A Beluga in the Desert: Arab Health 2019
A Beluga in the Desert: Our Experience at the Arab Health 2019 Conference in Dubai
Dave Jobes, Ph.D.
Did you know that a beluga can survive in the desert? This one did!
I recently traveled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to attend the Arab Health conference. We were one 10 companies invited by the Maryland Department of Commerce to attend as part of the Maryland delegation, representing the state at one of the largest healthcare conferences in the world (attendance was ~85,000 this year!). We had a great time and had a chance to showcase Beluga Products to the world. We had nearly 80 meetings with representatives from countries like India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, UAE, Russia, Poland, Greece, UK, and Australia, so we spread the word far and wide about Beluga!
We didn't have a chance to take too many of our products but did take our gummy daily multivitamins and probiotics, which were a huge hit and sold out by the third day. It goes to show that no matter how far you travel in the world, and no matter who you talk to, everyone cares about being happy and healthy! Next time we'll be sure to take even more products with us!
Our overall goal for Arab Health was to make connections with companies in the region who could help distribute our products in the UAE and surrounding areas, since it is very difficult for a small company like ours to do that on our own. Each country has its own laws and regulations on importing, product registration, warehousing/distribution, and marketing so the most effective way to reach this market (or pretty much any market outside the US) is to find a good local partner. Who knows? Perhaps one day soon you'll see Beluga Products on the shelves in the UAE!
Things I Learned about Dubai
Dubai is a gem tucked in the Persian Gulf region, and this time of year (January-March) is truly the best time to be there. Temperatures were perfect (70F during day/ 60F at night) and there was almost no humidity so you could walk around outside and still feel comfortable. It is also offseason and prices are greatly reduced, so it is very cost-effective time to travel there.
Dubai is home to a diverse population of ~2.5 million people. Only ~15% are native residents, with the remaining 85% coming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. British expats also make up a decent number of residents; I heard lots of British English spoken! While Arabic is the official language, English is spoken everywhere and most signs are in English, so it is very easy to get around, find what you need, and communicate with people.
Dubai is a major tourist destination and the city is home to some of the most impressive malls and shopping sites in the world. For instance, the Mall of the Emirates has a full indoor ski slope, so you can imagine the size of the mall! You'll also encounter every major brand found in the US, from food (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Subway, Cheesecake Factory, to name a few) to luxury items like Gucci, Tiffany's, Chanel, Rolex, Armani, and many, many more.
If you aren't easily impressed with malls, then you'll definitely want to visit the 'souq' (pronounced "sook") or marketplaces that are the more traditional places for commerce. The gold and spice souq is really a site to behold, but be prepared to haggle over pricing and be harrassed by merchants, especially the watch merchants who swarm the tourists trying to sell them a fake Rolex or Patek Philippe! It is definitely 'old school' in that respect but if you love that type of environment, you'll feel right at home here. And the gold souq is probably one of the few places in the world where you'll see a 22K gold shirt or dress hanging in the shop windows, priced from $800,000 to over $3 million dollars! They do take credit cards...
What Else Did I Learn in Dubai?
I was fortunate to not only attend the conference but to tour of two local hospitals, one government run, the Sheik Rashid Hospital, and the other privately owned called the Saudi German Hospital. Healthcare is important in Dubai and whether it's the healthcare system or conferences like Arab Health, the one thing that united everyone there was a desire to be healthy. It seems that no matter our differences, we all desire (and deserve) to live a healthy life and have access to quality care!
While the Saudi German Hospital was newer, both hospitals offered similar patient care and the doctors we met were highly skilled and trained. Most doctors were trained in the US and/or Europe and much of the technology (diagnostics, MRI, CT scanning machines, etc.) are the major brands found in hospital throughout the world. One area that truly impressed our tour group is how effectively the hospitals have implemented a paperless system. In US hospitals, you'll find paper scattered throughout the nursing stations, doctors offices and even in the patient's rooms, but not here! The nursing stations were totally devoid of paper, the patient rooms were equally clean and even the doctor's offices had almost no paper (except a few medical journals). Not only does a paperless system cut down on clutter and waste, it also removes a major conduit of contamination into the hospitals, since paper and paper products are full of germs. Clearly this is something the US hospital systems should implement on a wider scale!
So was the trip worth it? Absolutely! We made great connections to new people and countries, sold lots of products, and even developed some new relationships with local Maryland companies. We are looking forward to attending more conferences like this in the future!