Dubai’s Developers Face Unforeseen Challenges

by Megan Freeman

Far away, across miles of ocean and scorching sand, lies a mysterious city, a place where people live in floating houses, islands are built to look like palm trees, and skyscrapers tower almost as tall as two empire state buildings. This isn’t a fairy tale, though. This is Dubai, one of seven United Arab Emirates.

Over the past 20 years, Dubai transformed from a barren stretch of desert to a bustling metropolis, teeming with businessmen and entrepreneurs. The emirate poured trillions of dollars into making it the next great tourist destination, funding seemingly impossible tasks such as an indoor ski resort (in the middle of the desert), islands shaped like palm trees, and a housing development floating in the middle of a man-made lake.

Dubai recently made headlines when they opened the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure. It stands 2,717 feet high. But that may be all we see coming out of Dubai for a while. The seemingly unstoppable dream city has fallen victim to the global economic crisis, and many projects planned for the future have been scrapped.

Dubai World, the investing company behind most of the madness, is buried in debt. Its real estate subdivision, Nakheel, stopped its plans to build The World islands, which were half completed and are now “just blobs of dirty sand sinking back into the sea” according to one sailor quoted in The Guardian newspaper.

Other developers slowed their projects as well, although not just because of money troubles. Developer Joachim Hauser planned to open Hydropolis, the world’s first underwater hotel, in early 2006 but had to push the date back due to “the engineering and environmental difficulties of constructing an underwater hotel.” It is unclear if Hydropolis will ever open.

Despite all that Dubai has to offer, there are major drawbacks to visiting. Sophomore Maddie Higgins and her family visited Dubai in the summer of 2007, and she didn’t think it was worth all the hype.

“We only went for three days,” said Higgins. “And that was all we needed. We had a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t want to be there for a long time.”

While in Dubai, the Higgins family rode camels, went indoor skiing, explored sand dunes and swam in the Persian Gulf.

“Swimming in the gulf was freaky,” said Higgins. “The water was really hot and gross. It was like swimming in a bathtub. And once you got out of the water it was burning too.”

Because the Persian Gulf is so shallow, water temperatures can reach over 95° Fahrenheit. On land, the temperatures are even hotter, with typical summer days over 100°.
Another downside to visiting Dubai is the cost.

“Everything was expensive there,” said Higgins. “It cost money just to go inside tall buildings and have a look around.”

For the time being, Dubai is too expensive for the middle class. Perhaps in the future, with more funding, Dubai can become the global vacation destination it hoped to be.