'Old Dubai' not on the holiday hitlist for tourists

A view of Deira Creek in Dubai. Photo: Donna.M.Bee.Photography

Dubai is a hotspot for seekers of sun, sea, sand, shopping and skyscrapers - but less than 10 per cent of tourists to the city bother to check out its traditional areas.

The man in charge of protecting the architectural heritage of the city says just “six to seven per cent” of Dubai’s estimated 10 million annual holidaymakers visit cultural spots such as Dubai Museum or heritage areas at Bastakiya or Shindagha.

In contrast, about 8,500 people per day visit Burj Khalifa. Rashad Bukhash, director of the Architectural Heritage Department at the Dubai Municipality, insists more people are taking an interest in Dubai’s past - but says “a lot more needs to be done” in marketing and promoting it.

The revelation came on the same day as British Airways listed Dubai as one of the top 13 destinations to visit in 2013 - alongside cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Seoul.

“Everyone knows about the Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall…,” Bukhash told 7DAYS at the International Architectural Conservation conference in Dubai on Monday.

Some tourists who hit the emirate for its high-end shopping and dining offerings might claim culture is not a word usually associated with Dubai. That’s not correct, says Harvard University lecturer Dr Andreas Georgoulias, who insists that the emirate is “absolutely cultural”. Design boffin Georgoulias has just completed an in-depth study of traditional conservation in historic Gulf cities. And the architecture lecturer said: “Bur Dubai and Deira are Dubai sites that have been preserved very well.

“Compared to other places in the Gulf like Kuwait, it is much more advanced [in terms of conservation].

“In Kuwait they have wiped out every¬thing. They tell you ‘this is where the conservation centre was’.” However, Georgoulias agreed that far more must be done to promote ‘old Dubai’ areas.

“They are not well known, they are not well publicised. I did not know about it before I came here,” the Harvard lecturer said. UNESCO - The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - is considering whether to list Dubai Creek as a World Heritage site. The UAE itself is currently considering plans for new legislation to protect the country’s heritage sites. The key to Dubai’s design future, said Bukhash, is “taking the philosophy of old Arabic architecture and putting it in a mod¬ern way – that’s the way it should be.”

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