I was in Dubai for only 20 hours on my way to Busan, South Korea. Per my experience, I would say that if impulses buying is your hobby then Dubai might just be the right place for you, otherwise you need to watch what offers your are made in Dubai before you part with money without getting any real value for it.

I dare say almost everybody in Ghana dream of going to Dubai because that country is reputed for being one of the best tourist and business destinations in the world today. And that is true. But the Dubai I experienced on my first day of arriving and staying there was a country where sales people use the most carefully crafted strategy that feeds on impulse buying to make visitors part with thousands of dollars of hard cash even before they wake up from their dream.

My own experience with this system was with a holidays sales company called Arabian Falcon. They sell properties in the plush man-made The Palms Island. The strategy was a pure ambush; aggressive and enticing; and the offer – so juicy and mouth-watering that it would take a heavy dose of strong will to refuse parting with hard cash after listening to them talk.

It all begun from the airport. Three very nice male sales persons, including one Nigerian invited four of us to their table. The Nigerian got our attention by greeting us in Twi – “Eti sen” (how is it), and the conversation begun from there. Straight away he hit us with an inviting line “today is a carnival and we are offering free vouchers for trips to the major tourists attractions…”

As we say in Ghana; Ghanafuor pe cheap side – to wit Ghanaians like free things – so we jumped at it. Before we could say jack they had taken our details including our full names, ages, occupations, hotels details and all. They even gave us free SIM cards. They inserted them in our phones. Then they categorized the four of us into three groups. Two were in one group, I was a group of one and the other was a group of one, all based on our ages.

Then one of them, called Mohammed promised to pick us up from our hotels at midday and take us to the tourist site of our choice – we chose the obvious – Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. Mohammed then told us when we get there they will ask us about our income so we should each tick $5,000 plus. We agreed because, after all, there was nothing to lose; there was only a free trip.

Midday came and Mohammed picked us up and took us to a tall office building (not the Burj Khalifa). The ground floor was a bank but Mohammed said we should go to the eighth floor and that was where our trip was going to be booked. He made us go in batches, per the three age-based groups he created. We went three minutes after each other. He instructed us not to say we knew each other. We should just pretend we were each on our own.

On the eighth floor, we each filled separate forms, sat and waited for a while, and then some sales people attended to each of us separately. I was approached by a nice gentleman who said he was Egyptian and when I told him I was Ghanaian, he straight away started talking about football – World Cup qualifiers and all. Then he zoomed into his ambush marketing scheme. That was when I realized the whole airport thing was part of a grand scheme to get us to invest $72,000 each in properties at the made-made The Palm Island, which has the shape of a palm tree.

The man-made The Palm Island in Dubai

The guy made a nice presentation about the properties and told me it cost almost $2million to own one but I can own one for a week every year for 88 years by paying just $72,000; and for one week every year I can either move in and stay there, resell it to another person, rent it and do whatever I want with it for the next 88 years. Even when I die my next of kin can enjoy it until the 88 years is over. So in effect, I can enjoy it or even keep renting and reselling and making profit on it for the 88 years.

Brilliant idea on paper. But the reality can be different. And the guy threw in a reassuring comment – that the Dubai government monitors these deals strictly to ensure that investors and potential investors are protected against fraud. In fact he said the King of Dubai himself is the architect behind the man-made Island so it is safe to invest in it.

But going back to the facts; there was no direct free tour as Mohammed promised. Mohammed took us to that building and we were given vouchers that had phone numbers that we were supposed to call and book our trip to the tourist site by ourselves. Mohammed then took us back to our hotels after meeting the sales people who tried hard but unsuccessfully to make us part with $72,000 each.

In my case, after the sales person had spoken plenty, I told him I had to take that decision with my wife’s consent. He then threw in more juicy offers and said I could make a deposit while I called my wife; and he was willing to make the call to my wife in Ghana for me to speak with her immediately. But I refused that offer.

In the end, we left without making any commitments and they told us that was the last day of the offer, so too bad for them and for us (so to speak). Then when we left that place, we thought Mohammed was driving us to the Burj Khalifa but he took us back to our hotels and asked us to call the number on the voucher and book our trip – completely different from what he promised at the airport. Then he said when we decide to make the investment, we should call him from Ghana and he will open up the opportunity again.

Before Mohammed dropped me off, he picked up a couple from the hotel he dropped off one of my colleagues. He then pleaded with me not to say anything to that couple about their scheme. I realized the couple were dressed and ready for a tour, but little did they know they were going to meet people who would try to convince them to part with $72,000 or at least make an initial non-refundable financial commitment towards that. And, like us, they may never get to do the trip they were dressed for.

Dubai is a great and beautiful country. But I find their style of selling their country to the world very unethical. Some rich folks, like US President Donald Trump, David Beckamp, Rihana and others have invested in these luxury properties and they have employed these aggressive sales and marketing guys to pass on the cost to millions of people around the world so that they, the original owners, can make their money back with profits quickly, while the millions of supposed partial owners pride themselves with partially owning properties that they may never gain any real value from. The offer is juicy on paper, but the reality may never be the same as the one on paper.

What worries me is the attempt by the sales people to get their commissions at all cost, by pushing so hard to make people take such a huge decision on impulse and part with some cash immediately to show commitment. Maybe it is ingenious from the marketing perspective. But from the moral standpoint, it is unethical and smacks off false pretenses. I say so for two simple reasons:

1. If you promise to pick tourists up for a free trip to a tourist site and they end up at a place where they were being virtually compelled to part with $72,000 for a supposed partial ownership of a property, that is deception.

2. If you pick up tourists with the impression that you were taking them to a tourist site and you send them back to their hotel and ask them to now call the site managers and book their trip by themselves, that is also deception.

In fact, I suspect the whole free tour thing was just something they created just to get easy preys like us to go for that one-on-one meeting with their sales people; otherwise, why would they just abandon us in our hotels with just a phone number to call and book our own trip after wasting our precious time at their one-on-one sales meeting? And why would they create the impression the offer to buy into their scheme was ending just today, just so that we would be compelled to buy into it?

Dubai may be doing a lot of things right to get that global reputation as a great tourist and business destination, but as for this one, in my humble opinion, it is most unethical. And did I also mention that Dubai is also alleged to be safe haven for rich folks and multinationals who evade taxes and or hide their wealth from the governments of other countries. Such folks and companies have offices in Dubai as a cover up to transfer moneys easily. So Dubai is not all that, when it comes to doing business ethically. I guess that gives some perspective to my experience.

That being said, Dubai is still one of the most beautiful and business-friendly countries in the world today. One just needs to be careful not to be pushed to spend money in a way that may not necessarily bring value to the spender – whether short-term, medium-term or long-term. There are well organized scavenger organizations out there looking to profit immediately on the back of impulse spenders, while postponing the benefits to the spender. Watch out for those.


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