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In January, 2011, a good friend of mine visited Dubai for the first time. I asked her to describe her first impressions to me.
Well, my first impression was that it is very, very shiny. Everything looks new, clean, and well-kept. There’s no garbage. Due to the smog, from a distance, the skyline has a surreal quality to it, as if it’s a mirage. The buildings look futuristic; they resembled old paintings done in the 60s and 70s about “what the future will look like.”
She then described to me what it was like when she was returning from a desert safari shortly after arriving in Dubai.
When coming back from the desert safari, Dubai looked like an ultramodern oasis. Except, instead of travelling through miles of desert and finally discovering simply water and growth, you discover glittering buildings and perfectly-groomed parks and public areas.
Tourism is an important part of the Dubai government’s strategy to make money through foreign cash flows. The tourism industry contributed significantly to Dubai’s economic recovery in recent years. In 2009, revenues from tourism were Dh.12.4 billion, and have continuously risen, reaching Dh13.2 billion in 2010. Dubai is now one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. (Source: Dubai tourism revenues reach Dh13.2b)
But as we are admiring the skyline, beaches and shopping, who is working behind to scenes to build Dubai’s breathtaking buildings? Dubai has returned to the past to build a futuristic atmosphere by using migrant workers for modern day slavery.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, slave under Dubai’s extremely hot weather conditions to build the complex and picturesque buildings we find in Dubai. They work for around only 30 pence a day, and return to their residences at the end of the day where they sleep 6, 8 or 10 men to a room, with no privacy. The migrant workers are treated unfairly, their health is jeopardized, and they are alone, since they cannot bring their loved-ones with them to Dubai. Though these workers are making an extremely small amount of money for the conditions they work under, they are still making around triple the amount they might make back home. But is this enough compensation to justify all the pain they endure?
Tourism has a huge effect on Dubai’s economy. Perhaps, to an extent, the migrant workers do not want to be taken out of these conditions because it is their best option for making enough money to support their families. But should we, as travellers, bring tourism to a place that uses the work done by modern day slaves to attract us? Our tourism has a huge effect on Dubai’s economy. I think that we should use the bargaining power this gives us to help fight for better conditions for these modern day slaves.