IN A land seemingly built for the purposes of conspicuous consumption, Dubai never lacked extravagant icons of success.
The most extravagant – and most emblematic of the once sleepy fishing village’s transformation to oasis playground for the rich – were surely the palm tree and the sail.
In keeping with the tiny Gulf emirate’s grandiose vision, both were artificial. One was a set of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees and the other the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, the world’s most expensive hotel.
Then there was the man-made harbour, the largest in the world, built at Jebel Ali while a free-trade zone was created around the port, catapulting Dubai into the league of major international business hubs.
Billing itself as a safe haven within a volatile region for investors and tourists alike, Dubai, which discovered oil in 1966, tripled its economy to US$34.5 billion (S$47.9 billion) in the 10 years to 2006 and achieved double-digit growth every year until the financial crisis struck.
Its expansion was relentless. By last year, foreign direct investment into Dubai totalled US$21 billion, according to the Financial Times.
The Gulf emirate established itself as the region’s trade and tourism hub, developing businesses such as port operator DP World that became leaders in their field.
It also set out to become a world-class financial centre, competing with the likes of New York and London and boasting an edge in the burgeoning area of Islamic finance.
In 2007, Dubai and Qatar became the two biggest shareholders of the London Stock Exchange, the third-largest bourse in the world.
Within its own borders, Dubai embarked on a massive six-year building boom that turned sand dunes into a glittering metropolis and the city into a magnet for the young, rich and glamorous.
No project was too lavish for Dubai. It is home to the world’s biggest shopping mall – the 1,200-shop Dubai Mall – and will have the world’s tallest building when the 160-storey Burj Dubai is completed next year at an estimated cost of US$1 billion.
The Burj Al Arab hotel was itself the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1999. The hotel gave itself a seven-star rating – the first in the world – and watched as the publicity, room rates and bookings rocketed.
Dubai made the unthinkable possible with Ski Dubai, which opened in 2006 to offer the ultimate in luxury: skiing in the desert, on one of the world’s largest indoor ski slopes with fresh powder all year round.
Celebrities converged on Dubai’s sands, with David Beckham and Brad Pitt reportedly owning villas in the Palm Jumeirah development, the only one of three planned palm-tree shaped islands that has been completed.
The future of the other two Palm islands is now up in the air – much like that of Dubai itself.
Source: Straits Times, 28 Nov 2009