Dubai: “I am fed up,” said Sheryl D’Souza, a 48-year-old resident of Bur Dubai.
When she dropped off her aunt from Goa at Dubai Airport last December – her 19th house-guest in 22 months - she resolved that enough was enough, she wouldn’t entertain any more visitors in 2014.
But no sooner did the new year dawn than a cousin from Delhi invited herself over. Last week, a friend from the US also called to request if Sheryl could put up his visiting brother and sister-in-law. “This is the story of my life,” she lamented.
Sharjah resident Azan Masudi is just as weary. On a four-day leave from work to play tour guide for a bunch of relatives from hometown Lucknow, he said: “House-guests can be demanding. Every time they descend on us, we are set back by a few thousands. We get very stressed by the time they leave, but there’s no escaping the constant arrivals.”
Welcome to Destination Dubai where residents receive overseas visitors like few others in the world. It’s hardly surprising as tourist arrivals in the city crossed the 10 million mark in 2013, with even the United Nations World Tourism Organisation ranking the UAE among the top 10 fastest growing tourism hotspots for the year.
But while that’s great for the economy, hospitable residents who throw open their hearts and homes to visiting friends and relatives say it can take a huge toll on them. From arranging visas, sightseeing tours and desert safaris to spending hard-pressed time, energy and money, residents said entertaining a continuous stream of visitors – both wanted and unwanted – can be exhausting.
A Palm Jumeirah resident who recently hosted her sister’s family of three said she ended up spending around Dh12,000 over a week on them. “There are some must-dos when people visit, but they don’t come cheap.”
She said the 15-day visas alone cost her Dh1,050 (for three people), Burj Khalifa’s At the Top tickets Dh375, the desert safaris Dh900, Ferrari World Dh750 and eating out, gifts and miscellaneous expenses Dh4,000. “We wanted to show them the best of places, but the coffees, lunches and dinners can add up to quite a bit.”
Dent in budgets
Even assuming that not all hosts are as generous, residents said the dent in budgets can be sizeable when house-guests arrive.
“Most guests think it’s our responsibility to spend on them. The last time a friend visited, I ended up paying Dh600 for some gifts she wanted for her family back home. She picked up these items at the hypermarket, merrily dropped them into my trolley and when the time came to pay, looked the other way. I have also had guests who take the plea that they don’t have the local currency,” said Anne, a beautician.
Masudi said, “My meter starts ticking with the ‘OK to board’ fee I must pay as many of my guests fly Air India Express from Lucknow. Every time they come, our grocery bills and car fuel costs go up by a few hundreds. The sightseeing and dining out expenses run into a couple of thousands. On a few occasions, I have put up my guests in a nearby hotel apartment, but that only added to my costs.”
Equally draining is the time and energy spent on the guests.
“House-guests throw our lives into disarray. Schools were closed last month and my wife and I wanted to go on a holiday with our sons but instead, ended up hosting holidayers. On one of the days that I took the guests out, I got so late I couldn’t keep my eldest son’s appointment with the doctor.
“The kids now look at house-guests as pests and have given me an ultimatum,” said Masudi.
Working couple Praveen and Sheela said their jobs leave them with little time to entertain houseguests, so shuffling between their responsibilities can be stressful. “There are so many direct flights to Dubai these days that we are constantly having someone over. We can neither take leave from work nor leave the guests alone. It’s so frustrating trying to strike a balance - getting up early to cook for them, staying up late showing them around and still going about our work like everything is normal. Weekends become even more demanding.”
Sheela said she does not spend on the sightseeing tours of her visitors and lets them arrange their own visas and bookings for the desert safari. “Otherwise, I would be bankrupt in no time. I have a standard itinerary when I have to take them out – a drive down Jumeirah Beach Road, Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina with brief stopovers outside Jumeirah Beach, Burj Al Arab, the Atlantis and Marina Walk. On another day, I take them to the Dubai Museum through Meena Bazaar, then head to the Gold Souq and Spice Souq on an abra. I make a third trip to Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall and the fountains. These trips require time and effort, but at least I cut down on some expense.”
German resident Claudia said, “Somehow, guests think we should drop everything else and be with them. That’s just not possible. I have three-four guests every year. But no one has called me ever since I adopted three cats last year.”
One resident who did not want to be named said: “I had a friend who came with his brother and wanted to go to a nightclub after dinner on a weekday. He thought nothing of the fact that I had to leave for work at 6am the next morning.”
He said: “A few such experiences put you off all house-guests, even those that you genuinely would like to have. It’s probably the price we must pay as small expat families with no extra hands to help us out.”