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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Promote Dubai’s history and culture instead of beaches and malls, experts say

Too many visitors are being shuttled straight from the airport to hotels and beachfront resorts in ‘new Dubai’ and never get the chance to explore the more established areas of the city. As such many tourists have little idea of the emirate’s rich history.
Bastakiya, a Dubai tourist attraction. Research carried out at Zayed University found that both UAE residents and tourists feel the emirate should be doing more to promote its culture and history. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Bastakiya, a Dubai tourist attraction. Research carried out at Zayed University found that both UAE residents and tourists feel the emirate should be doing more to promote its culture and history. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // No one can deny the alluring beauty of the Creek district with its souqs, abras, dhows and nearby Al Fahidi.

Now a cultural expert says more emphasis needs to be given to promoting Old Dubai to tourists, instead of beach developments or super malls, to give them a taste of the emirate’s real heritage.

“Everyone has the beach and sunshine and malls,” said Nasif Kayed, director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre For Cultural Understanding in Al Fahidi.

“We at the centre are the only true cultural experience.

“Visiting a museum, to stand in front of a sculpture and read information, it isn’t enough any more. People want to know why we dress this way, why we eat this way. They want to learn and interact.”

Mr Kayed said that even Emiratis knew little about the city’s cultural areas.

“The houses are empty, it’s not enticing,” he said. “It’s been a battle of whose responsibility it was.

“But now that the tourism and cultural authorities have got together with the municipality, things will move forward, bringing hotels, restaurants and a true cultural experience over the next couple of years.”

Research at Zayed University found that residents and tourists feel that the emirate should be doing more to promote its culture and history. “The growth of Dubai has been so quick that there could be a loss of identity,” said Dr Filareti Kotsi, a tourism expert from Zayed University.

“When I first started teaching and wanted to take students on trips it amazed me how few had been to places like Bastakiya.

“What was interesting is that families don’t take the kids to these places and instead go to the more modern places like Dubai Mall.

“In Abu Dhabi there are museums and galleries opening but in Dubai it’s about promoting the culture within, the Emirati identity.”

Emirati students Rowdha Al Sayegh and Maryan Al Awar interviewed 120 people including tourists, nationals and expatriates to gauge their perceptions of how Dubai is branded to tourists.

“Many of them [45 per cent] said Dubai should do more to promote culture and heritage,” said Ms Al Sayegh, 20.

“We found it interesting that people didn’t think Dubai had culture, so clearly it’s not being promoted properly.

“We came up with the conclusion that the problem starts with us as Emiratis. When tourists ask us questions about where to go, we tell them places like Dubai Mall or Jumeirah Beach Residence.

“Why not take them to a local restaurant to give them a more authentic Emirati experience.

“Maybe we should educate ourselves more before changing other people.”

Ms Al Awar, 21, said places such as the Heritage Village or Al Fahidi “just don’t come up” when asking people about tourism.

“A lot of people think of Dubai as a luxurious shopping destination. That’s partly because of Dubai Mall but when we asked if they felt Dubai was better known for the shopping or the Dubai World Cup, more than four times the number said shopping. With growth, we’ve kind of lost track of how rich our culture and history is.”

Ms Al Awar said it was important for all Emiratis, not only those in the tourism industry, to interact with people visiting the country.

mswan@thenational.ae

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