Millions of people around the world work in hospitality but only a few ever have the opportunity to open a hotel, and even fewer a luxury property. I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to open two in as many years.
To put it in perspective for non-hoteliers, it’s like having a baby. The pregnancy is often long – usually extending far past your due date; there is always extra weight gained; you become consumed (whether you want to or not) in the finite details of the pregnancy and unless your other friends have “kids” (are hoteliers), nobody really understands what you’re going through.
Then the labour begins. It’s painful – LORD, is it painful! Particularly when you have 120 grandparents that fly in from all over the world to help you through your labour, offering parenting advice all the while (usually conflicting). You don’t sleep for 10 days, you barely eat, and a trip to the loo by yourself is considered luxurious “me” time. You’re having to report in several times a day on exactly how the baby is progressing, how it is positioned, and if the vitals are strong.
Then before you know it the day has come, everyone is cheering you on and with one final push – your baby has arrived! Despite your sleep deprivation, you are elated! And so very, very proud for you have delivered the most beautiful baby in the world! Only now do you realize your lengthy pregnancy (11 months in my case) and all the sacrifices you have made, are worth it.
Your baby will most definitely have hiccups, it might even squawk. You will be at the beck and call of your baby 24/7 for the next couple years. But despite all these things, you love your baby and could not be prouder.
Friends, please meet my bouncing baby girl – officially welcomed into this world on March 12, 2013.
December 2nd marks the 41st National Day of the United Arab Emirates. In a culture that is so rich with tradition and customs, the celebrations seem to be (in typical UAE fashion) more about personal pomp than national pride.
Dubai police have gone so far as to ban ‘Car Parades’ (one of the most popular ways to celebrate National Day according to The National newspaper). These parades, whereby tributes to the UAE leaders and national flag are flaunted in engine-revving fashion, are really just an obnoxious display of wealth and arrogance, not to mention a dangerous one. So are these antics really how Emiratis choose to celebrate their great nation?
At first glance, yes. When frequenting the popular neighbourhoods of Dubai, such as JBR, and Abu Dhabi it would appear so. However, if you delve a little deeper and go in search of authentic national pride, it’s everywhere – even in some surprising places – whether it’s a SMS of thanks and blessings that went out to every citizen and resident of UAE from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai (I got one on both mobiles), in the shopping centres, or as I discovered, even at the zoo. I decided to venture out-of-town to Al Ain, a small city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and was pleasantly surprised to see a grassroots celebration in which the elders shared dance, song and even a history challenge with the children.
So while the celebration of customs and culture of the United Arab Emirates is anything but typical on National Day, it’s really rather fitting for a nation that is young, rambunctious, and ever so proud.
For those who don’t already know, I have been making the treacherous commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi every day for the past month. It’s about 120 km each way and some may think – as I did – that so many others do it and there’s nothing wrong with a little commute. I’m Canadian after all – we’re used to spending long stretches behind the wheel as we trek across our home and native land.
Reality hit pretty quickly as I contemplated what this drive would be like when I’m working 16 hour days leading up to the hotel opening (more about that later) and whether keeping my amazing life in Dubai is really worth two hours of terror every day. With the end of my apartment lease in Dubai coming up quickly, I was forced to make a decision. Coincidentally, several reports were released this week regarding traffic statistics on UAE roads. While the reports showed a positive change, the numbers speak for themselves – and it’s a scary story they tell.
This is ultimately what cemented my decision to move from Dubai to Abu Dubai.
The number of traffic accidents in the UAE fell by about 20% from 9,658 in 2009 to 7,642 in 2010. Fatalities fell nearly 14%, from 966 in 2009 to 826 in 2010. In 2011, there were 6,700 accidents. Seems like good news, right? Until you consider that these crashes resulted in 7,808 injuries and 720 deaths. That’s over 560 accidents and 60 deaths – every month – in UAE. 60 deaths are entirely preventable every single month?! Tragic.
Also bear in mind that UAE is small – only 83,000 km sq. To put it in perspective, it’s slightly larger than the province of New Brunswick.
The stretch of highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is infamous for bad driving; the rules, rather than the exceptions, include excessive speeding over 200 km/hr, tailgating and flashing high-beams, passing on the shoulder of the road, and just general bullying. I continue to be shocked daily by the antics I see. While I often wish I could capture these on film, I’d much rather get home safely. But here is a little report I found from The National that will give you just a small glimpse.
I’ve read that there has been an increased police presence however in the 40+ hours I’ve recently spent making that drive, I have yet to see any at all. So how to change the lay of the land, literally? While having police and radar cameras more visible – and actually enforcing the laws – would help dramatically, I wish there was a way to call on each road rager and bully-beamer and ask them to lay off on what is entirely selfish behaviour. We’ll all get there in due time and if everyone would act more responsibly, we would all get there alive – inshallah.
Comment below and let me know what you think should happen to increase traffic safety.
One of the reasons I wanted to live in Dubai is that it is the ideal hub for any travel in the Middle East, as well as Asia and Europe. My first year here I was completely consumed with work and did not travel at all so I’ve since made it my mission to remedy that. Last November I went to Kathmandu, Nepal for a 3-day weekend, in December I was in Cannes for work for a week and did a side trip to Monaco for the weekend, and in January I jetted to Doha, Qatar for the weekend.
But the most impactful was my trip to Goa, India last weekend – just a 3 hour direct flight from Dubai – where I spent 3 nights and 4 days at Lotus Yoga Retreat. I would like to say that India really is Incredible and that I saw all the sights but I did not. I barely ventured more than 100 metres away from the retreat. I found that when I arrived, all of the long hours and stress from the last year surfaced and my body just wanted rest. I could hardly stay awake for the first two days and anyone who knows me, knows that sleep does not come easily.
