Dubai was recently ranked the best in the whole world when it comes to hotels and shopping experiences, according to a recent survey conducted by the travel review website TripAdvisor.

As such, Dubai has defeated long-standing champions such as London, New York and Paris, as well as other international cities renowned for their shopping and hotel facilities. The survey included 54,000 respondents and the results were certainly in line with other awards and honours given to the city, including its flagship seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab retaining the title of Best Hotel in the World in a recent Daily Telegraph poll.


Lessons from Tokyo

Given the emirate’s massive investment and continuous effort towards developing its tourism, hospitality and shopping sectors, such results come as no surprise. However, it’s also useful to note what distinguishes the winners in the other TripAdvisor categories, to see what lessons can be learned so that Dubai can improve as an overall destination. In this context, it is interesting that the Japanese capital Tokyo came top for overall experience, garnering the highest scores in categories such as cleanliness, friendliness and public transport.

Commuters wait on the platform as a train passes by at a station on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo

Yamanote Line in Tokyo

It appears that Dubai is not far behind in these other categories, especially since the infrastructure already exists — even though it is still new and in some cases incomplete — in fields such as public transportation.

In any case, the issue of public transportation is one that should be taken seriously, because the downside of Dubai’s increasing popularity is that its population will increase year on year. This will lead to traffic congestion if people continue to rely on private vehicles, as is the case is now. And while it is unfair to compare a young project such as the Dubai Metro with the 151-year-old London Underground, it is useful to see the Tube as a model to emulate as it facilitates transportation all over London, while services on the Dubai Metro remain limited to specific areas. The Metro is not yet, therefore, a real alternative to private transport.

Meanwhile, complaints about taxis in Dubai have become commonplace, and most of them concern the fact that some drivers are not fluent speakers of Arabic or English. This certainly limits communication. Not to mention the fact that some drivers may have arrived in Dubai only recently and are not familiar with the city.


Culture counts


The Colosseum in Rome

The TripAdvisor survey revealed another significant point: Dubai ranks lowest for culture. The top three cities in this category are Rome, Vienna and Paris. Although it is unfair to compare Dubai with these three cities, considering that they are open museums par excellence, the emirate still has a lot of thinking and work to do if it’s to improve in terms of promoting local culture. I think this will be a real challenge since “culture” cannot be developed overnight.

Culture is the result of accumulated experiences and legacies of hundreds or even thousands of years, as is the case in Rome. The tourists’ cultural experience thus expands from visiting remarkable historical buildings and houses of worship to attending the opera, admiring sculptures and oil paintings, and enjoying traditional Italian dishes. Modern Italian culture is also present, because a tourist can visit an Italian football club or, for that matter, run into an artist or a famous Italian designer.

South Korean singer Psy

South Korean singer Psy

Perhaps a more relevant and recent example worth investigating is the South Korean cultural experiment – or what has now become known as the “Korean Wave”. Indeed, in just two decades, Korean culture has changed in status from underdog to global phenomenon. One only needs to remember that Psy’s Gangnam Style music video has now reached two billion views on YouTube and that there are Arabic television channels broadcasting Korean soap operas, called K-Drama.

Arab culture, and more specifically Emirati culture, is rich. It encompasses music, dance, food and traditional crafts. However, we, as Arabs, have a long way to go before this can be developed and exported.

To conclude, I think the TripAdvisor results are fair. On one hand, they acknowledge that Dubai leads the world in terms of services, and on the other that it needs to develop its culture further.

Published in collaboration with Al Arabiya News

Author: Faisal J. Abbas is the editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English. He can be found on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas.

Image: People are pictured at the Dubai International Financial Centre REUTERS/Omr Mohamed