Building the Dubai Brand

January 9, 2006

I recently gave the keynote speech at the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) Branding Summit held at the seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai. I travel quite frequently and I have never seen anything like Dubai, it’s a boomtown in every sense of the word. The economy is growing at an astounding 17% per year, twice as fast as China’s economy and four times faster than the US. I counted at least 75 construction cranes building major new structures – including what will be the world’s tallest building. Dubai is like Singapore or Hong Kong on steroids!

One’s first impression might be that Dubai is growing directly as a result of oil production, but that is just a small part of the picture. Dubai is a tax-free environment and it lacks the bureaucratic roadblocks so common in the rest of the region. It has a very ambitious mindset and a government to match. A perfect example of a project this environment makes possible is the luxurious real estate development called The Palm – a palm tree shaped island in the Persian Gulf. And to make it even more interesting, Donald Trump is involved in branding this one!

With spectacular growth come problems – big and small. The highways are entirely inadequate for the heavy traffic, making the entire day like rush hour. The mega malls have eclipsed the smaller more traditional shops; in Dubai you either have a shop in the most luxurious, newest, hippest place, or you are passé. This doesn’t lend itself to long-term lease deals or sustainable growth.

From a branding perspective Dubai is absolutely fascinating. How this phenomenal city deals with its growth will be a case study for many future generations.

- James R. Gregory

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