Dubai - Dubai when there was no Emirates, Jumeirah group, Emaar

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Fast-forward to present time, the country has remarkably transformed over the last couple of decades.- (KT file photo, Alamy Image)

The UAE's modern infrastructure, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities and ports, latest technologies and innovation that we see daily did not come up overnight. The transformation from an economy that was dependent on pearl diving and oil to diversification involved decades of hard work and a long-term vision.

When long-time UAE resident Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, landed in Dubai in 1983, the population was just 300,000 and today it's over 3 million. The traffic at Dubai Airports was just 3 million and this year it will be close to 90 million.

"In 1983, when we set up Dubai Duty Free, there was no Emirates Airline, no Jumeirah Group, no Palm Jumeirah, no Emaar and no tourism board. But there was a great deal of ambition to grow the UAE to be a major tourist and business destination," McLoughlin, 73, recalled. "As I arrived in the summer of 1983, unfortunately my luggage did not make the flight. So, the following day, I had to go to buy replacement clothes. I went to the Al Ghurair Centre, as that was the only major shopping mall at the time, but the centre was closed for lunch, so I had to wait for hours in the heat waiting for the shops to reopen at 4pm. That would never happen now, of course, with so many shopping malls and outlets throughout the UAE."

McLoughlin said that the only golf course then was at Country Club in Dubai and it was a sand course. "So we used to bring a piece of Astro turf with us to tee-off and then sweep the sand as we went along. Now, of course we are spoilt for choice with the championship golf courses that we have in the UAE, with both Abu Dhabi and Dubai hosting major international golf events."

The septuagenarian recalled that the only high-rise building that existed at the time was the World Trade Centre building. "That was my guide on the way back to Dubai. Now there is Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah and many more iconic landmarks that symbolise the growth and success of Dubai."

Fast-forward to present time, the country has remarkably transformed over the last couple of decades with infrastructure being updated and economy being diversified.

Young and energetic Emirati Ali Sajwani, general manager of operations at Damac Properties, foresees phenomenal growth and transformation in the country's economy across sectors such as infrastructure, real estate, aviation, renewable energy, technology, healthcare and education, among other non-oil areas.

"Over the next 50 years, we could see other ideas and innovations joining forces to enhance our lives and solve the world's most pressing issues. From self-driving cars to 'Internet for everyone', the future is inspiring. Over the next 50 years, there will be a paradigm shift in how and why we build," said Sajwani.

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