Dubai Feature

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Doing Business in Dubai

The entire UAE has a liberal outlook and is committed to free trade. The country has a modern business infrastructure with high-quality, high-tech office space and well-established travel logistics, a beneficial fiscal plan for corporations and individuals, and a confident business atmosphere. Contrary to popular belief, only 30% of the nation's gross domestic product comes from oil revenues—an even smaller percentage in Dubai because of its diverse, robust economy.

The UAE is a major consumer of U.S. goods and services, with $8.4 billion worth of imports. More than 500 U.S. companies have offices in the UAE, and nearly 20,000 Americans live and work here. The UAE and the U.S. are negotiating a future free trade agreement, but nothing has been decided yet.

If you are heading to the emirate for business, you might want to follow a few points of etiquette. Make sure that any brochures or materials you take are high-quality, and carry lots of business cards, printed in English and Arabic. English is widely used in the business world, but a few words of Arabic, a polite phrase or two, will be considered good manners by your Emirati clients.

Many Emirati businesses are family run, and you may be required to meet junior members of the firm to begin building a relationship before you are allowed to meet the real decision-makers.

Arrive for meetings on time, but know that punctuality is not highly valued and you may find yourself waiting to meet the client. Similarly, your meeting may be disrupted by telephone calls and even personal matters.

Business is not conducted in a vacuum here. At the beginning of a meeting it's normal to have a drink with your client (tea, coffee, or a soft drink—no alcohol) and to chat about general topics to build a bond. Oftentimes, business is done over a meal. If you receive an invitation for a meal, it is considered polite to respond in kind even if it prolongs your discussions.

Emirati businesspeople usually put greater emphasis on verbal agreement than most executives in the Western corporate world. In the UAE, your word is binding, so make sure you mean what you say when agreeing to terms, conditions, or prices.

Other useful information:

Make sure any printed materials, such as brochures or pamphlets, don't have pictures of women that could be regarded as sexy or provocative. Don't include images of alcohol, people drinking alcohol, or pigs or pork.

Pointing is considered rude, so don't use a pointed finger to accentuate your words.

Be prepared to put a lot of time up-front into building relationships before you start seeing a return.

Haggling is at the heart of all business transactions, so factor this in to your pricing structure.

The silent one in the group is often the decision-maker, so address answers to all meeting attendees.

It's important to note that Dubai has a different attitude than other Arab countries toward women in business. For example, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait have much stricter rules regarding dress and behavior. Here are some things to consider:

At large multinational conventions or smaller meetings with Arab female staff or clients, you may find tables labeled "women only." Women aren't required to use these tables, but men are required to sit elsewhere, allowing women to separate themselves from male company if they choose to do so.

At formal dinners women and men may be seated at different tables or on different sides of the room.

Women can wear standard feminine Western business dress—meaning no short skirts, no midriff-baring, and no cleavage on show. Slacks are acceptable. If possible, clothing should be loose-fitting so as not to draw attention to the shape of the body.

Some Muslim men won't touch women to whom they are not related or married. Take your cue on handshakes from your host. If he offers his hand, shake it; otherwise make eye contact and nod in acknowledgement as you are introduced to each other.

Dubailand: Coming to a Desert Near You

Dubai's pleasure dome is a colossal fun-park. At 3 billion square feet, it's bigger than Disneyland and Disney World combined, more than four times the size of Manhattan, and covers the equivalent of 52,000 football fields. Dubailand will be the king of all themed entertainment complexes, including 26 megaparks and dozens of smaller-scale attractions. An eclectic range of organizations and individuals are investing funds in Dubailand—Tiger Woods, Dreamworks, and the Natural History Museum in London. Each brings expertise to the plate to draw crowds from around the world.

At press time the only completed projects were the Dubai Autodrome, the Ernie Els golf course, and the Dubai Outlet Mall. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. New delights will continue to be unveiled between now and 2018, when the finished project estimates 15 million visitors a year.

In 2007 Universal Studios announced that its fourth park—6.5-million square feet in size and a $2.2 million investment—will be built here. Other investors are less well known but their plans are just as grand. Falcon City of Wonders, designed to look like a bird of prey with outstretched wings, will feature life-size copies of some of the world's most iconic architecture. Visitors will be able to experience the Italian dolce vita at the City of Rome or the joie de vivre of Paris' Eiffel Tower, which will double as a hotel. At City of Arabia, the Restless Planet Dinosaur Park will immerse you in a Jurassic land with more than 100 life-size animatronic dinosaurs foraging and hunting near active volcanoes while being bombarded by meteors. Meanwhile Legends of the World will offer a sampling of the world's ecosystems in miniature. The Great Dubai Wheel will be the second largest in the world next to the one in Shanghai and will offer exceptional views extending 50 mi out on a clear day. Each park in Dubailand will have its own luxury resort accommodation, and Bawadi—a 6-mi strip running through the core of the complex—will host 51 hotels offering a total of 60,000 rooms. The mall of Arabia, located in Bawadi, will be the largest in the world.

For those who can't wait to see the final product, Dubailand headquarters has produced an impressive, to-scale model of the developing complex, complete with moving parts and neon lights.

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