I stayed in an amazing little hut on the beach where the sound of waves crashing would lull me to sleep. In the morning, everyone would wander to the main hut where we could have juice and fruit before the first yoga session at 8:30 a.m. in the Ocean Shala The 90-minute classes always went by so quickly and while the stunning view of the sun rising over the water was slightly distracting, it also lent a powerful sense of calm, serenity and clarity. Our yoga instructors varied with every class and it was interesting to get a mix of teaching styles. The yoga itself was not as challenging as I expected – everyone’s ability ranged from complete beginner to my level of experience – however it was the first time I have ever slowed down long enough to really look deeper than the physical aspect of yoga. Some of our teachers were light and funny and had us giggling through the session while others lead us through amazing meditations and others still started a session by having us lie on our backs hugging our knees to our chests and telling ourselves “I love you” – because really, when was the last time you said that to yourself?
After yoga, I would have to make the difficult decision of where to nap – hut, hammock or beach. Yummy brunch of salads, eggs, tofu curries and the like was served from 11-12:00 p.m., tea and biscuits in the afternoon and then the second yoga session from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Our days were our own – almost everyone stayed nearby resting, reading, swimming or sunning. Because most people were staying from 2 weeks to one month, I was one of the few going to every class. It was very flexible and free, not nearly the regimented program I expected it to be.
Over the weekend, I also read a book that I had picked up about a year ago but just wasn’t ready to read. It is called The Power and is the follow-up to The Secret. I think I’m the only person on the planet who had not read one or both of these books but if you are like me, to summarize they are about the Law of Attraction. Simply put, positive or negative thoughts can bring positive or negative results. Regardless of your own perspective, I think the world needs a lot more positive energy and I look forward to contributing heaps of it!
All in all, it was a quick weekend away but I felt like a whole new person when I returned. Refreshed and re-energized, I’m looking forward to taking on every wonderful opportunity that comes my way!
Thank you to each one of you who support me and love me from near and far – know that you’re always in my thoughts.
Oy, I’ve been embarrassingly negligent with my newbie blog! It’s a lot like that Christmas letter you always intend to write but want to commit loads of time to sit down and do it properly, and that time just never seems to come.
So enough excuses, here is a quick and dirty update.
They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. There was a time when I really thought my job would break me. And I’m not talking about 10 years ago at the start of my PR career, I mean the first 3-6 months after I landed in Dubai. It was by far the biggest challenge with the most difficult obstacles that I have ever had to overcome. However, through sheer determination (not to mention, a tad too much pride) I persevered and stuck it out to not only open the hotel, but stay on for 18 months and elevate it’s profile within the regional and international media.
Now I’ve signed up to do it again – this time in Abu Dhabi. I will be opening the largest hotel in the world for the brand; 447 hotel rooms, 85 villas, 11 restaurants…I could go on. It’s a monster project and I can hardly wait to get started! I will be living in Dubai and commuting to Abu Dhabi – it’s about 45 minutes to an hour each way. Tentative start date is April 1 (working on obtaining my visa) and the hotel is set to open later this Fall.
I had an opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago and play tourist for an afternoon. One of the highlights was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The architecture was stunning and everything from the carpets to the chandeliers were breathtaking. It boasts one of the largest chandeliers in the world and all 7 chandeliers are made of Swarovski crystals, with a combined value of almost USD $10,000,000. Because it’s a mosque, modesty is of the utmost importance and women have to wear abaya and cover their hair. Personally, I’d love to wear the abaya every day – imagine, never having to worry about what to wear or doing your hair! It would save me an hour every day at least.
Ok, I’ve redeemed myself hopefully with this dispatch and promise to write more soon. Off to Goa for the weekend – yes, you can do that when it’s a 3-hour flight away – so will definitely have more updates.
While Dubai is a place people come to experience the abundance of diverse cultures, there is always a part of you that craves the familiarity of home (and I don’t just mean hitting up the newly opened, Canadian institution Tim Hortons which has taken UAE by storm).
Today Surf Dubai hosted the 3rd Sunset Open surfing competition. While I sat, blasted by the high-winds and sunshine, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to many events in Whistler – a musician belting out tunes on acoustic guitar (an anomaly here since buskers are non-existent by strict visa regulations), a Red Bull tent passing out product and although the event was sponsored by Quiksilver, Roxy, Oakley and Monster logos were in abundance as well. But above all else, the most frequent comment heard was that this felt like a “normal” place.
And I smiled as a Kiwi chimed in agreement with the Brit, who nodded at the South African, while the Indian men cheered on the surfers and the Arab ladies held on to their abaya and hijab in the raging winds. ‘ Yup’, I agreed, ‘normal.’
As I was putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard as the case may be – to finally launch my first blog, I got cold feet.
Since moving to Dubai in September 2010, I’ve had countless friends and family ask me to write, to tell more about my life here, to explain what it was like to move so far away and transition to a radically different culture. With no good explanation (well, a lack of internet and a 90 hour work week were pretty good excuses), I just never got started. So imagine the week I finally put my mind to it, the framework of this blog was created, I’m wrapping my head around what kind of introduction I should make – and something happened that was startling, sobering but truly epitomized the way of life here….
Five bloggers were sent to prison for insulting the leaders of the country. And not just for the night. One blogger received 3 years in prison and the remaining four received 2 years each.
It was enough to make me want to unplug my laptop and cancel my internet.
Now two months later I realize it’s the perfect introduction.
This is my life in Dubai.