View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Aussies Bounding to the UAE

Australian restrictions lifted for the Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways this week will bring greater numbers of Australians to the United Arab Emirates.

This decision means that Emirates may increase its quota from the existing 49 flights per week to 84 flights, representing by 2010 a whopping increase of 71% and a rapid rise to becoming the major carrier in the southern continent.

The Abu Dhabi based Etihad Airways, which is shortly making its virgin flight Down Under, has received the green light for a 2010 target of 28 flights each week. This is bad news for the struggling Qantas airline but good news for Aussie and Emirati tourists.

As a person whose roots are in Australasia, I have been getting so many questions from people in the Antipodes that I’m contemplating the establishment of a Travel Advisory Service called ‘UAE Down Under.’ The Kiwis, who are only a kangaroo hop over the Tasman Sea, are also packing their bags for the Emirates. The UAE business leaders know that if they conquer the Australian tourist trade, they will also have the Kiwis in the Aussie pouch.

The top question they are asking concerns safety. The UAE is part of the Middle East and years of media coverage have firmly forged the term ‘Middle East’ with war, confrontation, invasion and terrorism—all signaling danger.

Business leaders and politicians, who have drummed up a phenomenal trade of US$3 billion (Dh11 billion) between Australia and the UAE, are working hard to massage the minds of the intending Aussie tourists. The Emirates logo has been plastered on the Collingwood Aussie Rules football players’ jumpers, the sleeves of the Australian cricketers and, the Melbourne Cup, ‘the race that stops the nation’, is known as the ‘Emirates Melbourne Cup.’ These marketing campaigns are instilling within Australian minds the view that the UAE is about top competition, champions, winners and success—in short, the very best in business, sport and recreation.

The transformation of the Aussie mind about the UAE is still very vulnerable to new wars and terrorist activities. The unfair coupling by the media of the words ‘Muslim’ with ‘terrorists’ means there is work to do in helping Australians to realize that the UAE natives are friendly.

The stories are filtering down to Australia about the Dubai playground. Giant shopping malls, indoor ski slopes, desert safaris, dune bashing, Wild Wadi, sheeshas and high rise dining all sound like an Arabian version of Las Vegas. There’s no doubt about it, on the mind of most Aussie tourists, Dubai is hot, in more ways than one.

Dubai has become a tantalizing and convenient stop off point where Aussies can have a couple of days on the way to their final destination experiencing something exotic. The draw cards are there for the Aussies to come and play for a few days but they are insufficient to make them stay for long.

Most Aussies will not make the UAE their major travel spot if they desire a holiday for rest and relaxation. They can get sun, surf and beaches at home or in nearby Bali or the Pacific. Spending 16 hours on a plane each way for a week or two of blobbing out is sure to erode what relaxing benefits they acquire in the Emirates.

Aussie tourists are currently viewing the UAE as a short and cheap stopover: a place to refresh and lighten up before going on to Africa, Europe and America for some serious tourism.

The growing number of amusement parks such as the proposed Falcon City of Wonders, with its life size replicas of the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China will cause a momentary gasp and create some intrigue but they will not wash with the Aussie tourists. A prized Australian value is captured in the phrase ‘fair dinkum,’ which is about being genuine, real or in the local lingo, ‘without bullshit.’ They won’t linger or invest much money on the fake and artificial edifices which are taken out of their context.

From a distance Aussies are generally impressed with the transformation of Dubai and the ‘can do’ attitude of its leaders. They see, mirrored in the glitz and glam of the city, something of their own Aussie arrogance and brashness.

It is unfortunate that Dubai, this ‘Paris Hilton of the Middle East’ has blinded the minds of tourists to other attractions that the UAE offers. The subdued and demure capital has been slower to draw attention to its wares. The proposed Guggenheim and Louvre franchise in Abu Dhabi might add another day to the Aussies’ itinerary but if they are serious about art and architecture they will head for the authentic articles in Europe.

Known for their enjoyment of a tipple or three, Aussies are asking whether they can get plentiful alcoholic refreshments in the UAE or whether they must expect a ‘dry shower.’ Ditto for their usual holiday breakfast fare of bacon and eggs.

With Australia holding the world record for the highest gambling rates in the world, their tourists are secretly wondering, what will become of their habit when they enter a country where gambling is illegal. Are the stories true, that there are ways and means of having a flutter in the Emirates? How will they cope when they get online in a UAE hotel or Internet CafĂ© to discover their favourite gambling sites blocked because they are ‘inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates?’ Or do the international hotels have ways and means (nod-nod, wink-wink), of keeping their Aussie patrons satisfied?

The kangaroos will bound across the Indian Ocean and the kiwis will fly to the land of the falcon but there are still challenges for the marketers and the leaders of tourism. As the Australasians are preparing to fly to the UAE, it will be interesting to see if the Emiratis will increasingly make the journey Down Under.

Geoff Pound

Image: Kangaroo jumping to conclusions.