Skip London and pack Paris! Up-and-coming metropolises like Moscow or Dubai now offer much more for a short vacation after the coronavirus
When traveling, you have two options. You can be treated like a guest – or like a foreigner. If the latter sounds more appealing, ditch the guidebooks for Western Europe and head to the Russian capital or the sparkling city of Dubai.
If you grew up in Dubai, don’t worry about safety. You can walk the streets after midnight without being bothered, you can leave your bags unattended in restaurants without fear of being robbed, and you can even drop your wallet and be sure someone will pick them up and Gives you back. Do not believe me? There are at least five social experiments on YouTube that prove just that.
So it’s no wonder that the UAE’s crime rate is among the lowest in the world, according to official figures. But how much more evidence do you need as someone born and raised in the country?
That’s why I was worried when I flew to Moscow alone for the first time in March. Growing up with a Middle Eastern father and a Russian mother, I longed to visit my maternal home. But I feared what I would see in the city described by the mainstream Western media as being full of gangs, drugs and predators.
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After all, I had traveled to the cities often referred to as Europe’s largest cities, such as London, Rome and Paris, and experienced just that.
My memorable experience in the front row at the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show under the Eiffel Tower was spoiled by a stranger who chased me afterwards, my London business trip was marked by a colleague being robbed and another being assaulted while jogging in broad daylight. My eagerly awaited Rome vacation left me reaching for my purse for fear of pickpockets instead of carefree enjoying my pizza.
To my pleasant surprise, I saw none of this in Moscow. In fact, the Russian capital reminded me so much of Dubai that I felt at home – not to mention the skyscrapers, the brightly lit streets, the mega-shopping malls, the high-end cafes and the designer fashion brands all reminded of Dubai’s own cosmopolitan look.
Some of you won’t be surprised.
“It felt safer than London,” one of my former colleagues told me after attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow. “There were police everywhere,” said another. “Everyone was so friendly,” said another. After spending nearly two weeks in town, I said exactly the same thing.
Just as Dubai’s success as a tourist destination and home to nearly two million overseas residents was due to its excellent law enforcement, Moscow should be recognized for its safety. The numbers don’t lie as crime rates in Moscow hit a record low in 2018, according to state agency TASS, and police seem to be present everywhere in the city, from shopping malls to parks.
Speaking of nature: Moscow is not freezing all year round, as Westerners often suggest. At the moment the temperature is up to 33 degrees Celsius, with the city having the second warmest June in its history this year. In addition, at least in the center there is not the dust and dirt that you find elsewhere in Europe. Let’s face it, the Champs-Élysées really could use a cleaning, while the main streets of Moscow and Dubai share a very important factor: cleanliness.
Another similarity to Dubai that you won’t see on any western news channel? Russians love tourists because they are fascinated by foreigners who do not visit them as often as in other major European cities.
When I was queuing in a restaurant with an English friend, it seemed like all the locals around us were fascinated by our origins. “We love your English accent,” they told him, even more intrigued by the fact that I speak three different languages.
I even made friends with a hotel receptionist who practiced her English with me and with whom I practiced my Russian.
In contrast to other European destinations, the hotel service was so exceptional that it can only be compared to Dubai. In contrast to rude employees in Paris who did not keep room service open a minute after the shop had closed, or dusty rooms in a supposed five-star hotel in Rome or snooty receptionists in London, the Russians were responsive to my requests.
Dare I say it might even have an advantage over Dubai, where the majority of the service staff are expats, while in Moscow they are mostly Russians. Which led me to think that Moscow might be a great tourist destination because, thanks to the constant negative coverage in western media, it had to work ten times harder to be one while other European cities had it easy – they are practically selling off self.
And if you think Dubai has great restaurant and bar concepts, wait until you try Moscow’s. There are enough whisper bars, night clubs are buzzing with hip-hop music and the shisha lounges? You just get every taste you ever dreamed of. Best of all, unlike other European cities, even in the best places in Moscow, the service is unconditional and based on who you are. You will be treated the same whether you know someone who knows someone or whether you have just got off a plane for the first time.
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No wonder, then, that according to Dubai Tourism, Russia ranks fourth among the UAE’s tourism markets, while the number of Russian residents in Dubai rose by almost 200% from 2018 to 2020, according to figures from the General Directorate of Residence and Foreign Affairs. In return, Russia exempted UAE citizens from visa requirements in 2019, which has made it one of the most popular destinations for UAE residents, according to travel industry experts.
In addition, the oil-free countries’ bilateral trade was estimated at $ 3.7 billion in 2019, much of which came from Dubai’s food imports from Russia, which exceeded $ 305 million in the same year, while Dubai’s food exports continued the federation was $ 114 million, according to government statistics.
And that’s only a small part of the potential business pie between the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Imagine if the people of Dubai were looking for Moscow instead of London or Paris. You don’t have to imagine it. I can already tell you that in these supposedly spectacular European cities you will be treated like a foreigner, while in Moscow you will be treated like a guest.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of RT.