Those who live in the UAE, a land filled with the biggest, the best and the tallest of things, are largely immune to the vast numbers and superlatives that pass by with the regularity of a Metro train. But every now and then, a figure comes along that is so significant that it simply cannot be ignored. The one billionth passenger to pass through Dubai airport is just such a number. Much has been written about the growth of Dubai, which in under a lifetime has been transformed from a small port to a vibrant metropolis. Oil has played a part, but far less so than widely imagined. Dubai's share of that blessing was a fraction of that enjoyed by its neighbour.
Abu Dhabi, as part of its strategic bid for sustainability, has chosen to diversify away from reliance on the sale of hydrocarbons, but from the outset Dubai had no choice. Instead its astonishing growth has been founded on two other equally valuable raw materials: imagination and determination. Dubai’s founding visionary was Sheikh Rashid, who ruled from 1958 to 1990. He inherited a relatively poor emirate, whose chief asset was the creek, a partially silted-up inlet that had served as a trading hub for generations. In 1959 Sheikh Rashid saw the way the tide of globalisation was running and, in a bold move, invested a vast sum to transform the creek into a large, modern port. The plan raised eyebrows, but not for long. It paid off handsomely and was followed by many others, inspired by Sheikh Rashid’s build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy.
Among them was Dubai International Airport, built in 1960 with a single runway of compacted sand. This year more than 90 million people will land or take off within sight of the creek where it all began and, on Thursday, what has become the world's busiest international airport handled its one billionth passenger. It is fitting that that passenger should be a nine-year-old child, a global citizen of the modern world. For him and for Dubai, a city fast becoming synonymous with innovation and opportunity, the ticket to the future bears the three-letter code DXB.