Dubai's standing as a global tourist destination continues to grow, even if its march to regional preeminence has slowed in the face of financial uncertainty. Within just a few short decades, this tiny piece of land has gone from being a relative backwater to one of the world's most publicized success stories, a place where everything has seemed possible. In diversifying its economy away from dependence on oil income, Dubai invested heavily in its tourism sector.
Indeed, Dubai has become a tourist magnet for people from all over the world. Its principal attractions are its white-sand beaches, glitzy malls, over-the-top activities, and swanky nightlife. And it's not just tourism - the emirate has established itself as the region's major commercial hub - carefully branding its image as an urban center offering political and economic stability, no corporate or income tax, and minimal red tape for those who invest here.
For me, what makes Dubai most interesting is not its proliferation of five-star beach resorts, high-end shopping centers, or fabulous nightlife, but rather the way in which ethnic and national groups from around the globe have congregated here to be part of a great urban experiment. The audacity of projects Dubai has embarked on has been unmatched, with foreign labor doing most of the work - more than 150 nationalities live and work here. Despite Dubai's attempts to manage its image, it has not been a perfectly smooth ride. The financial crisis exposed massive debt lurking behind some of the emirate's most ambitious developments, leading to project cancellations and indefinite holds. There are numerous accounts of day laborers being exploited, especially unskilled labor from South Asia - and the financial crisis did them no favors in terms of wages, benefits, or rights. And much of the rapid construction has imposed enormous environmental costs.
The future of Dubai remains an open question, but there are plenty of reasons to believe it will continue its ascent, if a bit more humbly. The government of Abu Dhabi helped Dubai out of the worst of the financial crisis in 2009. By the following year, a modest global economic recovery was underway, with positive consequences for the U.A.E. Trade, finance, and communications remain important elements of the economy, which is being effectively diversified. Dubai's tourist infrastructure remains far ahead of other cities in the region. But despite its financial troubles, Dubai is just about the most stable, entertaining, and relatively liberal place in the region, which will make it attractive to visitors for a long time to come.
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