Middle Eastern Giant


Neighbouring Abu Dhabi may have more land and oil than Dubai, but of the seven self-governing emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the one that grabs all the limelight, as Richard Holmes found on a recent trip to this Middle Eastern economic giant.

Dubai has seen tremendous growth in the past 70 years, transforming its simple economy based on trade and pearl diving into a diversified mix of real estate, banking, trade, aviation and tourism. 

While Dubai was first given a boost from oil revenues in the late 1960s, today oil accounts for less than five percent of the economy. The 2008 financial crash hit the city hard, and many expats returned to their home countries, but the economy has since recovered and the rapid development the city is famous for has returned at pace.

Business travel news

With a growing population and ever-increasing congestion on the roads, Dubai continues to develop its public transport infrastructure. In addition to the Dubai Metro, the Dubai Tram launched in November, with the 10-kilometre network connecting popular business destinations such as Dubai Marina, Dubai Media City, Knowledge Village and The Palm Jumeirah. The tram runs until 01h30 every day of the week.

The first phase of the Dubai Trolley is also set to open in downtown Dubai in the first quarter of 2015, with electric and hydrogen-powered trams planned for the seven-kilometre network.


Situated just a 20-minute drive from the city’s business centre, Dubai International Airport is extremely convenient for corporate travellers. Although DXB is an enormous airport, it’s a spacious facility that’s well sign-posted in English, and you’ll have little trouble finding your way around.

All Emirates flights arrive and depart from the sprawling Terminal 3, with other international carriers spread between terminals 1 and 2. From Africa, airlines including African Express, Kenya Airways, Arik Air and Ethiopian Airlines offer direct flights to Dubai from their hubs. A free 24-hour shuttle bus service links all terminals.

Lounge facilities at Dubai International are impressive, especially for premium travellers flying on Emirates, which offers six spacious Business and First Class lounges accommodating over 4,000 travellers. There is an airside hotel available for transit passengers, while Emirates’ First Class and Business Class customers who have booked the complimentary chauffeur drive service have access to a dedicated chauffeur drive lounge.

However, there’s no shortage of options for making your way into the city. Curbside taxi services are available outside the airport, and most major hotels offer a regular shuttle service. The modern, efficient Dubai Metro extends to the airport and this can be a quicker option during the morning and afternoon rush hour. Tickets can be purchased at the staffed ticket office on the platform, or via automated kiosks. Credit cards are accepted at both.

Remember that the United Arab Emirates has a strict approach to the importation of controlled substances, including some prescription drugs. If you need to travel with medication, particularly those containing codeine or opiates, it’s best to keep the medicine in its original packaging and have a letter from your prescribing doctor.

In addition to Dubai International Airport, a handful of carriers – including Qatar Airways, as of March 2014 – fly into Al Maktoum International Airport. This new hub is under construction as part of the Dubai World Central development some 40 kilometres to the south of Dubai, near the port of Jebel Ali, and is set to become the world’s largest airport, capable of handling up to 160 million passengers per year.

For the foreseeable future, Emirates will retain all flight operations at Dubai International Airport. “Any decision to move Emirates’ current operations from DXB to DWC is one for the Dubai government to make,” says Fouad Caunhye, Emirates’ Regional Manager for Southern Africa.


With over 12 million corporate and leisure visitors in 2014, and a target of 20 million per year by the end of the decade, it’s no surprise that dozens of hotels are sprouting from the Dubai desert sands.

Where to stay will be determined simply by the reason for your visit and the depth of your pockets. And while there’s no shortage of internationally-branded 5-star hotels offering the last word in world class luxury, you’ll also find smaller independent hotels and a wide range of self-catering apartments catering for long-stay corporate visitors. Many hotels offer the best of both worlds, with serviced apartments on dedicated floors within the hotel building offering easy access to hotel facilities, including restaurants, meeting rooms and fitness centres.

“Hotels in Dubai can be broken down into three basic categories: beach, city and desert,” says Wendie White, Director: Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing “When visiting Dubai for business, most people choose one of the hotels in the heart of the city, because either they are attending a conference at a hotel downtown, or they need to be near the World Trade Centre or the Dubai Convention Centre.” 

