Dubai’s luxury hotels and shopping malls are a key part of its development, especially for the growing Chinese market. Mainland Chinese are the 4th largest nation in terms of international travel, a figure set to grow hugely, particularly as China represents almost 20% of the world’s population. This evolving tourism is an example of how Dubai has managed to change from a desert to a destination.
In a world where experiences are becoming currency, Dubai can seem to lack authenticity. Whilst a perception exists that Dubai bulldozed what little heritage it had, Dubai’s story began long before the 1980s. There are many lesser-known discoveries – the various souks and markets, old town, harbour and desert are all underdeveloped attractions. Bringing these elements alongside the culture of the Emirati people to life would add a previously unseen dimension to Dubai’s offer.

Home grown brands such as the airline, Emirates, have tapped into cultural traits to create a hugely motivating proposition built around youthful reinvention, optimism and unparalleled service. That the brand experience is both authentic and compelling can be seen in the financials. In 2013, at a time of global airline crisis, Emirates returned a profit of $845m (it’s 25th consecutive year as a profitable company).
Emaar, the property developer responsible for building downtown Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, is another example of success (£699m net profit in 2013). They continue to build property that sells before ground has even been broken.

But Dubai has not escaped unscathed from the global recession. The highly publicised ‘World’ island development languishes in its infancy, all but abandoned. However, earlier this year it was announced private investors were recommencing work on a portion of the islands such that the vision may still be realised.

Mass migration has changed the face of Dubai. Emiratis now represent only 5% of the population, with Indian and Chinese the dominant communities, followed by Western Expats. Meanwhile the Emiratis remain a fiercely proud race and you ignore that tradition and heritage at your peril.

Brands in Dubai must recognise and react to this changing cultural dynamic, be it high end luxury or global fast food. Otherwise they risk playing catch up to determine how people’s needs, wants and desires vary across these different socio groups. Likewise, these communities are unique satellites, so adapting the narrative will be critical: what works within ‘home’ countries cannot simply be transplanted; it has to be adapted and engineered.

Brands will need to better understand new emergent consumers and strive to build emotionally and culturally relevant connections. It simply isn’t sufficient to rely on the plaintive cry: ‘Do-buy’.


Written by: Robin George & Louise Coupe , Added Value UK


Image source: Thinkstock photos

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