I was lucky to be in all those cities during creative, social and economic surges. I was inspired by the optimism, inventiveness and can-do attitude of each place, even though the cultures were very different.
By the 2010s, I was in search of a new frontier and found Dubai. It is unique – in environment, culture and background. And it is successful – its heritage connects with a clear vision about redefining spaces by combining creativity, business culture and human potential.
Over the past five years, I have spent a lot of time there and become an evangelist for Dubai’s spirit and ambition while often facing raised eyebrows – especially from people in our own industry. People are missing the point about the real spark of genius, inspired leadership and unyielding determination that make Dubai exceptional.
It’s easy to list the superlatives. Last year, Dubai was named the World’s Leading Destination at the World Travel Awards. This year, Dubai overtook Heathrow as the airport with the largest number of international passengers in the world and, with a growth rate of 13.5 per cent, is going to retain that position.
At a time when travel growth is set to come from the new generation of Asian travellers crossing the world westwards, Dubai is a natural global centre-point that is poised as a gateway into and out of Africa; a hub for the world.
What a feat it was for London to stage the Olympics. For Dubai, Expo 2020 is a similar catalyst to success
But it won’t just be the world’s biggest transit lounge. This is really a sign of the changing centre of gravity in the travel business: in February, for example, Emirates was named as the world’s most valuable airline brand.
Dubai’s rise has in part been fuelled by the creation of "cities within the city" – such as Internet City and Media City. On the horizon is the Design District, announced last year as a plan to foster local talent. In bringing ideas like this to life, Dubai will claim new design territories by using creativity to drive innovation and change.
Adding extra fuel to the surge, Dubai was recently announced as the host for the 2020 World Expo.
You know what a feat it was for London to stage the Olympics. For Dubai, Expo 2020 is a similar catalyst to success. It will demonstrate the depths and breadths of the city’s vision and capabilities – for example, delivering 50 per cent renewable energy on the 2020 site and, as estimated by Standard Chartered, creating 300,000 jobs and one million indirect jobs.
Where Expo 2020, the Design District and Emirates are going, other Dubai-based brands will follow in an unstoppable wave of energy. Which means a new era is opening for any agency that can be as innovative and entrepreneurial as the city itself.
Hans Howarth is the founder and chief executive at Nomads