Conversely, leisure travellers – and corporate visitors with family in tow – tend to favour the seaside districts such as Jumeirah Beach. But, business travellers should rather look for a room in downtown Dubai near the Dubai International Financial District, World Trade Centre, Business Bay and Media City.

“These areas are easily accessible to corporate headquarters, provide an excellent choice of hotels for the businesss traveller, a wide range of dining options, good transport infrastructure, and also offer a variety of leisure options for the free time that the corporate traveller may have,” says Ebrahim Desai from Emirates Holidays, which offers packages for both leisure and corporate travel. The company also assists with UAE visas and, as part of the Emirates group, offers Skywards members bonus miles on their hotel bookings.

“With the increase in population, vehicles and major infrastructure projects around the city, the traffic is increasingly challenging,” adds Valerie Vayssiere, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Shangri-La Hotel. “During the major business season, from October to May, a corporate traveller should choose a hotel closer to where he/she will conduct business.”

With Dubai’s roads – particularly the multi-lane thoroughfare of Sheikh Zayed Road –growing increasingly clogged during rush hour, it’s also worth considering a property close to a Dubai Metro station. This air-conditioned world class metro system stretches for over 70 kilometres, with automated driverless trains serving three lines from Dubai International Airport to the port zone of Jebel Ali.

Wherever you choose to base yourself, you’ll have little trouble finding a room. The city currently has over 600 hotels offering 85,000 rooms, with another 140 properties and 30,000 rooms set to open by the end of next year. The InterContinental Dubai Marina and Palazzo Versace Dubai will welcome their first guests by the middle of 2015, followed by a St. Regis, a W Hotel and The Westin Dubai.

Cash or plastic?

Unless you’re haggling in the souks or hopping on the abra water taxis that criss-cross the Dubai Creek from morning until night, there’s little need to stuff your pockets with dirhams, the official currency of the United Arab Emirates. In a city that spends plenty of time on the couch of retail therapy, it’s no surprise that plastic rules in Dubai, and major credit card brands – Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club – are accepted widely at hotels, restaurants and shops.

The Dubai Metro accepts major credit cards, and most metered taxis will also accept card payments. Both will provide printed receipts for reconciling expense claims.

However, as in most cities, it is sensible to have a small amount of local currency on hand for incidental expenses and for when cards are not accepted. If you plan on sharpening your bargaining skills in the souks, you’ll have better luck with dirhams in your wallet.


Passport-holders of all African countries require a visa to be issued before departing for Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Currently, three different categories of visa –Tourist, Transit and Service/Business – are available via the Dubai Visa Processing Centre (DVPC), which has offices in South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Algeria and, as of 2014, Nigeria. Online applications from all other countries are handled by the central visa processing centre in India.

“Tourist visas are valid for 30 days from your date of arrival in Dubai,” explains Bets Combrink, Manager of the DVPC offices in South Africa. “This visa cannot be extended and the cost is R1095 per visa.”

Service/Business visas (R1095) are also available, but as they are only valid for 14 days, many business travellers choose to travel on a 30-day tourist visa instead. However, note that immigration rules dictate that if you remain in the UAE for longer than 14 days and then return to your home country, you cannot apply for another visa to the UAE until a further 30 days have lapsed.

Multiple-entry visas are currently not offered, although multiple single-entry visas can be applied for and issued before departure.

“Should businessmen require a short stay on their way to another international destination, they can apply for a 96-hour transit visa, which is only valid for a period of 96 hours from the time of arrival to the time of departure,” explains Combrink. “They can apply for two transit visas and stop on their way there and on the way back. The transit visa cost is R780.”

All visa applications require the following documents:

  • Copy of passport (passport must be valid for six months or longer)
  • Copy of confirmed Emirates or SAA codeshare ticket to Dubai on Emirates
  • Two passport-size colour photos
  • Original letter from your school, company or business
  • Original letter from your bank (proof that you have sufficient funds to travel)
  • Invitation letter from local host, or proof of hotel booking    
  • Bank deposit slip as proof of payment of the visa fee


As you’d expect from a hyper-modern city where the oldest buildings date back barely 50 years, Dubai is well-connected. Internet access is abundant, fast and – more often than not – free.

