Busy week. From Monday through Wednesday, I had a conference in Dubai, one of the emirates in the UAE for EuroCHRIE, the European branch of International CHRIE, the association for hospitality educators in higher education. Then, on Friday and Saturday, we had to be in Turku, Finland to speak at a Fulbright function.
On Sunday, October 5, Deb and I flew SAS from Helsinki to Stockholm. After a 4 hour layover, we flew Emirates Airlines to Dubai for the annual EuroCHRIE conference. Since I was in Europe anyway, my dean graciously gave the go-ahead for me to attend.
I had read that Emirates Airlines was the best seat in economy of all of the airlines. After this experience, in my opinion, it deserves the best title, in economy anyway. Excellent food with real silverware, great seats with plenty of space with (gasp!) free wine and great service. All in economy. Highly recommend. Sounded like a Brit pilot.
Dubai airport is huge, clean, and modern (ultramodern, to be more precise). The word huge does not do it justice. It is really, really huge. Ginormously huge. It is the second busiest airport in the world now, but it is truly built to be the biggest, with room to spare. Unbelievably big and efficient. The good news is that if you are from the US (and several other countries), no visa is required.
Dubai itself is well…Dubai is complicated. First, the glitz. Dubai is over-the-top-Las Vegas-meets-Disney slammed, coated, dunked and sprayed with 24 carat gold. If some gold is good, then lots and lots of gold must be better. I’m sure if you look up ostentatious, a picture of Dubai comes up. The show of wealth is obvious and everywhere. There was even an ATM that dispenses gold. Yes. You read that correctly.
And that is when I start to have a problem. Take a look at my commentary about Dubai towards the end of this post…
The conference itself was great. it was hosted by the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management. They did a terrific job of hosting and coordinating this complex event. Their students were some of the most engaged that I have experienced in the world. Congratulations on a really fine institution that has assembled a truly world class organization. I met some incredible people who I hope will be lifelong friends and colleagues. The keynote speakers were incredible, offering insight into the future of hospitality from industry and educational perspectives. And to have the EuroCHRIE logo on the Burg Al Arab truly shows their influence.
Deb and I stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai, right across from the Burj Al Arab which are both owned by the Jumeirah Group.
Each room in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel has a view of the Burj Al Arab and the view is indeed magnificent.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay at the conference hotel, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
Burj Al Arab Afternoon tea at the Sahn Eddar restaurant
While so close to the Burj Al Arab, which some say is the best hotel in the world and the world’s only 7 star hotel, we did want to see the inside. To do this,you cannot simply walk in. Oh, no. You must have the golden ticket, namely a dinner, tea, bar or room reservation. This must be shown to the guard before you even get close to the Burj Al Arab or you will receive a big adios at the gate. Since we did not want to mortgage the house for a room or a dinner, we did the next best thing; we opted for afternoon tea. So, with a 1:00 PM afternoon tea reservation in hand we went forth.
The afternoon tea is a 7 course affair, beginning with a glass of champagne. The entire experience took over 3 hours. You cannot arrive earlier than 30 minutes before your reservation, but you can stay as long as you want. We had reservations in the lobby restaurant, the Sahn Eddar, since we could not get reservations in the Skybar, unfortunately. Still, very, very nice. While waiting for our reservation time, I did talk to a very nice front desk manager from Germany, who arranged for a guide to take us to view a suite on the 27th floor, which is the highest floor. This was not merely a suite. This was a big suite. A really big, opulent suite on two floors. We were presented with a guide, who was very nice and spoke quite good English.
Because of my conference, I was limited in my free time, but Deb was free to explore. She has absolutely no problem with exploring anything, anywhere and once again, she was a great scout and a great sport by retracing her path and going again to show me what she had discovered. We went to the gold souk (shop), which is a walkway that has gold shops on both sides. It is mind boggling the number and variety of gold goodies that you can buy, ranging from very tasteful to tasteless, but all gold.
We went to the Burg Kalifa, which is the tallest building in the world and right next to it is the Dancing fountain. Really amazing. Both definitely worth seeing.
We went to the Dubai Mall, which, not surprisingly, is the largest mall in the world. It has all of the obligatory high-end shops like Bulgari, but it also has normal shops catering to more normal paychecks. What surprised Deb and I was the number of totally covered women that we saw. The mall is big (the biggest), but other than that, only a see once, not a must see again.
—–Dubai commentary with some thoughts and reflections thrown in—–
- First and perhaps the over-riding image of Dubai is that it is composed of 90% expats, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. That figure is mind boggling. Imagine living in a place with only 10% being residents and everyone else foreigners. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where the number of expats is so extreme. We used to have a house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and we thought that its 10% expat population was on the high side. Not anymore. Interesting question–Is there any other place in the world with this kind of expat percentage?
- The number of expats is easily explained because they are the worker bees in Dubai. They do basically everything because as a generalization, the residents of Dubai (Emirati) do not work. Nor do they want to work. Nor do they want to get educated. Evidently, many, if not most, do not want to bother with going to a university, because well, why bother since you are wealthy anyway? And this is with a completely paid-for education anywhere in the world. To me, not valuing education could lead to serious negative consequences in the future.
- But the most troubling aspect for me is that I get the impression (from talking with the taxi drivers, servers, shopkeepers, etc) that the residents of Dubai do not respect the workers. I even read an editorial in the Gulf News lecturing the residents that they should not feel like they are just giving their employees money; that they are paying their employees for work done and that that they deserve the money because they have earned the money. Evidently, that is a tough concept to grasp since the residents of Dubai only grudgingly give them their paychecks because of the lack of respect of those that must or like to work. I sincerely believe that this deterioration of values could lead to serious consequences for future generations, if left unchecked. I find that Finland has the absolute opposite value of work than Dubai since the culture of Finland is that any and all work is valued and respected.
- The residents can have up to 4 wives. I can just barely handle (Bad word–Definitely bad word.) one wife. I cannot even imagine 4. I don’t care how much money you have. I would love to know how well this works. Anyone out there care to comment?
- Obviously, the work and the education aspects are very troubling. I would love to hear comments regarding these observations. Maybe I have completely misread the whole thing.
On to Turku, Finland
American Voices –Fulbright and University of Turku
After 4 days in Dubai, Deb and I flew to Stockholm on Emirates Airlines, then SAS Airlines to Turku, Finland for a very neat program arranged by the Finland Fulbright Center with the University of Turku. In this program each of the Fulbright Scholars spoke for 15 minutes on a subject that is American…could be scholarly or not, just something that you think that the students in Finland might like to know about the United States. Naturally, mine was on American College Football and the uniqueness of it when compared to Finland or Europe, for that matter. They don’t have marching bands, tailgating, cheerleaders and well…American Football. Other topics were about Zombies, New Joisey, Seattle Hipsters (where the young go to retire), American memes, and many more. I think the Finnish students really enjoyed the talks.