Glamping: Dubai's five star camping

Dubai: Just over 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Dubai's skyscrapers, Mohammed al-Kaabi strolls through the tranquil desert with his friends as the sun sets. Kaabi, 27, hails from a long line of Emiratis, a people with a centuries-old bedouin history tied inextricably to the local desert.

Today, he is among a fast-growing group drawn to a new wave of a tradition of desert camping but with all the trappings of comfort, style and modernity. With "glamping" short for "glamorous camping", Dubai aims to expand on its renown for luxurious city living and its tradition of camping.

Betting on tourism at a time of low oil prices, Dubai is now offering stays in chic desert trailers, in plush mountainside lodgings and beach camps, as it seeks to put its own mark on the ‘glamping’ trend that has swept world tourism destinations.

"This place is far from the cities and the high-rises," said Kaabi, sporting the traditional full-length white Emirati robe worn by men. "Camping is very popular in the UAE, but when you want to bring the family it becomes more complicated," he added, at a campsite in Hatta, near the Omani border. "But here, safety and comfort are provided for."

Camping is still a beloved way of life for many Emiratis, who take their equipment and head for the desert from the fall months onwards, when the scorching summer heat has faded.

Tourists and expat residents also increasingly opt to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Dubai welcomed a record 15.9 million visitors in 2018, many of whom were drawn to its mega malls, luxurious hotels and pristine beaches.

The mountainous eastern Hatta desert has lots to offer "glampers" with a taste for adventure but also for their home comforts. Near the Hatta dam, campers have a choice between a trailer, caravan or five-star lodge fully equipped with TVs and power points for charging a smartphone.

Seated outside a trailer, Jamil Fahmy, a Dubai resident from Saudi Arabia, said glamping was the perfect way to escape the city without compromising on hygiene.

"It's fun, with the fire and hanging with friends and all that, but I personally prefer to sleep in a room with a bed and a private bathroom, and that's what we get here," he told AFP.

The Hatta camping project, part of Dubai's plan to use tourism to diversify revenues, is also home to a 350-metre zip wire. Several glamping sites, some on the beach, have popped up across the UAE in recent years, with options to participate in yoga classes, star gazing or kayaking.

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