Summer 'slowdown' stays hot

Business is booming during the traditional summer slowdown, thanks to a new wave of young professionals.

Friends enjoy lunch at the Qian Zhoe Hot Pot restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
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ABU DHABI // Business is booming during the capital's traditional summer slowdown, thanks to a new wave of young professionals breathing fresh life into the city, say managers of bars and restaurants. Empty patios, desolate supermarkets and light traffic are the norm during these months, thanks largely to the exodus of expatriate families leaving on holiday at the end of the school year. However, restaurant and pub managers in the Tourist Club district of the city are reporting comparatively robust figures.

"We worry a lot around this time about whether we can achieve our targets because it always gets very quiet," said Heinz Giering, the manager of Trader Vics restaurant in the Rotana Beach hotel. Takings typically fall 50 per cent below the norm when June arrives and temperatures become unbearable. This year, however, has been different. "Usually, the impact is huge and we really feel it," said Mr Giering. "This year is strange because we're still making our target. We're running between 70 and 80 per cent, which I can tell you is really different from the numbers from previous years."

Mr Giering and other managers attribute the change to an influx of younger clientele who are suddenly populating the capital. Urban professionals in their 20s are the new summer crowd and, without children of their own, they are less likely to plan holidays to coincide with the end of the school year. "We used to see a lot of more settled people around here," Mr Giering said. "Suddenly, I get a lot of Etihad crew coming because obviously the staff is based here now, and they're bringing their disposable income."

Increased numbers of tourists and milder temperatures in June and July may also be factors. Daren Eulenstein, Dubai's chief meteorologist, told The National recently that this year had been "cooler than normal", which tourism managers have said had extended the tourist season. Vlademir Milevski, the manager of the Captain's Arms at Le Meridien hotel, said business was still busy on Thursday evenings and at weekends.

"Now we're getting a lot more younger people because companies are hiring a lot of younger people," he said. A waiter, Edbert Locsin, said he had noticed a different "buzz" at the restaurant bar this summer. "Business is actually good this summer," Mr Locsin said. "Maybe this is because there are more people living in Abu Dhabi. Last year, more than half [the patrons] were gone." While revenues have dropped overall, Mr Milevski said the Captain's Arms had still been able to draw a sizeable weekend crowd.

"We've probably lost a little more than a third of our clients," he said. "Other companies that are still continuously working, like Etihad, are still coming in." The younger expatriate community had also been able to offset declining attendance at some fitness classes, said Ria Haffar, a yoga instructor. "It's really weird," she said. "I still have an average of 24, 25 students in my class at the Beach Rotana. I've done a count and it's been the same for the past few months."

She described her clientele as "mostly youngsters - a lot of Etihad crew". Like most other fitness trainers, however, Ms Haffar has cut summer sessions at the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club, where the majority of her clients are mothers, because "everybody disappears". "The majority is ladies who drop their kids at school and then come to yoga, so now that school's stopped, they've all taken holidays," she said. "Where the younger people are is where the studios are full."

Another freelance fitness instructor, Billy Rodgers, had noticed an increase in younger clients between the ages of 24 and 30. "A lot of people that come there are certainly younger," he said. "We get a lot of Etihad crew and younger females now. I suppose they're here because the economic situation in Abu Dhabi is so good." Despite the unusually steady business at some establishments this year, the summer slowdown has been a striking contrast to the hustle, gridlock and the general frustration of daily life in the capital.

Mr Rodgers said his 20-minute morning commute to work now took just five minutes. What's more, evening queues at the Spinneys supermarket have also been reduced to just a few stragglers, with some shoppers proceeding directly to the check-out tills without having to wait. Others appreciated the freedom to select groceries without having to jockey for aisle space with other trolleys. "The lines are definitely shorter compared to normal days in the winter," said a customer service manager. Almost alone in the sodas section, Blayne Oliver relished the new elbow room. "It's nice not to have to contest for a certain side of the aisle," he said.

But for Mr Oliver, who also manages the Mugg & Bean coffee house on the floor above the shop, the hotter months also mean a loss of revenue at his cafe. "The chaos has died down," he said. "You appreciate how quiet it is when you're in a hurry, but having a lot of people creates a buzz and a good feeling. I'm looking forward to the winter."