Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Dubai isn’t known for soup lines. But at least one hotel in the glitzy tourist spot is offering visitors left jobless by the economic slump a free meal anyway.
All unemployed dinner-seekers have to do is show up with their layoff letter in hand. And yes, the offer applies to out-of-towners willing to make the trip to the Gulf Arab sheikdom.
“A lot of people are finding themselves in a very difficult situation right now,” said Mark Lee, general manager of the Arabian Park Hotel, which is offering the meals. “Being made redundant at this time of year is no fun at all, and we’re trying to give a little bit of festive cheer back.”
The offer comes as Dubai, a fast-growing but debt-heavy city of new skyscrapers, grapples with its first mass layoffs in years.
Several property developers — the most visible employers in town — have laid off hundreds of employees in recent weeks.
State-owned Nakheel, the builder of palm-shaped islands off the coast, recently said it was shedding 500 jobs, or 15 percent of its work force. Others say they’re re-examining staffing levels and aren’t ruling out job cuts.
On Thursday, Shuaa Capital, a publicly traded investment company based in Dubai, said it had begun laying off 21 employees, or 9 percent of its Dubai-based staff.
The cutbacks are sowing fear among the tens of thousands of foreign workers who have moved to the city to take advantage of its largely tax-free construction, financial and tourism boom.
Many of the better off have bought property whose value is now falling, and most expatriates rely on continued employment to ensure their residency permits remain valid. Among the most vulnerable are the relatively low-paid unskilled laborers from South Asia who make up most of the city-state’s population.
Arabian Park’s free-meal offer isn’t entirely altruistic. In addition to helping others, the hotel hopes to entice more guests, Lee said.
Dubai’s tourism sector, a key piece of the city’s ambitious growth plans, is under increasing pressure from a strengthening dollar — which makes travel from Europe more expensive — and an economic slump that is convincing consumers to avoid exotic holiday trips.
Alex Kyriakidis, who heads the global tourism, hospitality and leisure division at professional services firm Deloitte & Touche LLP, recently warned Dubai business leaders to brace for slower tourist traffic in the months ahead.
“No one is immune from the global economic crisis,” he said.
That slowdown already appears to be affecting Arabian Park, a three-star hotel near the airport. While overall sales have increased since the hotel’s fiscal year began in June, business was down 6 percent in November and is lower so far again this month, Lee said.
“There’s no point avoiding the fact that it’s a lot more difficult now than it was before,” he added.