Dubai: Belly Dancing, the Arabian Desert, and the TCE Model


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Brownell O’Connor travels to Dubai experiences the city through various touch-points—a brand is perceived through the total customer experience (TCE).

Business Traveller to Dubai
by Brownell O’Connor, Global CEM International Partner – Ireland

We began our approach to Dubai. The Captain announced that we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule and that was great news..Then the aircraft entered a holding pattern for almost 50 minutes before eventually getting into Dubai – now 30-minutes behind schedule.

Dubai airport’s terminal 3 is everything you would expect of a modern airport. I breezed straight through the electronic immigration gate but then waited 40 minutes before the baggage belt started and another 25 minutes before my suitcase arrived. My flight and baggage delays were followed by another 20 minute queue for a taxi.

On the way to the hotel, the roads were superb and the city by night was beautiful. As we traversed one of the highways that bridge Dubai’s famous creek, the sight of traditional wooden dhows making their way in and out of the harbor contrasted romantically with the modern architecture and clever lighting displays reflected in the still waters.

I will admit to a few “WOW” moments on that journey from the airport but the biggest WOW moment of all was my arrival at the hotel. I was booked into one of the well-known international 5 star hotels but this 5 star was beyond anything I had experienced before. The interior was truly magnificent. The rooms were huge with plenty of workspace. Service was incredible. In comparison to any other hotel (even of the same brand), anywhere in the world, this was not just a great value but an experience to behold.
That night, we had a truly “Emirati” experience. We were picked up at our hotels by local drivers in 4 wheel drive vehicles. We drove for 20 minutes along the highway when the driver pulled off the road into a small, dishevelled looking garage. A young attendant stooped down and began letting air out of our tires.

With the tires almost flat we drove into the sands of the Arabian Desert. We crested dunes and slid sideways down the other side. From the backseat, the windscreen seemed to be filled with starlit skies one moment and awash with a wall of sand the next. A truly exhilarating drive from a very talented and experience desert driver is, in my opinion, far better than any roller coaster ride, anywhere in the world.

After “dune bashing” we arrived at a traditional Bedouin camp where we were treated to traditional food, belly dancing, camel rides, and falconry exhibitions. It was an incredible night where we experienced traditional Arabic hospitality. With this in mind, the hotel decor and service began to make cultural sense.

Dubai is a city of gold, a haven for shoppers and if you get the chance to meet with some of the locals you will enjoy a warm hospitality like no other. Admittedly, Dubai is not perfect and the arrival experience was, dare I say it, disappointing at best. After a great few days in the city, my departure from Dubai was certainly better than the arrival.

As a business traveller or tourist, would I return? Most definitely. But I was always aware of the many international warnings about the security forces’ tendencies to implement strict Islamic policies on a whim. I had a great time but I took no chances, playing everything by the book.

Belly Dancing and Camel Riding in the Arabian Desert
Like Brownell, my most vivid memory of Dubai is neither Burj Al Arab, the world’s tallest hotel, nor the giant shopping malls, but the special evening that my wife and I had in the Arabian desert – dune-bashing, riding camels and watching belly dancing. The photos taken that evening, especially the one with us riding the camel, trigger interesting conversations among our friends and families.

But as taxis and Woody Allen ain’t New York; camel rides and belly dancing ain’t Dubai. As Brownell led us through his journey as a business traveler in Dubai, we see him experiencing the airport, traffic, architecture, city landscape, hotel, people, and of course, the local tour in the middle of an Arabian desert. These experiences are not delivered by any single department of the Dubai government, or by any single commercial organization; they are created by various entities. This creates a challenge.

A Migration from Departmental Silos to One Team
Whatever you can think of as obstacles for departmental silos and slowness in commercial firms, multiply by ten for any governmental organization with the usual bureaucracy. Besides advertising to potential tourists, which government departments, commercial entities and NGOs do now, what should their role be in influencing the visiting experience? How can these entities be integrated into a manageable framework or system? How can limited resources be allocated among them to maximize their effectiveness in driving more tourist visits? How do you build your own brand as a “Branded City” and drive visits, re-visits, and referrals?

There is no simple antidote for all these challenges and obstacles, but we have some ideas that may help. Figure 3 shows a TCE model (static) for city tourism using the data from the global city visiting experience. The entire experience with a city occurs across numerous touch-point experiences (T1 to T36) at different life-stages (Image, Pre-arrival, Arrival, City, People, Enjoyment, and Departure.) The respective touch-point experiences are delivered not by a single entity, but by various channels (C1 to C30), which may be grouped under functions or departments (Governmental Departments, NGO and Commercial Organizations, and Other Channels). When we map them, we get a matrix, the TCE Model [1], in Figure 1.

The TCE Model
In Figure 1, the touch-point experience, T20, “ease of getting around the city”, which is an important driver of re-visits and referrals, is delivered by several channels, departments, and functions. “Governmental Departments” may include Architectural Services, Civil Engineering, Tourism Office, Planning, Highways, and Public Transportation. “NGO and Commercial Organizations” may include travel agents, tour operators, hotels, taxis, car rental companies, and sight-seeing spots; and “Other Channels”, might be city website, information centers, search engines, and social media. In order to deliver a good touch-point experience for “ease of getting around the city”, these are a few examples of the parties involved. Each entity needs to place sufficient support and resources behind creating easy ways to get around the city. It would also be beneficial if ,each could see their own and other’s contributions to the big picture. This is the first step to migrating the departmental silos to an integrated framework—the TCE Model.

Figure 1 – The TCE Model (Static) – City Tourism

In the following section, “I Love Amsterdam; Mainland Chinese Love Hong Kong“, Alice Tse loves Amsterdam and Mainland Chinese love Hong Kong for different reasons; identify your battles – touch-point experiences – to win and to lose.


1. The TCE (Total Customer Experience) Model is based on the United States patent-pending Branded Customer Experience Management Method invented by Sampson Lee, president of Global CEM (Global Customer Experience Management Organization), in 2007.

This article is retrieved from a document “Total Customer Experience (TCE) for Branded Cities”. The document is composed of five sections: personal travel stories in the sections contributed by three of our international partners, Marco De Veglia from Italy, Brownell O’Connor from Ireland, Ro King from the United States, and our operations director Alice Tse from Hong Kong.

Section 1: The Good-Pain and Branded-Pleasure of Paris
Section 2: New York as a Brand: Great Cities are Great Brands
Section 3: Dubai: Belly Dancing, the Arabian Desert, and the TCE Model
Section 4: I Love Amsterdam; Mainland Chinese Love Hong Kong
Section 5: Paris 2011: The New Total Customer Experience (TCE)


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