Salaam, Dubai

Saturday, 9:28pm
Dubai, U.A.E.
“I don’t know why you say Dubai, I say salaam…” (with apologies to the Beatles)


Just scratching out a few notes, waiting to fall asleep so I can get up before dawn and head for the airport to start my 20-hour trip home.

Dig this: Have you ever had that thing happen…

… where you never give something a moment’s thought… and then, once it’s in your mind, you hear about it everywhere?

I knew about Dubai, vaguely. Couldn’t find it on a map, but knew it was somewhere over “there”.

A long way away, at any rate.

Then, last February, this intriguing fellow named Ernesto — a Mexican national living in Amsterdam — cornered me at some event and asked me to come to a seminar in Dubai.

“Uh, okay,” I said, shrewdly.

Since then, it’s like the joint has been attached to my consciousness by an umbilical cord. “60 Minutes” does a long piece on it. I discover one of Gary Halbert’s old friends, Don Camp, now resides here.

Every freakin’ magazine I pick up has a story or reference about the place.

Hey — flying out here, I had to jog through Vegas to catch a plane to JFK… and got lost trying to get from Concourse A to Concourse D (where Delta had cleverly hidden their plane).

Turns out there IS no way to do that at LAS without going through security again. (“You can’t get there from here.”)

Except, I ask this pilot strolling past if he knows how to do it. “Sure, I’m headed there myself,” he says, and personally escorts me though a secret passage behind the TSA station, so we skip security.

“He’s with me,” he keeps saying to the armed guards eyeing me suspiciously.

How ya doin’, I mumble nervously. (Cuz I know that the hypmotized never lie…)

The pilot and I chat a bit… and turns out he’s flying to Dubai today, too. But from Atlanta (the Delta hub).

Small world.

Back home, every time Michele tells someone where I am, someone else in the group relates a personal story about Dubai — just came back from there, got friends there, going there next month.

This place is a marketing success story… making some of the PR happen, and enjoying the happy accidents of being in the news for the other mentions. They even seemed to benefit from the spotlight on Mumbai after the terrorist attack — the Dubai airport is the gateway to every conceivable destination in this part of the world, and if they’ve suffered a slowdown, you can’t tell from the seething crowds in the terminals. (I met several Brits on their way to Mumbai, all of them shrugging off the idea it might be dangerous. Made the American speakers who bailed at the last minute — and there were a few — look like wussies…)

I won’t do a travelogue on this city — heck, now that I’ve put it in your consciousness, you too will start seeing stuff about Dubai everywhere.

Let me just say this: It’s like a Disney Epcot center for the financial world. This was a tiny, undistringuished port town thirty years ago… and now, 25% of the world’s construction cranes are here, with new building rising so quickly, the skyline changes almost hourly.

No, seriously. You blink, and another skyscraper is teetering on the horizon.

Tallest building in the world is here. (Singapore is kinda pissed about that, too — they’re also erecting a steep one… but the Dubai entrant has an extention flagpole that will be run up to whatever height necessary to claim “tallest”. They don’t even have an official height for the tower yet, because they’re gonna wait until all the competitors around the globe finish… and then ramp theirs up another few feet. That’s just mean.)

I think we got the only 7-star hotel across town here, too. One of the other speakers is staying there, and admits that the extra stars have been earned through sheer over-delivery of extras and luxury.

The city is something to see, I’ll give you that.

Stunningly international crowd at the event, too. Traditional Bedouin desert garb, veiled women, Armani suits, Americans in tennis shoes, every kind of accent possible.

English is more or less the default language… though I’m pretty sure I threw a few people with the slang I was using during my presentation. (“Does ‘zombie’ translate well here?” I asked, to a sea of blank stares. “How about ‘roadkill’?” Lots of blinking.)

I learned something, too, about speaking at international seminars.

My hosts (very generous and nice people) assured me that the copious sexual references and occasional swearing in my PowerPoint would not be a problem with this very religious-but-tolerant crowd.

Um… it was.

We are spoiled here in the States. Howard Stern can’t hardly shock anybody anymore with vivid language, and if there are any taboos left to bust, I couldn’t tell you what they are.

Elsewhere, however, people still get all riled up over matters sexual or politically incorrect. Or religious. Or a lot of other things we’ve either skirted around or jumped past long ago.

Gotta be on your toes.

It’s one of the great benefits of travel — you are reminded what a hoot the good ol’ USA is, and how much the rest of the world thinks we’re mostly nuts and embarrassing in a favorite-uncle-with-a-drinking-problem kind of way (though they do seem to like us again, over all, since we’ve tossed the bums out).


