Photograph by Spencer Millsap
Photograph by Spencer Millsap

Stop #4: Dubai, United Arab Emirates—Why We Came

There’s simply no place like Dubai, the oasis on the Arab Peninsula that after striking oil in the 1970s built itself almost overnight. There’s also perhaps no starker contrast than going from the African bush where we’d just been to the glitz and glam of this Middle East city. Dubai has been on a feverish growth pace for more than a decade. Hotels shoot up in weeks, not years, and sometimes sit empty for much longer until the tourists arrive.

The reason we came: We wondered about Dubai’s growth. Can it sustain such feverish expansion? For now the answer seems to be yes. Tourism is up 10 percent this year compared to last year, translating to 7.9 million visitors to Dubai so far in 2013. The country plans to triple that number by 2020, when it hopes to host the prestigious World Expo. It’s difficult to meet an actual Emirati in Dubai—more than 90 percent of people here are guest workers who come mostly from Asia for jobs and send money back home. But one imagines a wealthy Emirati might wonder about what happens after the oil starts to dry up. Alternative energy? Casinos?

At the moment the formula is working well for UAE. Dubai’s growth has also been good for Emirates Airlines, which has been bringing more people to Dubai as the city grows. Emirates, we should disclose, is the leading sponsor of this blog. The company shares some of our same goals: to see the world and stay on the move, so we’re grateful for its support. It’s equally important to clarify that Onward’s editorial content is entirely National Geographic’s, uninfluenced by anyone but our editors.

Over the next few days, we’ll be producing more stories and photos (you can follow Spencer and me on Instagram). We’re also headed shortly to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. And if there’s time, we hope to catch a glimpse of Dubai’s famed indoor ski slope. Just a last note here to the National Geographic accounting department: If it looks like we’re staying at a very nice hotel, that’s because in Dubai, it’s pretty much the only option.