Environmental concerns over Dubai tourism developments


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (eTN) – The Gulf’s post-modern emirate of Dubai boasts a tourism industry that accounts for more than 30 percent of its growing GDP. The city has remarkably made full use of tourism since its oil and gas resources have long been depleted decades ago.

Construction in Dubai is growing at an annual rate of 34 percent. HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, said he expects to triple demand and supply of the tourist trade, the lifeblood of this state and heart of the economy. He said, “We plan to achieve economic growth of 11 percent by 2015 and to triple Dubai’s GDP to $112 billion. Responsible travel and tourism growth is key to fulfilling our expectations.”

This plan begs the million-dollar question: what point is too much? And can Dubai sustain growth in a threatened nature environment?

Of many monstrous projects in the city, Dubailand stands very prominent, being the project destined to be the biggest attraction, most ambitious leisure and entertainment park on the entire planet, covering three billion square feet of land along the Emirates Road. People liken its monstrosity to Waterworld.

Speaking at the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Travel & Tourism Summit, Dubailand CEO Mohamed Alhabbai said: “We follow the path laid out before us by HRH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Execution is the next vital component of this effort. Dubai has really executed so many projects such as Dubailand, the tallest tower in the world and more. Tatweer has set its focus on two main criteria with Dubai’s strategic plan focusing on tourism and human capital by building the healthcare city, and the education and knowledge centers as hub for the region. On the other hand, Dubailand comprised of three billion square feet of land has 24 mega projects catering to every single aspect from eco-tourism, retail, sports, science and events.”

Questions arise as to who will sustain long-term demand for the giant leisure structure. Alhabbai said: “Dubai is ideally located in a region with 300 million Arabs and another 1.8 billion people across the world flying into the area. Today, Dubai airport receives 34 million passengers; by 2020 we will have 20 million tourists. We are confident we will achieve our goals in bringing international tourists by associating ourselves with major international brands bringing in more guests. We likewise attach ourselves to the giant companies such as Universal Studios, Dreamworks, Marvel and Six Flags.”
Involving the private sector in these projects help the government complete its vision. Despite this, will water be the biggest issue that will stunt the development and cause the end of this unprecedented growth in the history of tourism? Dubailand’s chair said they are dealing with the administration in following a mandate. “We don’t break ground and develop before getting approvals from the authorities. We had to go through environmental impact studies– taking all the animals from the site to a conservation area. We are very serious in protecting the environment as we move along,” he said.

Water will be scarce, it truly feels, looking not far into the future. Are there fears of water wars in this desert city that has extreme wealth but limited water? According to al Habbai, there will be water canals passing through Dubailand. Dubai will be something like the “Venice of the Middle East,” he said. In essence saying water can face major shortage issues ahead.

On a positive note, new projects are now, or about to come, online. Dubai’s green taxi was launched this year. As part of the Dubailand project, Alhabbai said they’ve also introduced eco-tourism project Al Barari, which is a green area. “Eco-tourism is also central to the untouched al Sahra Resort. Last week, HH Sheikh Mohamed launched a green area which boasts over 73 percent of green zone,” added the chairman of the soon-to-be world’s biggest theme park.

Meanwhile, HE Khalid Bin Sulayem, director general of the Dubai government’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, noted that everyone in the travel and tourism sector should play a role fully as world citizens, one that they endorse in Dubai. He said: “We are very conscious of the responsibilities that leaders of the travel and tourism sector carry. It is us who have the duty of ensuring that this sector takes account of the needs of the world it operates in.”

Year 2015 has been set as the cut-off date for the completion of all major tourism and hospitality projects. It will be interesting to watch a city champion the sustainability cause while beating the world’s best tourism destinations hands down, that is with water not gone as Dubai oil and pearls had in the last decades.