… what’s the marketing lesson from all this?

Just that there remains a TON of moolah floating around, despite the recession and rumors of deeper recession.

If everything is about to come crashing down, shhhh, nobody in Dubai got the memo.

It is full speed ahead here, and damn the torpedos.

It’s a big world… but the Web has made everything closer and — in a few very important ways — friendlier.

My favorite times during this past week of wonder and mystery has been the nightly gathering on the hotel roof to smoke shisha (flavored tobacco) from the hookah… while trading lies, insults, and even some brilliantly useful info with the Brits, the other Americans, and all the ex-pats hanging out for the event.

Okay, the belly dancer was a big plus, too.

If you took a snapshot of Dubai right now, and froze it… you might be tempted to think it’s not very wired to the Brave New Online World. I mean… the luxury hotel we’re staying in has dial-up Internet service.

That’s just… medieval.

But the place is catching up with us at a rocket’s pace.

I know we all tend to get too smug about being so cutting-edge cyber-hip… every top marketer I know is guilty.

But bringing the dialog down to where the rookies in this seminar can grasp the opportunities of the Web has reminded me of how far we’ve advanced in online marketing… in record time, too.

It’s good to pause, and let everything settle like this. Get your nose out of your Macbook and your iPhone, look up from Twitter, Facebook, et al… and re-engage with the “real” world, with no digital interface.

It’s an interesting place, this Earth.

And still a rockin’ marketplace where fame and fortune await the savvy entrepreneur.

More later…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • Interesting any countries are more sexually uptight than the good ol’ U.S. of A. Can’t wait to see pix, John!

  • Sounds like folks are a bit more well mannered abroad. The US freedom to offend doesn’t play that well overseas.

    Welcome back.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    This is a fookin’ great piece, John! And OH, how well I know this pain: (”Does ‘zombie’ translate well here?” I asked, to a sea of blank stares. “How about ‘roadkill’?” Lots of blinking.)

    Welcome home!

  • I was one of the attendees in that seminar and I really enjoyed. However, John, you were not that much ready for the seminar because you had to look at your notes minute by minute, but, it was marvelouse and useful.
    I hope to see you again…

  • Hey John,
    I lived in Dubai and Saudi Arabia in the 90’s. Matter of fact, left directly from Miami after Halbert’s Hurricane Seminar where I met you briefly. Ran a small ad agency there for a short time before being recruited by a Saudi to start an ad agency in Dhahran. Did you take a boat ride across the “creek?” Dubai is an unreal place, hope to see it again soon.
    Welcome back!

  • John this is Ernesto, (For those who read the post, the intriguing Mexican Living in Amsterdam) I loved your post! Indeed I think for me those evenings hanging out in the bedouin tent smiking shisha will remain one of the nicest memories of the entire trip.

    It was amazing having you in Dubai!

    Hope to have you again speaking somewhere else in the Middle East or Holland in the future


  • Dear John,
    I am extremely pleased and proud of you that you have taken the time and effort to open up some Yankee eyes and reminded us all that we don’t live in a cocoon! We are a global economy. We all don’t live in the cyber world of IM. Attending meetings is good for the soul and especially when one can travel abroad, it helps to broaden your outlook on life! And most important you play an important role in influencing people of another land in their outlook on life.
    When I was young (in the 70’s) and would spend a summer in India, many Indians were afraid to talk to us because there was an AURA about us Americans (even us Indian Americans) that was hard to break. Once of course they would talk to us they would realize that we were alike! Now they know more about us than we do thanks to Satellite, Internet and don’t forget Oparah!
    Our first generation has adapted so well that I am jealous! My 18 year old son attends a Catholic college where he is majoring in business, lives 20 minutes away so he can be home on weekends for Indian food and ‘borrow the car’. He is an avid golfer and wants to become a pro. He also is a member of the Univ of Pitt Bhangara dance team. Bhangara is a lively folk dance from the state of Punjab. And most importantly, he is a proud conservative Republican American who sports equal number of Indian and American friends!
    What a melting pot the US is. And thanks to you for reminding us all of it!
    Sunita Pandit

  • PS
    Thank you Ernesto for inviting John to the meeting and thank you John for sharing!
    Sunita Pandit

  • Great, now I got to research and visit this strange place, dubai. Thanks a lot 😛

  • dubai homes says:

    Yes dubai is grate place. Thanks for sharing john

  • I am first time commenting here this is good one but it needs some necessary changes that are the need of hours.

  • Recently i saw new years ceremony that present in BurjKhalifa Main hotel in Dubai really very interested, for other people that come from out of country and celebrate every time.

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