Business travel expert Mark Frary's travel guide to Dubai. Need a great value hotel? Want to know the city's movers and shakers on Twitter? Looking for ways to spend your down-time in Dubai? The answers are all here.

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Dubai is one of the success stories of the Middle East. Its spectacular growth since the discovery of oil in the 1960s means it now accounts for almost a third of the United Arab Emirates’ GDP. The population has exploded too – from 40,000 in 1960, to more than 2 million today. Incredibly, though, fewer than 15% of these are UAE nationals – in fact, more than half the population hails from India.

But Dubai these days is about far more than just oil. Diversifying its economy in recent years, its GDP from oil output had fallen to just 2% by 2008. Retail and wholesale is one of the most important contributors to the emirate's economy, while hospitality, including travel and tourism, is growing strongly.

The emirate's traditional centre was the Dubai Creek but it has expanded rapidly south and west along the 12-lane Sheikh Zayed road which speeds towards neighbouring Abu Dhabi. Here you will find the financial centre, the Jumeirah district and the lofty Burj Dubai skyscraper.

Construction, despite faltering in the economic downturn, has resumed apace. The building of the enormous Dubai World Central development, including what could end up as the world's largest airport, promises plenty of work in the construction sector for years to come.

Doing business in Dubai is relatively straightforward. The language of business is English, although documents will be in Arabic. There are general company ownership restrictions for non-UAE nationals, but the emirate's sector-focused (media, healthcare etc.) free trade zones offer 100% ownership and tax exemptions for expats.

Express Essentials

Regional hub Dubai International (DXB) is one of the best connected airports from Heathrow, with Emirates (five daily A380 services), British Airways (2), Qantas (2), Royal Brunei (1) and Virgin Atlantic (1) all offering services.


Official taxis from the airport are cream coloured (pink trimmed if they have female drivers) and the journey downtown takes around 25 minutes. The fare should be no more than Dh100. The city's recently built metro links the airport to all main areas and trains run every ten minutes from terminals 1 and 3 except on Friday mornings.

Culture Shot

Dubai has a dizzying number of skyscrapers, the third highest density in the world after Hong Kong and New York, and is home to the world's tallest building – the 828m-tall Burj Khalifa. A visit to the observation deck on level 124 (of 163) takes about an hour and costs Dh125-150, depending on the time of day.

burj khalifa

Trade has long been part of Dubai's culture and it is no different today – particularly retail. Take time to have a trawl through the gold souk for some inexpensive jewellery to take home for your partner, or visit the Level Shoe District at the Dubai Mall. Claimed to be the world’s biggest shoe shop, you can pick up a pair of Louboutins – or choose from more than 300 other top designers.

Dubai doesn't do culture very much, but you can reflect on Dubai's past with a visit to the museum in Al Fahidi Fort, Bur Dubai which showcases the emirate's pre-oil history.

The Black Book

The popular Jumeirah Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road is handy for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Dubai International Convention Centre. Rooms are modern and spacious and have great views, while the hotel's 51st floor Alta Badia bar is great for sundowner cocktails.


The Address group has five luxury properties in Dubai including one that forms part of the Dubai Mall complex. Combining good technology with a contemporary design, and luxury with Middle Eastern touches, you get 400-thread linens, a choice of pillow and toiletries by Aqua Di Parma.

Famous for its ‘sail’ design, the Burj al Arab hotel, is a Dubai icon – and having cocktails in its Skyview bar is a great way to enjoy it. The Madinat Jumeirah next door has one of Dubai's best restaurants, the Pierchic, set on a jetty out over the Gulf.

Business Insiders

If you want the inside track on Dubai then follow these influencers on social:

  • With more than 3 million followers – more than Dubai's population – His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is the envy of many political leaders.
  • Bollywood has a love affair with Dubai, and movie star Shah Rukh Khan is one of many with homes here.
  • The Twitter feed of the UAE's English language daily newspaper, @TheNationalUAE is an essential read.
  • One of the best sources for UAE and Middle East politics is the Twitter feed of some-time FT and New York Times columnist Sultan Al Qassemi. 
  • Food and drink blogger Samantha Wood has lived in Dubai for 15 years and shares photos from the city's culinary scene on Instagram

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