Go-ahead attitude is a tale of two cities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am


Back in the early 19th century, nobody quite realised the potential of Dubai's and Hong Kong's natural resources. Hong Kong had water - a harbour that was not only one of the best anchorages on the coast of China, but in the whole world. Dubai had oil - admittedly concealed beneath the desert sands - and enough of it to propel it from an arid backwater into one of the most powerful city states in the world. Nevertheless, it took more than oil and water to catapult what were once little more than dots on the map in the Middle East and Asia to global prominence.

Hong Kong and Dubai are known for the excellence of their hotels. It's not simply their height, or the number of rooms, or the plethora of their amenities. Service plays its part, with many of the five-or-more-star properties helmed by expatriate graduates of the best hotel schools on the planet. Most importantly, it's the hospitality element, welcoming guests from wherever they come. The same ethos has extended to Hong Kong, and Dubai's mode of doing business, encouraging anyone prepared to work hard, come up with new ideas, or fill a gap in a supply chain to move in and set up shop.

The finance industry is where Dubai and Hong Kong shine. In Dubai, the port of Jebel Ali is one of the largest man-made harbours in the world, and Hong Kong's International Financial Centre - which started operations in 2004 - provides a secure platform for businesses to reach emerging markets of the region. If Dubai does well commercially, Hong Kong deserves equal plaudits. Low taxation and free trade have boosted the city's coffers; Hong Kong's stock exchange is especially noteworthy, ranking as one of the largest in the world and regularly launching more initial public offerings than anywhere else. And Hong Kong and Dubai have a penchant for land reclamation, which in turn boosts their property markets.

If either Dubai or Hong Kong entered a global competition for trophy projects, it's likely they'd both enter their airports. Chek Lap Kok, conjured up from the sea to replace the inner-city Kai Tak strip, remains a triumph of design, more of a temple to air travel than a mere brace of terminals, and blessed with marine and mountain views. Dubai International Airport is similarly exemplary, an out-and-out Arabian crossroads, and helped by an open-skies policy that welcomes airlines from the four corners of the world, and a duty free operation whose prices and provenance have always given rivals pause for thought.

A city's airport is always a good indicator of its infrastructure, and neither Hong Kong nor Dubai disappoint on this front. Hong Kong leads the way, opening its Mass Transit Railway (MTR) line in 1979. From a novelty, the system has expanded to become an integral part of daily life in the city, embracing new technology, such as the Octopus stored-value card, and building new lines that will practically encircle Hong Kong Island. The MTR is complemented by an extensive system of road transport, to say nothing of its venerable tram routes.

Dubai was a little slower off the mark, opening its metro only in 2009, though it was the first urban train network in the Arabian peninsula. It is also driver-less and fully-automated, putting it a step ahead of Hong Kong and earning a place in the Guinness World Records. As in Hong Kong, the Dubai metro is a convenient - and cool - way to get around, and more lines are under construction. Perhaps more important than any infrastructure or institution, Hong Kong and Dubai share a go-ahead attitude that has taken both cities a long way since their early days.