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Gulf Countries: Warm Hospitality and Amazing Potential

by Andrea Di Maio  |  May 20, 2010  |  6 Comments

I had the privilege of spending a full week meeting government clients in Oman, Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. Last time I had been there almost three years ago, and things have changed considerably since.

Dubai – in spite of having slowed down – now has a world-class metro, one of the most extraordinary examples of reclaimed land (the Palm) and the tallest tower in the world. Abu Dhabi has a wonderful F1 track, new waterfront developments and almost as much construction as I remember last time in Dubai. Also Bahrain has a top class F1 track, while the landscape in Qatar has changed enormously, giving it a personality and architectural beauty that is unsurpassed in the region. Oman gave me one of the most extraordinary hotel experiences that I can remember.

These countries are simply wonderful. Not just for what they have accomplished in disciplines like architecture and engineering, not just for the delicious food and warm hospitality, not just for the achievement in technology penetration and use witnessed by statistics, international rankings and awards, and not even for their deep and sometimes mysterious  (for us westerners) traditions. What I like most is their willingness to be challenged, to accept that they may be wrong, their humility in recognizing that they have still a long and bendy road ahead of them in spite of their extraordinary achievements.

They are much straighter than many Europeans, and more articulated than many Americans. They exhibit a very elegant sense of humor in spite of our prejudices and will often answer questions that – on hindsight – may look inappropriate. They are polite and never arrogant, even when they could afford to be so.

Of course they have lots of money (although some have experienced what “debt” actually means) and are rather far from a western concept of democracy, being ruled by emirs, sultans or kings. However, I have had incredibly rich conversations about transparency, openness, and the use of technology to engage with people.

In all countries I asked to audiences how many of them use Facebook or LinkedIn, and the show of hands was comparable to what I would get in Western countries. They do understand the potential of social networks as well as the limitations of what government can do. They do not aim at banning or blocking, but are willing to learn how to use them.

Although each country is different in its own respect, and the traits above have different connotations, I was really happy with the depth, openness and honesty of almost all conversations.

What I find ironic is that, while most of them are eager to know about best practices in other countries and feel like followers, I believe that we’d better spend some time there and learn from them.

Category: e-government  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Gulf Countries: Warm Hospitality and Amazing Potential

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  2. Ernie says:

    I suspect a different experience if you are from a ‘worker’ country or a female.

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  4. Oman Reisen says:

    its great you had a good time in Oman and that the hotel was surperb

  5. A. Corradini says:

    Funny how Ernie’s comment was deliberately ignored.

    Mr. Di Maio seems to avoid the fact that the majority of his potential clients in the Gulf are oppressive regimes.

    But hey, who cares when you can have “extraordinary hotel experiences” … Regretful, to say the least.

  6. @A.Corradini @Ernie – I try not to ignore any comment, I have just taken a rest after a very long week (since Saturday and Sunday are working days in the region I visited).
    Of course it is not all gold that glitters. Gulf countries exhibit striking contrasts between modernity and tradition. However I would argue that, at least in some of them, the woman’s condition in the IT domain is far better than you may imagine. I met women in management position, and those who attended the workshops and sessions I run were extremely active, direct, articulate.
    Indeed there are still restrictive rules about how men and women can socialize in public and you’d better be careful with consuming alcohol in public: however I do not think this was different in part of the western world just a few decades ago and – frankly speaking – I’d rather have strong rles against alcohol than seeing teenagers drunk and vomiting in the street on a Saturday night.
    As far as freedom, I do live part f my life in a country were the prime minister directly or indirectly controls most media, where a law is about to be passed that made the American embassy warn us that we are threating freedom, and – in spite of our long tradition of immigrating in other countries in the last century – we have become a blatantly racist society vis-a-vis the many workers who come to Italy in search of a better life.
    So, before making dismissive statements about societies we do not know very sell from the inside, we’d better look at how we ensure basic rights in our part of the world.
    Finally, the “extraordinary hotel experience” shows a degree of customer-centricity that most of the western world can really learn from.

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