Finding the silver lining

Dubai’s darkest days may have provided its biggest lessons

The Knowledge

On November 17 2008, I stepped off the plane at Dubai airport. Leaving behind a lucrative and exciting freelance travel job back home, I started work at a property magazine in glamorous Dubai. Can you guess what happened? A few weeks later, my life savings were cashed in on a single rent cheque for an overpriced maid’s room in a high-rise tower.

Then, along with hundreds of people across the city, I was handed my pink redundancy slip and given 45 days to get another job or head home, with the ink barely dry on my leaving card.

I’m making you feel depressed? Imagine how I felt. Five weeks later, after juggling an exhaustive job search with attending nearly a dozen friends’ leaving parties, I was back in employment and determined I wasn’t going to become another tragic Dubai expat statistic.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s obvious that the people who held onto their jobs are still here today because they proved they could survive the tough times and have become key to improving the overall service environment that now exists in the city. Staff loyalty has also improved: people have learned it’s not such a good idea to just walk across the road if they fall out with their boss or are unhappy with their salary package. Instead, they’re now more likely to find a way to work things out. As a result, the revolving door of staff that existed in 2008 doesn’t swing as fast as it used to, which has led to stronger relationships all round.

While once Dubai real-estate agents simply had to fill out admin paperwork for overzealous buyers, they soon had to actually learn the art of selling. And it’s no surprise that discount vouchers, lavish deals, group booking and similar concepts soon arrived in the Middle East, and today’s residents are now reaping the benefits of the fact that PR and marketing execs are being challenged to think outside the box to appeal to more savvy, sceptical Dubai punters.

Things in Dubai are still not perfect (no city is), but they are now so much better than they were during the fast-paced days, when short-term thinking and immediate gratification was more of the norm.

As thousands of new people start to arrive, new mega projects are announced almost every week and a sense of recovery grows, let’s hope the benefits brought about as a result of the wake-up call four years ago are not forgotten, and some of the bad habits of the past don’t resurface. We’ve all been warned.

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