The opening bash for the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai (20 November 2008) might be a case of ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.’
The multi-million dollar extravaganza was organized before the financial meltdown affected Dubai and the other emirates.
The local stock market has crashed, losing two thirds of its value since the beginning of the year, and Dubai's real estate sector, a major driving force of domestic economy, has begun to slow.
When a UAE company launches a product these days it is usually lacking in cultural authenticity.
Dubai opens hotels by importing international stars not by showcasing Emirati culture. Emiratisation is shaping employment quotas and salaries but it is hardly affecting entertainment and business launches. How will the Atlantis be opened today?
First you invite (pay for) more than 2,000 world celebrities to attend the event and get the local press to call it "the party of the decade."
Second, ensure that talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, actors Robert De Niro and Denzel Washington, and former basketball great Michael Jordan are there to walk the red carpet at the 1.5-billion-dollar "Atlantis, The Palm" hotel, thus modelling the idea that if it is good enough for them then it is good enough for me.
Third, pay $4.4 million for Kylie to come and officially launch the establishment which will be adorned by flowers arranged by a New York florist and a sand castle created by a sand castle creator flown in from Australia.
Finally, there is the ubiquitous fireworks display and in the tiring ‘look at me, look at me’ fashion these pyrotechnics will be "seven times larger than this year's Olympic Games opening ceremony" in Beijing and will be "visible from space", according to the event organisers. For the money spent I hope those up in the space station tonight can see the action through the Dubai smog.
The promoters are saying that part of the attraction is that the hotel boasts the largest waterpark in the Middle East and a gigantic aquarium in which 65,000 fish, along with an enormous whale shark, swim in 11 million litres of water. They are keeping silent about the animal rights abuses.
The public in the UAE has gone crazy and in a country where protest is prohibited ordinary people have joined with animal rights campaigners and are raising concern about the confinement of ‘Sammy’ the whale shark.
“There's not a true scientific reason to keep the whale shark in a tank. It's clear that they brought it as an attraction,” said Azzedine Downes, the Dubai-based vice president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “To remove a female from the population just further endangers the species.”
They are the biggest fish on earth, growing as long as 65 feet and trade in whale sharks is regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
It appears that Oprah, Robert de Niro, Denzel Washington, Kylie and co have been lulled by the loot and the lavishness of the Atlantis hospitality into forgetting their animal rights responsibilities. Like the other guests they will probably ‘plunge through shark-infested waters’ on the way to their $7,500 a night suites but will they sleep soundly?
Hopefully they will think of the whale shark which could live for 70 years, be diving up to 6,000 feet and who in her natural environment would be populating the species and ranging for thousands of miles but instead is imprisoned in a small glass box.
It is not too late for these celebrities to use their considerable power and call for the freedom of the whale shark.
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Environmentalists have called on the managers of a massive new marine-themed resort in Dubai to release a whale shark they are holding inside a giant fish tank. (Courtesy Kamran Jebreili/ Associated Press)