Dubai, the international face of the United Arab Emirates, famous as an ancient kingdom that rose out of the Middle Eastern desert and morphed into a luxurious man-made marvel of modern engineering and design, is a lot more than a contemporary collection of mortar, steel and glass.
The city state is also a repository of Arab culture and hospitality—an age-old tradition in that part of the world that’s taken on new meaning in modern times, fitting itself seamlessly into the leisure vacation side of Dubai and responsible, no doubt, for going home with Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award as the Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in the Middle East for the third consecutive year.
“Hospitality is one of the things that cannot be over emphasized,” explains Virginia Goff, deputy manager of promotions and marketing for Dubai Tourism North America. “Even doing business there, they will rarely say no because hospitality is so important to them. They think they will offend their guest. The way you are treated as a guest in Dubai is just a wonderful experience.”
But it’s also the contemporary, cosmopolitan feel of the modern city itself that’s welcoming, even in a part of the world where Westerners might not feel so welcome. “It’s exotic and it’s safe, especially in that part of the world and it’s really welcoming to Americans because it’s such an international city, so you’ll get the feel and the culture of being in that region, but you’ll feel much more comfortable exploring on your own,” Goff promises.
That kind of destination feel, of course, is an essential aspect of a honeymoon product, particularly an international one and certainly one of the primary reasons why it has become a successful honeymoon spot in that part of the world. But, much like South Africa, Dubai Tourism admits that they’ve never really attempted to position or promote themselves as a honeymoon or romance product here in the North American market.
“It’s not so much that we promoted the honeymoon product actively, it’s more that we’ve devoted so much more of our time and energies educating the trade,” Goff explains, “so I would say that we promoted the destination more. But there’s definitely an allure and because it’s such a luxury destination, I think it naturally just fits into a honeymoon.”
There’s more than enough activities for honeymooners here as well, without the restrictions of other Arab Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia. The nightlife is as contemporary as you’ll find anywhere in the world, there’s a beautiful beach on the Persian Gulf and a variety of cultural activities and tourism attractions that include camel polo and camel racing—there’s even a camel museum—horse racing. There’s also a lot of emerging artists coming out of Dubai and the city boasts a number of art galleries, an art festival and this year will mark the sixth year of the Dubai International Film Festival.
“There are a lot of different activities you can do in Dubai. You can go into the Jumeriah Mosque—after 9/11 our ruler Sheik Mohammed opened it up—and you can go in there for private tours and the women who run it are just amazing,” Goff says. “They have the best sense of humor; it’s actually a really fun tour and they encourage people to ask questions. Every time I’ve taken a really seasoned traveler there, they’ll walk out and say that was one of the most interesting things I’ve done in a really long time.” She adds that, “We also have a shopping festival—[taking place next year from Jan. 28-Feb. 28]—that lasts an entire month. It’s not just a shopping festival—there are fireworks every night, free concerts, there are raffles, there are fashion shows—it’s just a festive, festive time to be in Dubai.”
But for a honeymoon experience, Goff says, you must send your clients out into the desert at least for a night or two. “Everybody thinks of Dubai—well, certainly as a desert—but as a really built up destination with really fantastic, beautiful hotels. But there are a few out in the desert that offer very romantic sorts of experiences. In the sense that at the Jumeriah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa—[think the ultimate in seven-star luxury, an Arabian Night’s Dream come true]—you have your own individual bungalow and your own plunge pool and you have the opportunity to take starry night picnics out in the desert on your own and they really cater to a very romantic feeling,” Goff explains. Clients will also enjoy traditional Arab music, dance and entertainment, all in splendid desert luxury.
“It’s strange, the city is just incredible—I mean it’s this great human imagination and just more inventiveness than you could ever imagine—and then you go to the desert and I think that’s where you feel the soul. The sand is this beautiful soft red and it’s just so magnificent.”