Even at decidedly downmarket hotels in the old quarter of Deira, you’ll find free Wi-Fi internet access, while at more upscale corporate-focused properties in downtown Dubai, connectivity is a given throughout the property. Most hotels provide basic internet access free of charge, while some may levy an additional charge for high-speed (typically 4mbps and above) access for data-hungry users.

Outside of your hotel, restaurants and malls typically offer free Wi-Fi internet access, allowing you to keep working over lunch if needed. Wi-Fi access is also available on the Dubai Metro, charged at AED10 ($2,70) per hour.

Dubai International Airport, perhaps surprisingly, only offers passengers 30 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi access before charges apply. Once your 30 minutes are up, internet access at the airport costs AED19.95 ($5,50) per hour for mobile devices and AED29.95 ($8) per day for laptops.

Mobile phone coverage is excellent across the United Arab Emirates, and there are few corners of Dubai where you won’t find reception. Contract deals are restricted to those with residency permits, but pay-as-you-go sim cards are widely available for corporate travellers on a short visit. Dubai has two mobile network operators, du and Etisalat, and pre-paid packages on either can be bought from a variety of authorised retail outlets.

Starter packs typically include a sim card and a small amount of initial credit, with top-up vouchers available from mobile phone retail outlets, as well as smaller grocery stores and magazine stands. Expect to pay from AED55 ($15) for a starter pack.

For accessing the internet you’ll need to purchase an additional data bundle, but compared to other parts of the world, mobile data is laughably cheap in Dubai – du offers 25MB of data, valid for 24 hours, for just AED5 ($1,30). Etisalat offers unlimited daily data for the same price, although speeds are throttled after the first 25MB.


Health worries should be right at the bottom of your list when planning a corporate visit to Dubai. The city prides itself on providing a clean, modern and safe environment for the world to do business. Crime levels are extremely low, and health risks are minimal. There is no malaria or yellow fever present in Dubai.  The extreme heat, particularly from May to October, may lead to heat stroke and dehydration, so be wary of spending too much time outdoors during the hot summer months.

Medical facilities in Dubai are amongst the best in the world, although the cost of treatment can be high. As such, it is advisable to ensure you have adequate travel insurance in place before departure. While Dubai may in itself be a low-risk destination, medical emergencies can occur at any time.

Pharmacies are widespread across the city and easy to locate, but Dubai’s strict drug legislation means that certain medications available over-the-counter in your home country may only be available here on prescription. If you require chronic medication, ensure you have a sufficient supply – ­and a letter from your doctor authorising its use –before departure.

“In Africa, visitors from Algeria, Angola, Botswana and Cape Verde do not need any vaccinations done,” says White. “However, those travelling from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic require vaccinations against yellow fever.”


While Dubai has evolved into a modern, cosmopolitan destination, it remains a Muslim city where religion and Islamic customs are revered. When doing business in Dubai, as in many parts of the world, respecting local traditions and etiquette will help get business done.

“Status is important and must be recognised by using the correct title when addressing someone,” says White.

Dubai remains a conservative city and visitors are expected to dress modestly. Formal business attire is recommended for meetings and corporate engagements.

Manners and deference is key here, and it is courteous to stand when an older or more important person enters the room. Likewise, men are expected to stand when a woman enters the room.

Handshakes are a traditional greeting and may last longer than in other parts of the world. However, if a man is introduced to a woman, it’s advisable to wait and see if she extends a hand. Muslim women are unlikely to shake a man’s hand in public. 

Speaking of hands, the left hand is considered unclean by Muslims, so only the right hand should be used for shaking hands or eating.

Hospitality is a cornerstone of Arab culture, so expect your hosts to offer coffee and Arabic pastries. To refuse may be considered rude, so politely accept and offer your thanks. When entertaining clients, remember that alcohol and pork are forbidden for Muslims.

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan (18 June – 17 July 2015), eating, drinking and smoking in public is forbidden. Many shops, restaurants and offices are closed during large parts of the day, although they may stay open later at night.

