Innovation and Tradition: our first impressions of events and hospitality in the UAE

We were fortunate enough to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month for a business development and team-building trip.

The country seems to have well and truly bounced back from Covid, which has further increased its popularity as a destination for both business and pleasure.

“The decisive way the UAE has handled the pandemic, including boasting the world’s highest vaccination rate, provided certainty for brands, giving them the confidence to host special events there. One notable example is Chanel, which hosted its Cruise 2021/22 fashion show in Dubai in November 2021.”


Our meetings with luxury brands, agencies, airlines, arts organizations and event producers provided fascinating insights into the ways events, hospitality and doing business in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are similar to the rest of the world, and what makes them unique.

A view across The Palm, Dubai

“The local event industry is definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to recovering from the pandemic: back to ‘business as usual’, and eager to learn about new and innovative ways to host Covid-safe events. Event management needs are in line with the rest of the world: automated, on-brand and secure guest lists, invitations and RSVPs, plus real-time attendance and capacity tracking and post-event reporting.”


For us, what really sets the UAE apart is the way modern innovations and traditional customs blend together and are at the core of its events and hospitality.

We came away feeling inspired and energized by the UAE, its culture and its people, and keen to build our network and grow zkipster’s presence in the region. We strive to combine a global perspective with local expertise so, whilst we still have lots to learn, we thought we’d share our first impressions of this vibrant country.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is the Ruler of Dubai, and his influence and love of innovation can be seen and felt everywhere. His stamp is on the awe-inspiring real estate projects – not least the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa – dotted all over the Emirate, and in the forward-thinking attitudes towards business and economic development.

A view of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Photo by Nick Fewings via Unsplash.

“Dubai businesses and residents share this vision, and are actively contributing to Dubai’s future as a global city and one of the world’s leading financial and cultural centers.”


It can seem as though impossible doesn’t exist in the UAE: certainly no construction project is too ambitious, and even the most imaginative ideas become a reality here.

Speaking of imaginative ideas, after our visits to the jaw-dropping Louvre in Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s brand new Museum of the Future we can attest that immersive cultural experiences and experiential events are on a different level in the UAE. The country is also home to many of the world’s most high-profile sporting events, from DP World Tour golf tournaments to the horse racing World Cup in Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; has a buzzed-about art scene, including the Frieze-equivalent Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art; and plays host to a plethora of luxury and private events besides.

As such, the event and hospitality professionals we spoke to are extremely tech-savvy, and very receptive to new technologies that will help ensure their events are the very best they can be.

Dubai’s cutting-edge Museum of the Future

“The UAE’s foresight in molding itself into a global hub with ample flight connectivity, hospitality capacity (both hotels and special venues, including remarkable desert locations like Sonara Camp) and world-renowned catering and food and beverage mean that the region is top of the list for discerning hosts and groups of all sizes.”


Unsurprisingly, luxury is at the heart of hospitality in the UAE, with a clientele of local UHNWIs, royals and dignitaries to cater to, as well as discerning expats and tourists. And, as we learnt at the St. Regis hotel at The Palm in Dubai, one way to give guests a truly luxurious, unique and memorable experience is to provide them with spectacular service. The hotel prides itself on its staff, including the highly-trained butlers that all guests can avail themselves of, and the ultra-personalized service they provide.

Service is a key consideration for event and hospitality professionals in the UAE looking to provide the most luxurious guest experiences.

The St. Regis brand was founded by the Astor family in New York more than a century ago, and since then has built a reputation based not just on the hospitality and service its hotels provide, but also on its many traditions. These include ballrooms for hosting events on a grand scale and bespoke Bloody Marys (the cocktail is said to have been perfected at the St. Regis New York) for each hotel, as well as the high tea and champagne sabrage that are St. Regis signature afternoon and evening rituals respectively.

Colorful lanterns in the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood of Dubai

History and heritage help to set brands and businesses apart in the UAE, a country which, despite its penchant for cutting-edge modernity, is also steeped in tradition.

Whilst often maintaining an international outlook, Emiratis are immensely proud of their own culture, heritage and traditions, and willing to share their nuanced local customs and protocols with visitors. International brands and businesses have learnt to honor these customs and have hyper-adapted to these protocols: they are woven into, and key to understanding, the way business, events and hospitality are conducted in the UAE.

The Majlis plays an integral, ritual role in Arabic culture: these meeting places are where guests gather, events are hosted, discussions and debates are held, and decisions are made.

Guests will often experience traditional local hospitality and be welcomed with Arabic coffee (that is, prepared with spices such as cardamom, and served strong and hot) and dates, a beloved local delicacy.

Meeting in person, in or out of the Majlis, is often the best way to connect, collaborate and do business: relationships are key, and ideally should be meaningful, not just transactional.

Traditional architecture in the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood of Dubai

The significance of the Majlis can be seen in the fact that big international brands will often host their own during Ramadan, the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar and a time of fasting and reflection for many Muslims. Big decisions tend not to be made at this time, something foreigners should also be attuned to.

Whilst the pace of construction can be rapid in the UAE, business often moves at a slower pace, and is influenced by the weather as well as the religious calendar and the importance of discussion and deliberation in local culture.

Event and hospitality professionals should be patient, willing to negotiate – sometimes even after a contract has been signed – and above all respectful, ready to listen and willing to learn. This proud country can sometimes be set in its ways, but doing business here is a rewarding experience, and it’s the perfect place to create unique, luxurious and memorable guest experiences.

We at zkipster are inspired by the way the United Arab Emirates honors its culture and traditions whilst maintaining a modern and innovative outlook, and are happy to shine a spotlight on this cosmopolitan, inviting country.

Sunset in the desert

Images courtesy of Carolin Gonschorrek, Catalina Gutierrez and Décio Sousa.