The early to
mid-1980s marked the beginning of an era when everything was available and so
much was fresh and exciting. Nationals and expats had swelled to around 200,000
and were reveling in a life of ease and plenty.
were groaning with every kind of imported foodstuff, including Australian lamb,
American beef, giant prawns from Thailand and things most people take for
granted like fresh milk and bottled mineral water. Tens of new restaurants had
opened up and most of the hotels, including my own, were offering vast buffet
breakfasts, lunches and dinners that outdid anything we saw in Paris or London.
The nice thing was
that nobody was treated as just another number. You only had to eat once in a
restaurant and the staff would remember your name months later – and would
sometimes even recall how you liked your steak cooked or what you drank with
your meal. Visitors were made to feel special; everyone was treated like a VIP.
There were boutiques
selling the latest fashions from Paris and London in Satwa and Deira and in our
lone shopping mall, The Al Ghurair Centre, could be found every type of
imported cloth and extensive ranges of leather shoes, sunglasses, watches and
perfumes. Foreign newspapers were now available with newsagents, but at that
time, were heavily censored with black marker pen or in some cases, were
sold with entire pages ripped out.
The city came alive
in the evenings now that there were so many places to go and so much to do.
Residents were spoilt for choice when it came to deciding what to do during the
weekend. People would often head to the simple Sandy Beach Hotel near the Hajar
Mountain range in Khorfakkan or the nearby Hilton in Fujairah, to dive in the
warm waters of the Gulf of Oman that merges with the Arabian Sea.
Or they would drive
past orange-coloured dunes to the mountainous area of Hatta that borders Oman
where they would be warmly greeted by the Hatta Fort Hotel’s warm and effusive
General Manager, Sergio Magnaldi, before their stay in one of the Hatta Fort
Hotel’s Alpine-type chalets. Magnaldi’s professed love of Hatta wasn’t just
sales talk. He retired with his wife, Sandy, to the Isle of Man in 1997, only
to return to his old job six years later.
to Dubai would be bowled over that such an idyllic place even existed. Dubai
was like a best-kept secret as it didn’t yet feature on the international map.
The government now saw a massive potential in tourism, but it wanted to avoid
mass tourism, preferring to retain Dubai’s exclusive, upmarket ambience. It
wasn’t until the mid-80s that Dubai began to be seriously marketed abroad as a
new tourist destination for the well-heeled.
Instrumental in the
promotion of Dubai far afield was Dubai Duty Free that opened in 1983 as the
first modern, Western-style duty free in the Gulf. It was set up by an Irish
advisory team from Aer Rianta; two of the team’s members, Colm McLoughlin and
George Horan, stayed on as General Manager and Deputy General Manager
respectively. They never returned to Ireland; they hold the same positions
today. Head of Marketing was Anita Mehra, a young American-Iranian woman whose
father had set up the Iranian hospital in the 1970s. Not only was she responsible
for marketing the Duty Free, she was also tasked with marketing Dubai as a hot
new destination. Ms Mehra was an outstanding example of women power in what was
then a man’s world. She did an excellent job.
Dubai Duty Free soon
gained a reputation as being the most value-for money operation of its type;
industry awards followed and the organisation began to sponsor international
sporting events, such as the Dubai Masters, the first major snooker tournament
in the Middle East. Dubai Duty Free is one of the emirate’s greatest success
stories. From an initial annual turnover of just 70 million dirhams, its
turnover in 2010 reached 4.66 billion dirhams.
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