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On my first trip to Dubai, some 15 years ago, I remember visiting the Dubai Museum in Old Town, near the harbour, where the traditional boats called abras that serve as taxis, bobbed about on the water and noisy seaside souks, just like the markets at Woodes Rodgers Walk and Rawson Square back in the day, were a cultural fixture depicting bustling waterfront commerce in Dubai and Nassau respectively. Wondering around the hallowed rooms of Al Fahidi Fort and admiring the artifacts of a bygone era, I came to appreciate the similarities between our two rich cultures, though we are worlds apart in some ways.
Walking through the exhibits, I learned of their humble beginnings, how Dubai started out as a sleepy fishing village just like The Islands Of The Bahamas. The Emiratis later discovered pearls and these gems fetched a pretty penny on the open market and sustained their economy from the 18th century to the first two decades of the 19th century. Pearl harvesting, which was the basis for the founding cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, was inevitably threatened however, by the introduction of cultured pearls from Japan and China that effectively drove prices down such that the Emiratis had to abandon the trade.
Located in different parts of the world, far away from each other, our two economies trundled along on parallel tracks - in The Bahamas, we were adapting to a new phenomenon called tourism while in Dubai, they were recovering from losing their pearl industry and trying to diversify the economy and so they too flirted with tourism while continuing to speculate for oil like other neighboring Arab countries.
In The Bahamas, the Promotion of Tourism Act enacted in January 1964 provided the means for increasing and developing facilities for tourism and to promote measures for attracting tourists to The Bahamas. Foreign visitors flocked to The Bahamas for the beaches, they came to enjoy our music, they ventured out and went into the neighbourhoods to sample the exciting nightlife in clubs like the Silver Slipper, Cat & Fiddle and the DrumBeat and the island continued to boom. The Bahamas was way out front, blazing a trail as a tourism pioneer and Dubai’s visionary leaders were paying attention.
Meanwhile, with the advent of Abu Dhabi’s thriving oil economy and the fact that Dubai’s oil prospecting was not looking as promising, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, wanting a more secure future for his people, explored other means of growing the economy. Dubai finally struck the mother lode in 1966 and this game changer saw them exporting oil by 1969. Dubai’s curiosity with tourism models being followed by country’s like The Bahamas that attracted foreign direct investment was reflective of the forward looking vision that was inculcated into their national development plan by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the current Emir, who is credited with helping to force Dubai’s rapid expansion.
Other noted similarities between these two diverging economies is that our countries were both formerly under British rule and became sovereign nations within two years of each other. The United Arab Emirates received their independence from Britain in 1971 and The Bahamas in 1973. The British influence is still very prominent in Dubai with a wide array of high end lifestyle brands adopted from the former protectorate - popular retail stores like Debenham’s is here, posh high street Harvey Nichols and Waitrose the grocer; Range Rovers, Rolls Royces and Aston Martins are common on the highways and afternoon tea is served everywhere. Drawing on this cultural heritage, they even serve Fish (cod) and Chips the British way, with Sarson’s Malt Vinegar and mushy peas.
It is uncanny. So, who would have imagined that Sir Sol Kerzner (Knighted by The Bahamas), the developer of Atlantis PI, who almost single-handedly revived The Bahamas’ tourism industry in 1995 with his billion dollar investment, inspired by the Lost City of Atlantis, would chose Dubai as his next location for the brand Atlantis The Palm in 2008. Both hotels are 5 Star+ properties with high-end amenities and enjoy consistently soaring occupancies.
As fate would have it, the two country’s paths crossed again six years ago when fortuitously, The Bahamas did not hesitate in casting its vote for Dubai, as the host country for EXPO2020. The Emiratis were so appreciative of this kind gesture that they returned the favour and extended their hand of friendship. They have been very supportive, not only of The Bahamas’ participation in EXPO but when disaster struck, they generously offered to build and outfit our 7,500 sq. ft. Bahamas Pavillion. Like a good friend, they also lent a hand in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian as well as sent medical supplies and equipment to bolster our resolve during the early days of the pandemic.
Further, both countries have sub-tropical climates; Dubai has a sub-tropical desert. The Tropic of Cancer crosses The Bahamas at a point in the Exuma chain and our temperature is more humid and susceptible to hurricanes in the summer; while Dubai, which is built in the desert and so is closer to the Equator, is more arid, has a dry climate with very little rain and scorchingly hot summers that can be very oppressive. Best time to visit would be now, October-April and take in the country exhibits at EXPO2020 including a visit to the Bahamas Pavillion while you are here. There is a reciprocal visa waiver in place so Bahamians do not require any special protocols to visit Dubai. That said, we’ll see you soon.