Out with the New and in with the Old

Last week I was privileged enough to be invited as a guest speaker for the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing’s (DTCM’s) 3rd Annual Environment Tourism training workshop. The event is the brain-child of the eco-warrior and passionate; Shaikha Ebrahim Al Mutawa who seems to be on a mission to instill environmental consciousness among tourism providers in Dubai.

My talk was titled Ecological; Economic and Social Pillars of sustainable tourism in tour operators. What surprised me about the forum and the industry in general is that we are seldom asked about our carbon footprint, our use of renewable energies or the types of construction materials we used to build the camp. Yet, environmental strategies headlined most of the plans I was hearing from the participants in regards to their quest to become a more sustainable business.

However, what we do have on a daily basis are guests asking incredibly specific and educated questions regarding the culture and the heritage of the UAE. The fascination our guests have for the cuisine, customs and Bedouin life is remarkable. Yet most tour operators ignore this element of sustainable tourism. The reason, I have been told time after time is; that international visitors don’t really care about getting to know the culture. Instead, they want the excitement of a crazy dune bash, want to upload a photo of themselves on the back of a camel chugging a beer or gyrating beside a scantily clad belly dancer. Is this true?

In response, let me highlight the comments relating to the #2 rated Attraction in Dubai on TripAdvisor; the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding…

“It was a great way to start our vacation on a foundation of awareness and understanding instead of the stereotypes that flood us”

“A fantastic way to dispel myths and really understand the place”

“Wonderful opportunity to meet people who understand the culture of Dubai”.

And also from the #1 rated Activity in Dubai; Platinum Heritage…

“For the first time in 2 years I felt close to the history and culture of the people of the UAE. I was able to ask questions about wildlife, plant life, and traditions to knowledgeable, approachable, friendly guides. All the staff showed respect to their guests and to the area, animals and culture”.

“The conservation area, the falconry demonstration, the traditional dinner in the Bedouin campsite, the camels, the henna, the traditional dancer–all amazing. This definitely seemed to give us a window into the traditional culture of the area”.

“The guides are very knowledgeable; the tour groups small, the food very authentic – and plentiful. It gives you a great glimpse into the heritage of this country”.

“It seems like every tourist to Dubai books a desert safari, and from what I’ve read of other companies, these are very touristy and unauthentic. That is not the case with Platinum Heritage. I was so impressed!”

I think our guests are shouting loud and clear that despite the wonders of the modern developments in Dubai, the touristy shows we THINK our guests want to see; the truth is that both international guests and local residents are craving knowledge about the Dubai of yesteryear.

I hope that my talk, highlighting what our guests are telling us, even in the smallest way will sharpen the focus within the tourism industry in Dubai, that we need to acknowledge the curiosity and intellect of our guests and showcase the rich culture and heritage of this region in order to preserve the true hospitality and traditions of this incredible country.