We look back on 14 years of Time Out Dubai, and the city that shaped it.
Is there any coincidence in the fact that Time Out Dubai published its first issue just five days before Gordon Ramsay, the superstar mega-chef, opened his first restaurant outside of the UK?
Located in Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel and opened with head chef Angela Hartnett, Verre (as it was then known) would later be run by Jason Atherton – and both would go on to win Michelin stars after their first stints in Dubai, having made significant contributions to the emergence of this city’s fine-dining scene.
While Verre may have closed after ten years, Time Out Dubai has gone from strength to strength, and is celebrating its 500th issue with the very magazine you hold in your hands.
The question that was continuously asked in the run-up to the launch was, ‘Why another magazine for Dubai?’ (The city already had a well-established monthly magazine.) And while 2001 was a growth year, it was far from rammed with the levels of entertainment, dining, shopping, sports, family and nightlife events that Dubai is synonymous with today.
It was an easy question to answer. Only a fool could fail to see the ambitions of the city. Having flown its first flight in 1985, Emirates was already grabbing headlines as a fast-growing international airline not afraid to aggressively compete with the older outfits. The renovated Terminal 1 had been unveiled. Palm Jumeirah was under construction.
Anyone who lived in the emirate in 1997 could hardly forget the Friday morning that Chicago Beach Hotel was demolished, at the click of a controlled-button explosion, to make way for the planned Burj Al Arab, which was later declared by one visiting journalist to be the world’s first seven-star hotel.
In the same year, Jumeirah Group was formed, paving the way for a new breed of hotel and hospitality company that was home-grown-and-owned, breaking the import-only way of doing business. Growth was changing, becoming quicker and more different than ever before.
Significantly, October 1999 marked this change with an announcement from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, heralding the formation of Dubai Internet City, set to become one of the region’s largest Information and Technology business parks. Followed two years later by the formation of Dubai Media City, businesses could now operate from two new free zones in an unpopulated part of the city. In short, September 25, 2001, seemed the perfect time to launch the city’s leading entertainment and lifestyle magazine.
But the city wasn’t just changing physically; it was changing emotionally as well. Dubai was no longer a far-flung expat outpost that the rest of the world had vaguely heard of. News of seven-star hotels, plans for three man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, the Dubai Shopping Festival, which had been pulling in tourists since its launch in early 1995 with promises of massive savings on retail goods, had been grabbing headlines for years.
Now, though, residents and visitors not only wanted more, they expected more.
There was a need for an independently written entertainment magazine, someone to review the best of what the city was beginning to offer and to entertain, educate and inform the reader of where to spend their hard-earned cash during their downtime.
Having changed the rules of how businesses could operate in the city, Sheikh Mohammed set about the next phase for Dubai’s period of mega-growth, in May 2002 issuing a decree enabling expats the opportunity to purchase freehold property and triggering the birth of even more new areas and offerings.
Jumeirah Beach Residence was launched in August 2002, promising a new way of living – a Bur Dubai by the sea, mixing residential and entertainment opportunities all within walking distance from your home or office. Madinat Jumeirah opened in September 2003 – with two five-star hotels, a shopping and entertainment centre and hints of Dubai’s rich past, with abra rides through a series of man-made canals and the latest in fine dining.
Then, in January 2004, construction of the world’s tallest building started. Referred to then as Burj Dubai, it grabbed headlines around the world and started rumours of whether it would be the world’s first one-kilometre-high tower.
And suddenly, four years after launching, monthly just didn’t feel frequent enough. Such was the expansion that in August 2005, exactly 48 months after being asked why we were launching a magazine for the city, it felt like the most natural thing in the world for that magazine to become a weekly.
Likewise, having spent the previous four years anonymously reviewing restaurants, paying for our own meals, such was the breadth of cuisine on offer in Dubai we could launch our first Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards – the results of the 10th edition are on pages 14 to 20 – recognising and rewarding the very best restaurants in the city.
His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, passed away on January 4, 2006 and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became the emirate’s new Ruler.
The same year, the first residence on the newly constructed Palm Jumeirah opened, proving the world’s naysayers wrong. Dubai could indeed follow through on the ambitious plans it had set itself.
Neither the world nor Dubai’s residents will forget the year 2008. Countries across the globe battled the worst recession in a lifetime, and there were big questions as to the effect on Dubai. There was talk that as a ‘new’ economy the problems afflicting property markets and banks elsewhere would mean Dubai would remain immune. The forecast was sunny.
Media crews from around the world decamped onto Palm Jumeirah in September 2008, ready to report on the grand opening of Atlantis The Palm. And they weren’t disappointed. Two thousand guests from around the world were invited to the reported US$5m opening party, and included A-list Hollywood actors such as Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes and Charlize Theron (and Mischa Barton and Lindsay Lohan), as well as some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment. Kylie Minogue was reported to have been paid US$2m to play for the assembled guests, as four Michelin-starred chefs – Nobu Matsuhisa, Giorgio Locatelli, Michel Rostang and Santi Santamaria – cooked and fireworks, reported to be seven times the amount set off for the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, lit up the night sky.
The following month, Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport opened, dedicated to Emirates and planned as a place to house the A380, the world’s largest airplane. November welcomed the opening of The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest. Complete with fountains.
And still there was no sign of recession.
In the background, however, property prices were starting to decline, and rapidly. By 2009, it was obvious that Dubai was not going to escape the troubles of much of the western world. It was a worrying time for residents of a city who had only seen world record after world record, as well as almost weekly announcements of some of the most ambitious construction projects in the world – including a planned underwater hotel, and another city next to Dubai, reported to be twice its size.
Construction projects were put on hold, businesses cut back, people lost jobs and left the country. Prices came down. Roads, in a city famous for its traffic jams, got quieter. But, yet again, the city adapted in a way that it has many times in its history.
This was the year that Dubai opened the first stage of the city’s metro on 09.09.09 (at 9.09.09pm). The sporting world was stunned to hear Dubai announce The Race to Dubai, designed to replace the Order of Merit and offering a staggering US$10million purse, with the winner collecting US$2million.
There was an equally optimistic start to 2010, when January 4 marked the official opening of the world’s tallest tower, officially named the Burj Khalifa in honour of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
It was also the year that the nightlife scene was strong enough to launch the Time Out Dubai Nightlife Awards, recognising the huge effort that the industry had invested for the past five years. This year’s ceremony will be covered in the magazine next week.
It has been a fascinating 14-year journey for Time Out Dubai to watch a city grow and develop into a world-class destination. Nowhere else in the world has achieved anything like it in the same amount of time. It has been a remarkable trip so far, and one we have been proud to witness. The strength of the city lies in the vision of the government in creating a place where so many people from so many countries feel that they can make a difference. In a truly cosmopolitan city where people of all nationalities can work, can live and can call the place their home.