With its futuristic buildings and state-of-the-art hotel complexes, the Emirati city generally attracts a clientele in search of pomp. But the pandemic has shaken up certain habits.
Twirling between distant tables, the waiters at a Dubai restaurant, gloved and masked, pour wine into plastic cups while customers plant disposable forks in steaks served on paper plates.
At the time of deconfinement, in this very popular bistro, the “bling bling” whose rich emirate has the secret is somewhat tarnished by physical distancing and barrier gestures, always in force to fight against the epidemic of Covid-19. “Next time, you can bring your own cutlery,” advises a couple of customers a waiter at the establishment who once built his reputation on the promise of a unique gastronomic experience.
Other restaurants, however, have already emerged luxury plates and cutlery by the time Dubai, the best known of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates federation, begins a gradual return to normal. But with the restrictions still in place, the feeling is that the atmosphere is not what it used to be. “Luxury is no longer so luxurious,” quips a 31-year-old Swedish expatriate. “I do not think that things will return to normal before long,” she told AFP.
“To reinvent oneself”
With few petroleum resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai, which boasts of having the most diversified economy in the Gulf, has forged a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourist center. The city is known for its gigantic shopping malls, high-end restaurants, trendy clubs and five-star resorts, all of which have been greatly affected by the health crisis.
Habits will have to change, say Karen Young, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, about ways to travel, consume and be entertained. “It’s a good time to explore new things. Crowded restaurants and clubs are no longer fashionable, but home chefs yes, ”she told AFP. “We cannot expect a return to normal anytime soon. The recovery will require reinventing itself. ”
If Dubai is gradually easing the restrictions, wearing a mask remains mandatory outside the home and a night curfew is still in effect. Locals can go to the beach, dine in restaurants, and shop in malls that can now run at 100% capacity.
The famous swirling waters of the Dubai Fountain – one of the city’s most popular attractions – have also started dancing to the music and in the shade of the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa. But spectators must keep a good distance from each other, by positioning themselves on small yellow squares marked on the ground.
Tourism is a key sector of the emirate’s economy, which welcomed more than 16 million visitors in 2019. Before the pandemic paralysed global air traffic, authorities were counting on 20 million tourists this year.
According to research firm STR Global, 30% of jobs in the Dubai hotel industry are likely to be lost in the coming months, until demand picks up. “There will be far fewer group trips,” said Dubai tourism chief Hilal al-Marri to Bloomberg in late April. “It really affects the hospitality and tourism industry and its revenues, so there are going to be challenges to be met,” he said.
Experts have warned that the habits of buffets and crowded pools may need to be reconsidered. Luxury hotels and resorts operate at reduced capacity, and many of them are promoting to residents to compensate for the absence of foreign tourists.
But their poolside bars, which generally attract hordes of young people in the scorching heat of summer, remain closed until further notice. Although establishments and businesses are working to create a safe environment for their customers, some remain cautious. “I think twice before spending on an outing, especially when my health could be the ultimate price,” says the Swedish expatriate.