Dubai: The 38th Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive might be two weeks away but work has already begun.
With quiet efficiency, a team of Gulf News staffers puts together the arrangements for what is a defining event of the UAE calendar.
Even the information packs being put together for 700 participants can be a task that requires focussed commitment. P K Nizar, promotions assistant, who has been working in Gulf News for 31 years, spoke about how he, with 10 other newsboys, ensures that participants know all the do’s and dont’s and receive all the information they need to have a safe and enjoyable overnighter.
“The packs will be available to be collected by January 3. We start two days in advance and make sure they are all lined up at the Dubai office and sent to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain as well, for people to collect,” he said.
I coordinate the packing of information packs, marshal kits and GN Volunteer kits.
The information packs contain car number stickers, disclaimers, leaflets from the sponsors as well as an information manual, among other things.
Goodie bags for participants being put together
Thomas Mathew, distribution manager, who has worked with Gulf News for 20 years, said that the Fun Drive was one of the most exciting event for many people and if the intricate organisational details are not managed there can be some confusion.
“A lot of passion goes into the Fun Drive, it is a big event for us. I have been involved with the start parking for the past few years and there can be a lot of confusion because we are trying to get a big number of cars in a small space. We try to avoid all of that by demarcating the area according to where people will first come for registration, park their cars, have breakfast and from where they will push off for the drive,” he said.
“A lot of passion goes into the Fun Drive, it is a big event for us."
The excitement can also be tricky to manage, as at the starting line, the cars are lined up closely.
“There have been no accidents of course, but it gets exciting,” he added.
In the middle of the desert
The camp, this year, is at the Moreeb Dune, in Liwa, Abu Dhabi and getting all the equipment in place can mean preparations start well in advance. Puneet Bajaj, senior promotions manager, has been involved with the event for 10 years and spoke about the challenges the team faces to set up such a big event in the middle of the desert.
I am responsible for the setup of the fun drive camp, which is Mureeb this time.
“Just last year, the food chiller truck got stuck in the dunes and marshals had to go to get it out. It did cause some stress on the breakfast preparations but our sponsors Jebel Ali resorts also worked with us to manage the slight delay, by serving many appetisers and soup so people did not notice anything at all,” he said.
A bit of randomness
Even though the arrangements and execution can be stressful, people always offer comic relief and funny anecdotes for the team.
Mariam Ali, administrative coordinator, who manages registrations spoke about the quirky requests she has received from participants over the years.
“A lot of people come in to register and expect us to provide vehicles as well. We have to tell them that we cannot do that,” she said.
We start working on the registration two months ahead of when they start because we have gone online and want to make things easier for our participants.
Others expect an experience that could be luxurious by camping standards.
“We also get requests from people who want their tents to have carpets and beds,” she added.
All of this, according to Mariam, makes the experience all the more memorable. Ajith Jayaval, promotions assistant, for example, has been asked for towels, shower gels and perfumes. He does not seem to mind the odd requests, adding: “This is the fun part of the event. As an off-roader I also enjoy the yearly fun drive.”
“The site this year is 378 km from Dubai. So, transporting all the equipments and signages will be challenging. I am also responsible for certain check points and make sure the route is accessible for all the participants."
Jayaval’s job, however, is crucial to keeping the caravan on track - he ensures road signs and sponsor signages are accurately placed so that no participant gets lost.
“The site this year is 378 km from Dubai. So, transporting all the equipments and signages will be challenging. I am also responsible for certain check points and make sure the route is accessible for all the participants,” he added.
With several sponsors, marshals and participants, the event clearly requires a lot of coordination. Syed Haseeb, marketing assistant, has to carry the mantle of coordinating with the sponsors and marshals.
“It is because of the sponsors that the event happens, I coordinate with them and deal with their signages, leaflets or any other requirements. Marshals, too, are very important as if anyone gets stuck during the drive, they do not need to worry. The marshals will come to help them get out. It is a lot of fun and a lot of work goes into this one day, but it is worth it,” he said.
Naureen Aquil, assistant promotions manager, who will be working on the Fun Drive for the 11th year, spoke about how she is always excited about the event.
“It is very unique to this region as it is a desert drive and I look after the publicity and media, communicating with our readers and participants on one hand and with the sponsors on the other,” she said.
“It is very unique to this region as it is a desert drive"
The media and publicity plan is drafted to ensure two weeks ahead of the day people are made aware of the event.
She is also responsible for the entertainment and communications at the start line and at the venue at night.
“We ensure that the entertainment is full-fledged and caters to everyone present. So, for children we have face painting, dancing and performances by magicians. There is also Bollywood dancing, Arabic dancing and belly dancing,” Naureen added.