Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

On the move: Why you should avoid falling into tourist travel traps

As plans are announced for Dubai's 'Walk of Fame', we question whether the country really needs another tourist trap?

Is it worth dropping overcrowded tourist hotspots off your travel bucket list?
Is it worth dropping overcrowded tourist hotspots off your travel bucket list?

A press release landed in my inbox this week announcing the launch of “Dubai Stars: a walk of fame saluting 10,000 international celebrities in Downtown Dubai”.

My first thought was, does this city really need this as a tourist attraction? Given that the original Walk of Fame in California is already pretty tacky – with crowded streets filled with low-rate performers – it’s hard to think why we would.

This got me thinking about the late celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain, whose travelling ethos eschewed visiting landmarks around the globe. If you’ve seen his television show The Layover, you’ll know that the culinary genius had a unique way of seeing the world. Travelling to different countries and cities, he would simply do as the locals do, exploring local cafes, markets and neighbourhoods and avoiding what he deemed as “tourist-ridden hotspots”.

In the Paris episode, he sipped coffee at an old cafe frequented by Parisians, then went behind the scenes to discover more about the country’s one true love – baguettes. In Chicago, he cruised his way around the Windy City eating street-food hot-dogs and avidly avoiding Navy Pier.

Some tourist attractions have become legendary landmarks that everyone should see, and that’s great. But so many others merely disappoint.

Of course, when you travel, there are always going to be the places that you need to see. I wouldn’t dream of visiting Sydney without checking out the Opera House and a trip to New Orleans without taking in the French Quarter would be like going to a football game and not watching the match. Some tourist attractions have become legendary landmarks that everyone should see, and that’s great. But so many others merely disappoint.

My advice? Don’t do it. Which brings me back to the UAE. There’s so much to do in this country, but some of the ­most-frequented places are becoming too crowded for my liking. And it’s not just because of the tourists. As residents, we will often take visitors to places simply because we feel we should. This can mean paying through the nose in a restaurant for sub-par, overpriced food just because it has good views of one of the city’s buildings.

Skip a visit to the Burj Al Arab. It’s one of my favourite buildings in the city but it’s expensive, you need a reservation and, in my mind, it’s the exterior sail-shape of the building that’s the iconic part anyway. Instead, head a little further west to Jumeirah Al Naseem, where a private beach gets you an even better spot for Burj Al Arab selfies, no reservations required.

In the capital, as impressive as Emirates Palace is for visitors, do you really need to order the gold-topped cappuccino? Instead, head to one of the many speciality coffee stores – Saeed Cafe, just off Delma Street, does a worthy Spanish latte.

In another of his television shows, No Reservations filmed in 2010, Bourdain made it to Dubai, where he shunned the city’s fine-dining for a trip to Bu Qtair. Truth be told, the beachside shack is one of my favourites, but it’s changed a bit since the chef’s visit – having acquired a bricks-and-mortar residence and ramped up its prices. While it’s still worth an occasional trip for those moreish deep-fried prawns, it’s definitely become a tourist trap. About a minute’s walk east is Al Fannah, where you get a very similar set-up, without any of the line-ups.

So, as plans for a street filled with the names of “celebrities” – and 10,000 of them at that – get under way, I’ll be giving it a wide berth. Instead, you can find me on an unnamed beach just beyond Dubai Ladies Club, and that’s as much detail as I’m revealing, because the last thing we need is another crowded shoreline.

Updated: March 23, 2019 11:05 AM

SHARE

SHARE