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I was last in Dubai in late April. I went for real estate: I'm building a project on The Palm Jumeirah, arguably one of the best locations in Dubai. We partnered with Nakheel [a major property developer in the United Arab Emirates], and they have allowed us to make it an incredible project.
Dubai is a very exciting place to be as a developer. In New York, if you want to build a two-story building, someone's going to spite you and say it's too tall. Over there, you have the freedom to build what you want. If it makes sense and works out economically, you are limited only by your imagination and the laws of physics.
On my last trip, I was speaking at the 2006 Arabian Hotel Investment Conference. I was there for four days, and I spoke at five conferences, had to do live TV and a bunch of news interviews. My wife, Vanessa, was largely with me for these things. We're still in our honeymoon phase so she still likes following me around. We got married last November, and it hasnít been a year so she thinks I can do no wrong. Pretty soon she'll get bored with that--once she hears my spiel a few more times.
We flew Emirates [the international airline of the U.A.E.], which was an amazing experience. The first-class cabin going over made it the only 14-hour flight I've ever been on where I've been disappointed getting off the plane.
But more than the airline and the services, Emirates has turned Dubai into a hub. You can pretty much go from New York to Boston by way of Dubai now! They have one of the largest airports in the world--it's been around for three years. And now they're scrapping it for an airport that's four times the size, because they just can't handle the volume.
We stayed at the One & Only Royal Mirage [the Kerzner International (nyse: KZL - news - people ) property featured in 2005's Syriana]. We had stayed before at the Burj Al Arab, which is a different environment. The One & Only is more our speed. It's really a resort on the beach overlooking The Palm. It's very convenient in relation to where the Tower will be. In fact, our location is going to block some of their views!
We ate on-property a lot, but we also checked out Buddha Bar. Great food, good scene. A lot of the restaurateurs that we know and appreciate here in New York are starting to look at Dubai now. Some of them are already there. The nightlife is interesting, and it seems to be a really good respite for people in the Middle East who perhaps wouldn't be able to get away with that lifestyle in their respective countries.
I liken Dubai to New York, Miami and Las Vegas all in one package. It's not what you'd expect of the Middle East--it's actually a very secular place, with people of all races, creeds and religions. It's a real melting pot for that area of the world, and they've done a great job diversifying themselves. If real estate's not doing that great one year, tourism will be up. Their financial markets are booming right now, and they've created a secondary mortgage market, which will be the first in the Middle East. It'll be another very powerful vehicle for real estate there.
Any retailer you can find on Madison Avenue you can find in Dubai, usually on a larger scale. During the day, Vanessa went shopping and caused a lot of damage--as much as she could have done in any of the great cities of the world. We checked out the indoor ski slope. Like anything else in Dubai, you hear about these projects--The World Islands, The Palm Jumeirah or the indoor ski slope--and you say, "Oh, indoor skiing. Big deal." It's not until you see how large these things actually are that you say, "Oh wow, it's a little different!"
What I really want is to be able to spend a couple of days where we're not frantically running around trying to accomplish everything. We've been there and bought the t-shirt for everything in Dubai, but a lot of the things we're going to have to go back to actually do. We want to get out into the desert and go to one of these Bedouin camps for the night, have dinner out there under the stars. I want to experience the culture as it was perhaps 100 years ago--as opposed to two, when it was still a different world.
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