“As a visitor to Dubai or as a resident, you are allowed to drink alcohol in places that have a license to serve it,” says White. “This generally means places where there is accommodation attached to the bar/restaurant. Some hotels do not serve alcohol, but in most you will be able to enjoy a drink at a restaurant, bar/nightclub as you would in any tourist destination.”

Web: www.dubai.ae or www.dubaitourism.ae/en/
South Africa: +27 11 702 9600

Fact File
2.3 million
Time zone: GMT+4
Plugs: British-style square pin
Dialling code: +971
Currency: UAE Dirham – $1=AED3,6
Language: Arabic, but English is widely spoken

In Your Downtime…

Dubai has poured both energy and investment into establishing itself as a prime leisure destination, and you’ll be spoilt for ways to spend any downtime away from the office. If you’re travelling with family, the city’s massive malls offer top-notch shopping, while water parks such as Wild Wadi and Aquaventure are ideal for children.

For a taste of old Dubai, a ride across Dubai creek on the iconic abra water taxis is a wonderful way to see a new side to the city, and the atmospheric souks are a wonderful place to wander and pick up souvenirs.

The city is also home to a handful of world class golf courses. Dubai Creek Golf Club is a private club with a well-manicured course alongside the iconic waterway. Across town, Emirates Golf Club is famous for hosting the Dubai Desert Classic on the challenging Majilis course, while the adjoining Faldo course offers a more forgiving round and is also playable under floodlights. All three courses offer club rental and welcome visiting players.

Where To Eat.

Power lunch: While South African business travellers may baulk at spending more money on ‘Zuma’, the Dubai outpost of this popular Japanese restaurant is centrally-located in the Dubai International Financial Centre. What’s more, the food is superb, with lunchtime set menus including their famed miso-marinated black cod don buri. A private dining room seats up to 20 guests.

Dinner with a view: If you’re dining with colleagues, or taking time out by yourself, the Rivington Grill in Souk al Bahar is a perfect place to soak up the impressive sight of Burj Khalifa and the dancing fountains beneath it. Transplanted from London, Rivington Grill does top-notch bistro cuisine, with some of the best service in the city. It’s relaxed yet upmarket, and a perfect place to wind down after a day in the office. Be sure to book ahead for a terrace table.

Impress the clients: At.mosphere Restaurant, on the 123rd-floor of the towering Burj Khalifa, is far and away the restaurant with the biggest ‘wow’ factor in Dubai. You’ll pay handsomely for those views, but thankfully the food on the two, three and seven-course (dinner only) menus won’t let you down either. The lunchtime set menus offer good value, and can be turned around in an hour if you need to get back to the office.

Push The Boat Out…

If your budget allows and you fancy spoiling yourself and/or your family with a 5-star Dubai beach experience, consider One&Only’s two exotic properties – The Palm and Royal Mirage. The former is situated on the peninsula of Palm Island, within a residential environment of manicured gardens and shimmering pools, whilst Royal Mirage overlooks a kilometre of pristine coastline, with contemporary accommodation set amidst 65 acres of gardens and meandering water features.

Talk the talk…

Whether you’re in the boardroom or haggling in the souk, the typical greeting you’ll hear in Dubai is As-salam alaikum, meaning “peace be upon you”. If someone greets you in this manner, the polite reply is Wa alaikum as-salam “and upon you be peace”.

Emirates Grows African Routes

Dubai-based Emirates is one of the fastest-growing carriers in Africa, and currently serves 22 passenger and four cargo destinations on the continent. Over the past year, the airline has launched a second daily flight to Morocco, added a fourth daily service to Johannesburg, announced the launch of its Abuja (Nigeria) route, and launched a second daily A380 frequency to Mauritius.

“Shortly after launching its operations to Abuja, Emirates upgraded the route’s operating aircraft to a Boeing 777-200LR,” adds Fouad Caunhye, Emirates’ Regional Manager for Southern Africa, who says Nigeria is a key market for the airline. “Emirates currently operates twice daily to Lagos and daily to Abuja, giving a total of nearly 14,000 seats per week.”