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Taxi drivers turn tourist guides

Lily B. Libo-on / 29 September 2013

Move over tour guides, Dubaiís 3,504 taxi drivers are Dubaiís newest ambassadors for the yearly 10 million tourists that visit.

Already, 1,590 of them have completed a tourist awareness initiative for all Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) drivers that taught them relevant information about key tourist landmarks, hotels, events and attractions in Dubai.

After years of bringing people from all walks of life to different places, they are now equipped to advise tourists about the best sights Dubai has to offer.

Pakistani driver Iqbal knows more of Dubai than his own country after living in the emirate for 40 years.

“I have met different people and I have learnt different languages. A week ago, a French woman did not speak English but I could speak a little French and gave her advice on hotels. And because I could talk to her, it made her feel comfortable. Customers are the most important thing — they trust you to take them safely to their place.”

Iqbal’s favourite place in Dubai is The Dubai Mall, but he has a long list of recommendations for tourists, who cannot decide what to do first. “Desert safari — it has henna for ladies, desert skiing and also there are camels. Al Maha Resort is very nice. Bab Al Shams has a very nice restaurant that serves traditional food. Also, there are two skydiving places in Dubai — one in Dubai Marina and one on the Dubai-Al Ain road after the 7s Stadium; not many people know this one. Shaikh Zayed Road has very nice buildings, from Garhoud Bridge, look over the edge and you will see many flowers (while) Al Muteena Street in Deira is good to see people.”

Egyptian taxi driver, Salah, 38, who has been in Dubai for nine years, is a qualified teacher in Egypt. But he came to Dubai to find a better job and better life. He says that every day he hears 20 new stories from meeting people of different nationalities.

“There is something new every day as I travel all over Dubai. Yesterday, someone told me that when they close their eyes and think of the perfect place — safe, clean, respectful people of many nationalities — they think of Dubai,” he says.

He said Dubai was very safe and equal.

“Even His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai drives by himself here. It’s not like in other countries where the (President or King or Queen) has 10 cars ahead of him and 10 cars behind. Twice, I have seen him next to me which made me very happy, so you see that everyone is treated the same.”

Tourists should visit the Burj Al Arab and if they like history and museums and culture, they can go and see Al Bastikiya, the desert and “beautiful” Hatta, Salah said. “But one day is not enough.”

He said he told tourists that in Arabic Egypt was known as ‘Umm Ala’lam or ‘Al Duniya’, which meant ‘mother of the world’. “But Dubai is the crown. You have everything you want here for a good life: education, safety and good salary.”

Wael Iqbal, 37, another Egyptian driver from Cairo who has been in Dubai for 15 years, said Palm Jumeirah, JBR and Atlantis were his personal favourites. He advised tourists to go to Atlantis for the dolphin show and the waterpark as “families like this a lot.” Iqbal said most tourists asked to be taken to a range of places, including Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall; swimming with dolphins in Atlantis; the Dubai Fountain; the Gold Souq; abras on the creek; and Al Bastikiya.

He liked the latest DTC training. “We always have the chance to refresh our training so it is very good for learning and it is very safe. I like driving and meeting people from all cultures and from driving I can see all of Dubai,” Wael says.

Itelle, 22, a taxi driver from Hamburg, Germany, said he felt more at home in Dubai than he did in his home country.

“The best part is the contact with the customers. We have fun talking in the taxis and we make new friends, most are very nice. In Germany, I was not happy. But, here when I go to work in the morning I am happy.

“I learned English in eight months in Dubai. It isn’t difficult to come here and have a very easy life, everyone is respected and that’s why I like Dubai.”

His favourite mall was Mall of the Emirates but he said tourists always asked to be taken to The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. “It is nice for tourists to see us first. We clean our own cars after a shift. It is important to know all the information in Dubai — hotels, history, what to do — so we can give good customer service.”

In June this year, DTC and Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to put a tourist awareness programme in place to better facilitate the movement of tourists around Dubai and ensure that taxi drivers are fully equipped to act as ambassadors for the city.

Aside from training the taxi drivers to enhance customer service and make life easier for travellers, especially those arriving in Dubai for the first time, the MoU ensured availability of taxis at tourist attractions and key events.

“Dubai Taxi Corporation has always been committed to contributing to the success of Dubai’s tourism industry and our drivers are key ambassadors for the city. Educating and training our drivers on the history and facts of Dubai’s top tourist and cultural spots will help us to provide a better and more informative experience for our guests — and is something that our drivers will be proud to be able to offer,” says Ahmed Mohammed Al Hammadi, Acting CEO of DTC.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director-General of DTCM, said that for the vast majority of tourists, taxi drivers were amongst the first people they meet. “The visitor’s initial impressions of the city are shaped by the taxi drivers and it’s important that we provide drivers with as much training and information as possible so they can act as ambassadors for Dubai.” -lily@khaleejtimes.com

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