Bringing history to life

KEITH J FERNANDEZ chats up Anita Mehra Homayoun, whose vision of a permanent, Arabic-themed desert extravaganza comes to life in Dubai next month

ONE expatriate, at least, has put her money where everyone else’s mouths are, and the fruit of that investment will be up and running for all to see out in Dubai’s desert in the next couple of months. 

The first permanent outdoor extravaganza in the Middle East opens at Dubailand by October. Anita Mehra Homayoun’s Dubai Heritage Vision, established to nurture and promote the heritage and culture of the Arabian world, is set to launch its first initiative, Al Sahra, a unique desert resort, during the third week of September 2006.
 “I didn’t want something kitsch and Walt Disney,” she tells TTN over the telephone. “Rather, I wanted to get people interested in whatever else the region has to offer. I’ve been in Dubai all my life and I felt it’s lost the essence of being an Arab country offering up the cultural aspects of the UAE and Arabia. The beauty of Arabia is not seen very much any more.”
Ergo, a sustainable, organic recreation of a luxury desert resort and village, complete with 60 air-conditioned luxury tents, restaurants, a traditional souk, amphitheatre, Bedouin storytellers and artisans – all set in 40 million square feet of undulating sand dunes just 30 minutes from central Dubai. The entire idea is inspired by the caravanserai of old, she says, where travellers and merchants were welcome to stay, and where they were provided with space to store and trade in a variety of goods.
The resort, meanwhile, should begin taking its first guests in December, starting with 10 tents and progressing to a total of 60 keys, says Homayoun, who is perhaps better known for her work with Dubai’s Department of Civil Aviation. The second phase will see the opening of a a 132-room boutique hotel.
If you’re thinking hotel and mall in the middle of nowhere, Al Sahra is far more than that. Homayoun promises it will be unique eco-tourism project that offers the experience of a life time. What will set it apart is Jumana – Secret of the Desert, a permanent daily show on the lines of the Cirque du Soleil.
“It’s not edutainment but pure entertainment, a modern operetta that tells an Arabian love story, set in the atmosphere of a rundown fort, like the kind you see on the coast of Fujairah. The production itself has all the latest technology and equipment, from laser shows to fireworks, trapeze acts, in short everything you would expect from a wolrd-class show,” she says.
Homayoun’s business partner, Frenchman Pierre Marcout, is the creative behind the show itself, and rather than commission an international troupe to bring in an established show, the duo have kept the entire production organic, sourcing artistes specifically for the show, including chorographer, dancers and musicians. “It’s all orginal, but comparable with anything you can get in Las Vegas,” she says.
Tourists and UAE residents alike constitute their target market, bu with a seating capacity for up to 2 500 people, Homayoun is keen to work tour groups, corporates and incentives and conventions organisers. The company has played to one ‘very large cruiseliner’ earlier this year, she says, and will host its first big event on September 18.
The major shareholder in the project is the Dutco group.