How Do We Really Feel as Dubai Braces Itself For 900,000 Visitors In November?!


By Katy Holmes, General Manager, British Business Group Dubai, and Northern Emirates


Is this how the residents that live around Worthy Farm in Pilton feel each time Glastonbury comes around?!


With 900,000 visitors expected to come through the DXB terminals on holiday to Dubai in November for FIFA, Rugby 7s, industry conferences, trade missions, and leisure, how do Dubai residents really feel about this invasion?

I have lived in Dubai for a little over ten years – I have loved witnessing the rapid development of this amazing metropolis. I remember the awful ‘roundabout’ in the middle of Umm Sequiem road, when British Mums Dubai had 35 followers and you could safely arrange an ‘all welcome’ play date, the start of the JBR tram, the carving up of Safa Park and I’ve celebrated so many British brands launching in the region that are now so readily accessible in the malls!

I have also experienced the anxiety of my family and friends when we moved across – tuning out their concerns of what would happen if I didn’t wear a cardigan in a restaurant or if I held hands with my husband while walking. This has definitely worn off over the years as many have visited and seen for themselves just how welcoming our host nation is while also respecting the culture and code of conduct.

Now it seems – thanks to Instagram, Netflix and well publicised regulatory changes – there is an influx of new residents –– all keen to carve out their piece of Dubai life. The roads are certainly busier, the malls we didn’t think would take off – are packed out, and there feels a shift in the tone of Dubai – well I feel it!

In 1965 the total population of the combined Emirates was 150,000, in 2022 it’s 9.99million and over a third, 3.4million live in Dubai!

As the General Manager of the British Business Group Dubai and Northern Emirates I have access to press cuttings from 35 years ago to show the incredible growth of the UAE, visits from the Queen, multiple Prime Ministers and celebrities as well as charting the success of the British pioneers from the 70s and 80s that took a chance and built a business in the desert! It’s from this viewpoint that I can find some comfort in the change of pace, the swell of people and interest as it’s ‘just’ another wave of evolution and progress in the strategic vision of the great leadership of the UAE.

The BBG is a membership organisation supporting British businesses in the region and the GCC and we are onboarding a new member every other day… which is the busiest we have ever been! The sectors are so diverse too – when you compare the sector pie chart from even 10 years ago there were about 15 sectors and sub sectors in the membership breakdown – now we have to use three shades of purple to cover the diversity of sectors coming to Dubai and joining the BBG. Many UK companies are looking to the region – as a result of Brexit (and skipping Europe in their business expansion) and having been enticed by the Insta-perfect view of Dubai. The many changes in regulation, visas, company set up etc will also play a huge part in the attraction and perceived ‘ease of doing business’ in the UAE.

As we all plan to allow extra time to get anywhere, avoid disappointment by booking tables well in advance, expect a shortage of taxis and see our social media channels fill up with celebrities and sports personalities posting next to landmarks that we drive past every day – we must try and remember that we are incredibly fortunate to live here while witnessing the ambitious mentality of of the UAE Leadership that has envisioned and created some of the most impressive buildings and attractions ever recorded and that it would be selfish for us to not share that with the rest of the world!

….and there’s more so much more to come!

In 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai launched ‘UAE Centennial 2071’ as a roadmap to make the UAE ‘the best country in the world’ by the year 2071, which is when the UAE will celebrate the Centennial of its establishment.

I will be 90 in 2071… and it’s quite possible, given that we only planned to stay for two years in 2012 and we are still here...that I could be sat in a retirement home in Jumeriah watching incredible fireworks off a busy Dubai skyline during the ‘UAE Centennial’ celebrating living in the “Best Country in the World”! (But I don’t think we will be waiting that long for the title!)