Dubai start-up helps visitors take a closer look at Emirati life

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An Emirati man interacts with visitors at a session of Meet the Locals. — Supplied photo
An Emirati man interacts with visitors at a session of Meet the Locals. — Supplied photo

Dubai - Khadija Behzad’s ‘Meet the Locals’ invites tourists and residents to break bread with locals and dig deeper into Emiratis' fascinating culture


Anjana Sankar

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Published: Sat 22 May 2021, 10:42 PM

Desert safari, belly dancing, camel ride, and a dash of sun, sand and a shopping bonanza – a Dubai experience that encompasses these touristy traps for a majority of visitors to the emirate.

Emirati Khadija Behzad saw a gaping hole in Dubai’s tourism landscape and launched ‘Meet the Locals’ – a social tourism start-up that invites both tourists and residents alike to break bread with locals and dig deeper into their fascinating culture and heritage.

“Dubai is a city that attracts millions of tourists every year. There are many tour operators as well. But I saw that they don’t offer anything that represents our culture. We wanted to offer experiences not just tours,” Behzad told Khaleej Times.

The award-winning start-up also wants to bring Emiratis and expatriates from close to 200 countries, who call Dubai their home away from home, closer.

“Emiratis make up less than 15 per cent of the total population. The majority of expatriates have never been to an Emirati home, not tasted our food, or understood our culture. We want to change that perception,” said Behzad.

Since its inception, Behzad said thousands of people from more than 75 countries have taken their bespoke tours led by licensed Emirati tours.

The packages cost between Dh150 and Dh500.

They include cultural meals, tasting dates, the etiquette of sipping Arabic coffee, visiting camel farms and pearl diving, etc. There are also Emirati cooking stations, handicrafts and visits to cultural districts, museums and mosques.

The cultural meals are one of the most popular tours where visitors are taken to authentic Emirati restaurants to experience local food followed by a question-and-answer (Q&A) session.

“Our plan to take visitors to Emirati homes is on hold due to Covid-19-related restrictions. For now, we take them to Emirati restaurants where they get to share a meal with locals and we explain about different dishes, ingredients, and how they are prepared. People are also encouraged to ask questions for a better understanding," she added.

The face-to-face interactions, she said, helps quell many misconceptions and stereotypes about Emiratis. "For example, many people think that we don’t have to work, and the government gives us a monthly allowance. I tell them, in that case, I would be on a world tour and not run a company,” she said.

She exuded happiness about the firm’s operations being run by Emiratis alone.

“There are over 100 Emirati tour guides working with us. And we are planning to expand our company and curate more packages with Dubai Expo in mind. When the world comes to see Dubai from October 1 onwards, we want to give them an unforgettable cultural experience,” she added.

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