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Dubai: cutting edge or bleeding edge?

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I travel a lot and go to several countries that have smart leadership and smart cities. These cities and countries – you know who you are – are in the forefront of innovation and claim to be visionary. So, I was surprised when I was planning a trip to one recently, Dubai, and found a number of anomalies.

The first was making a booking direct with a hotel and airline. After I made the booking, the hotel informed me that they were located inside the airport and were surprised I had booked two nights there. Aha! I didn’t realise they were inside the airport.

Me: Please cancel the booking.

Hotel: No sir, you did that through a third party.

Me: No, I didn’t. I booked it directly with you.

Hotel: No, you didn’t. Here are the third-party contact details. You need to cancel it with them.

Third party: We are your software provider. He booked it directly with you.

Hotel: Oh! We didn’t know that.

The above summarises two days of to and fro, but you get the idea. The airline experience was similar. I had booked a return flight with flydubai, a budget airline, and then realised the return was a bit late so I clicked the button to cancel it. Instead of getting the usual screen that asks if I really want to cancel, and this is how much will be returned to my credit card, flydubia’s site literally just cancelled it. I’m not used to that – most airlines come up with a second screen to confirm the cancellation – so I rang the airline and said I didn’t want to cancel. The airline said tough.

In this age of service, and in this age where my impressions of Dubai are high, I was disappointed to have this experience. But hey, even in the most visionary economies, things can go wrong (just checkout Uber in Singapore).

Anyways, I get to Dubai and another thing happened that shows how even a leading, visionary economy can stutter. I land at the airport and jump in a taxi, expecting him to go mental with me when I ask for a near airport hotel drop-off. In London, if you grab a taxi at Heathrow and ask them to go to a hotel within 5 miles of the airport, you’ll get short shrift and be told to go take a bus. Not in Dubai. The driver immediately took me to the hotel and accepted my credit card payment. Lovely.

It wasn’t the same going back to the airport. Going back to the airport, I get an off-the-street taxi and when we get to the airport, he won’t take a card. Oh dear, I have no cash, but I do have $10 so I give him that and off we go.

The next day, same thing. I get back to Dubai and grab a cab, paying by card no problemo. Just in case, I had stopped at the airport and got some local currency, as I didn’t want to have any issue with my driver when returning to the airport. Sure enough, next morning, I grab an off-the-street taxi and he doesn’t take cards. I present him with my nice, new, pristine 100-dirham bill. He looks at it. He looks at me.

Driver: Got anything smaller?

Me: No.

Driver: Hmmmmm.

Me: I can pay by card if you cannot take this.

Driver: No. No cards.

Me: Well, 100-dirham ($30) notes are all I have.

Driver: No dollars?

Me: No.

Driver: Ok. No problem. The ride is free.

Me: Really?

Driver: Sure. Good day.

Wow! I wouldn’t get that reaction from any driver in London or New York either. He shook my hand, wished me a good day and I got a free ride.

So obviously, even in visionary economies, you can’t get everything right but at least you can get really nice taxi drivers.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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