Dubai feeds tourists’ taste for tradition

Emirati-themed guest houses are being given support by the tourism authority to ensure visitors feel the authentic, Emirati side of the city.

Abdulatif Ghandoor, oriental chef at Arabian Courtyard, cooking traditional Emirati bread at the Barjeel Guest House. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // Heritage tourism is being given a major push as Dubai works towards Expo 2020 and winning Unesco World Heritage status for the old city.

Emirati-themed guesthouses in areas such as Heritage Village and Bastakiya, the oldest inhabited part of Dubai, are being given support by the Heritage Department and the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), to ensure visitors experience the authentic, Emirati side of the city.

Mona Hauser, owner of the XVA gallery and guesthouse in Bastakiya which has been open since 2003, has just expanded the guesthouse from nine to 13 rooms. She is hoping her business will grow into the nearby houses that have been there since the early 20th century.

“There’s a lot of space not being used,” she said. “This is a place people want to see. The kind of clientele we have want to be in the cultural area and stay in a boutique hotel, not a five-star hotel where you wake up and could really be in any country.”

Support from the DTCM has increased in recent months as the push towards Expo 2020 has been stepped up. Recently a Unesco team stayed at the hotel when assessing whether the area was a candidate to become a world heritage site along with others around the Creek and old Dubai.

“When I first opened, I rarely saw anyone from the DTCM and it seemed that DTCM representatives in other countries were doing more to promote the area than those here, but now they’re actually bringing people here and expressing their pride in this area,” Ms Hauser said.

She added that such support was vital to keep the area vibrant and help develop it as an artists’ district. XVA, ranked 20th of 470 hotels in Dubai on the TripAdvisor website, was the former home to the Siddiqi family, one of the emirate’s most prominent families. The area is steeped in tradition and history.

Nearby, in Heritage Village, the growing popularity of heritage tourism has also been witnessed with the year-old Barjeel guesthouse. The nine-room Emirati-style hotel has recently introduced Emirati cuisine to the menu. This has proved popular not only with tourists but with its local clientele.

“Our Emirati guests really like to come to the guesthouse and feel their own tradition,” said the chef, Abdulatif Ghandoor, who has been trained in several royal palaces and by Emirati elders to cook local cuisine.

“They bring their friends, their family and we get a lot of guests coming from other emirates and people who just come from nearby for the Emirati breakfast especially.”

Shahbaz Chaudhry, manager of food and beverage at the hotel, said: “When we first opened people were really surprised to see something like this in Dubai.

“Previously they had to travel to other emirates to really experience that feeling of Emirati hospitality, so it’s really helping the emirate,” he said.

“People want to experience that heritage and tradition. There were certainly no places offering Emirati food, which it seems there has been a real demand for. The camel meat dishes especially are really popular.”

The group’s four hotels include three Emirati-themed guesthouses in old Dubai; Ahmedia in Al Khor, which opened in 2012; and Orient Guest House in Bastakiya which has been in business since 2006.

Farhan Zafar, director of sales for the group, said Dubai needed this kind of boost.

“People who come here want to learn more about the history of Dubai and its culture,” he said.

“It is important for Dubai to show this to explain how it is one of the fastest-developing cities in the world. Not all the visitors who come here come for the shopping or the beach, and certainly not the guests we have in our guesthouses.”