Italian ambassador made an offer the chairman could refuse

Khalaf Al Habtoor is a man of strong principles. This much shines through his recently published autobiography - a copy of which Frank Kane was pleased to receive after meeting him recently.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, the chairman of the Al Habtoor Group, is a man of strong principles. This much shines through his recently published autobiography, a copy of which - signed by the author in my presence - I was pleased to receive after meeting him recently.

"This book was written from the heart," reads the inscription, and on dipping into it you can see what he means.

He relates an amusing story from the 1980s, when the Metropolitan hotel complex on Sheik Zayed Road was the height of ostentatious luxury in Dubai. One of the main attractions at the Met was the popular Italian restaurant Don Corleone, which pulled in the diners from miles around.

One visitor, however, was not so happy. The Italian ambassador drove all the way from Abu Dhabi to ask Mr Habtoor if he would consider changing the restaurant's name to avoid any association with the Italian Mafia.

(Corleone, of course, is the family name of the fictitious Mafia family in The Godfather movies.)

Mr Al Habtoor received the diplomat courteously, and listened to his arguments, but in the end stuck with the name.

The Metropolitan, which Mr Al Habtoor refers to as his "princess in the desert", is now sadly no more. Its site is part of the multibillion dirham development through which a new canal will flow from Business Bay to the Arabian Gulf.

When the new leisure complex is completed, probably in 2015 with three five-star hotels and a Las Vegas-style theatre, Mr Al Habtoor will still take an ethical approach.

Nevada's Las Vegas, of course, derives lots of its revenue from gambling, which is illegal in the UAE. "Even if it was ever made legal, I would never have it in any hotel of mine," Mr Al Habtoor told me.

"I wouldn't feel relaxed with the thought of people losing money."


One of the differences between the festive season in the West and the same in Dubai, I've noticed, is the fact that Christmas trees stay up for longer in this part of the world.

In the United Kingdom, trees are often taken down on New Year's Day. I always regarded it as bad luck to have the tree up beyond January 6, although I was never really sure why that was the witching date.

In Dubai, trees have a much longer life. They are still there in many of the malls and the beach hotels, and even the Jumeirah Emirates Tower, arguably the UAE's top business hotel, still has a splendid tree in its busy lobby.

I guess it's partly because of the Dubai Shopping Festival, which begins hot on the heels of New Year and for which the organisers want to retain some of the Christmas bling.

The other reason, of course, is the fact that the city is full of Russian tourists at this time of year, getting away from minus-zero temperatures at home and celebrating their own Christmas, which, according to the Orthodox calendar, falls 12 days later than in the West.

Anyway, it's also given me an excuse to avoid the chore of having to take down my own tree at home, for at least a few more days.