x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

On the road, in restaurants and on wrists … the bling is back

By traditional accounts, Dubai's economy seems to be growing. But what do a few unofficial measurements show?

Traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) is one often mentioned as a yardstick for the Dubai economy. Antonie Robertson/ The National
Traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) is one often mentioned as a yardstick for the Dubai economy. Antonie Robertson/ The National

The real economy of Dubai - consisting of the "three Ts" of transport, trade and tourism - is back on a growth path, according to all the official statistics from the Government of the emirate on GDP, commercial and retail activity.

But there are a few other unofficial measurements I regard as far more significant in logging the emirate's recovery from the global financial crisis. And they are also far more interesting than dry government statistics.

Traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) is one often mentioned as a yardstick for the Dubai economy, and I agree that the rush hour has now become a must-avoid travel time once more - just as it was in 2006, when I first arrived.

But volumes on the SZR can be a reflection of a broken-down Al Naboodah bus at the Trade Centre roundabout just as much as economic recovery, so I prefer another measure: the underground car park at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

In 2006 and 2007, it was virtually impossible to find a parking spot there after 9.30am. Around lunchtime, you could just forget it, and head straight for the patch of undeveloped desert nearby that served as overspill.

Then, for a couple of years, you could suddenly park in the DIFC at any time of the day as business stayed away from the financial hub.

Now it is getting busy again. You might have to drive around a few times if you arrive after 10am, but you will probably find a spot eventually. As lunch hour approaches, it is now virtually impossible again.

Another telling guide to the state of the Dubai economy is the Japanese restaurant Zuma in the DIFC Gate Village. The place has always been popular with the financial professionals in the DIFC, but a couple of years back you could at least guarantee a walk-in table on a Sunday evening.

Last Sunday, the joint was hopping and it was lucky I had made a reservation. Instead of the twosome tables for couples, many of the customers were seated in big, celebratory groups - with a dozen people or so. Deal-closing festivities? Sure looked like it.

My final index is a new one for me. I recently had cause to visit the premises of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, a family-owned watch dealer that has the Rolex concession in Dubai, and what an eye-opener that was.

In the Dubai Mall store - a real Aladdin's cave of treasures - it was impossible to find a free assistant to make my humble inquiry. The store was bunged, mainly with young Emirati ladies trying on top-of-the-range, diamond and gold encrusted things of beauty.

At the Mall of the Emirates branch, it was similar, so I just waited my turn and watched what was going on. In the space of 30 minutes, the shop sold four watches with an aggregate display-case value of at least Dh250,000 (US$68,058).

The buyers, who included myself in the cheapest transaction of the half-hour, were Russian tourists and young Arabs, again heavy on the "bling" factor.

And they said Dubai was finished.

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Fickle folks, those Americans.

Last week a US organisation, the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey, bestowed a much-deserved honour on Sultan bin Sulayem, the chairman of the Dubai ports giant DP World.

Mr bin Sulayem was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame, a US-run body that recognises achievements in the world of shipping. The award "is conferred on visionaries of the 21st century who, through the excellence of their company, organisation and services, exemplify the qualities of futuristic thinking in the maritime industry". Surely these couldn't be the same ports of New York and New Jersey where xenophobic executives and union leaders protested and lobbied so hard in 2006 to block DP World's takeover of those US ports owned by P&O, with the result that they were excluded from the eventual deal? Indeed they are the same.

Anyway, congratulations, Mr bin Sulayem. Maybe they'll let you buy the ports back now?

Just proves that one man's visionary is another's security risk.

fkane@thenational.ae

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