Never build on sand they say! I say they don’t know squat!
Elementary physics or just sound advice handed down by those who tried? Well the UAE, and Dubai in particular, shoved that piece of advice right back down the throats of those who went before! ‘Build it and they will come’ I think the saying goes, so they did and we followed.
The early 90s saw an increased intensity when it came to imagining what was possible. The challenge was to build a groundswell of belief based on a shared vision of what was possible and seizing the opportunity by rolling up one’s sleeves and getting stuck in. But how?
My story is not unique, but it’s mine nonetheless. After arriving in Dubai courtesy of a company that sent me there for a recce period to assess the viability of an operation in the UAE, I decided to stay on when they opted for somewhere else. I had no idea how I was going to make a mark but I was going to give it a damn good try.
I was inspired by a Devonshire farmer who supplemented his income during a tough period in the UK by erecting marquees for the local farming community — whether as temporary shelter for sheep and cattle at the county shows, or by offering covered solutions for the local weddings and country fetes. He was (and still very much is) a resourceful and enterprising man. He had the facilities (barns) to store and protect his equipment, he had the resources (tractors and trucks) to move them around, and a community that required little encouragement to employ his newly discovered trade, especially if it meant saving money and using one’s own land for an event! In addition to being a farmer, Richard was now in the hospitality business and serving a far greater community beyond the boundaries of Devon.
Richard’s success had presented me with an opportunity.
Tents! In the desert? In oven like temperatures? Had I really considered such a foolhardy idea? It seemed my envisaged enterprise wasn’t too far removed from trying to flog ice to Eskimos, a fact that was highlighted whenever I bounced the idea of others. For obvious reasons, I can’t print some of their comments.
And that’s without me telling them the whole story. I was going to pile everything I had into this venture, because I saw an opportunity. Armed with little more than an idea to present to my potential audience it became mind numbingly clear that I needed a product to show — not just a mere concept for people to try and get their heads around.
Contrary to what others thought, my audience was the burgeoning corporate market that was setting up camp in the UAE, and not the local wedding market. At the time, there was, and still is, an incredibly large and vibrant Emirati wedding market, but the hard facts were that I didn’t speak Arabic, the weddings (which could attract in excess of 3000 people at a time) demanded a good understanding of local heritage and culture, and lastly, I was an expatriate male — a rather unwelcome guest at an Emirati lady’s wedding.