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THE TROUBLE WITH DUBAI

As the Middle Eastern hotspot is added to the quarantine list, one writer questions its lure – and why influencers flock there in their hundreds when they should be at home

15.01.2021

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No matter what month it is, in any given year, I can guarantee that at least 5 percent of my Instagram feed is in Dubai – if that figure is wrong, it’s because it is too few. Every week, pictures of sushi on dry ice, underwater dining experiences, chrome supercars and water foundation displays to rival The Bellagio. 

Type “why is” into Google and the search engine preemptively offers: “everyone in Dubai?" A valid question and one that’s being asked with increasing frequency. Despite a grounding global pandemic, influencers, reality TV stars and – if my feed is anything to go by – regular people are all flocking to the UEA. When questioned, the resounding response is that they’re there for work and that they tested negative for the virus before travelling (something that Dubai requires). Seemingly scripted, it’s almost as if they were expecting a backlash? Boohoo ambassadors flaunting abs and sponsorship deals are annoying anyway, but add a pandemic to the mix, and it's enough to make you want to shove whatever they're nearly wearing up their photoshopped jacksies.

Author (and apparent part-time satirist) Bella Mackie went to am-dram town on the issue, skewering the wooly and dubious defences that influencers’ livelihoods depend on such trips. Unless ‘work’ includes lying on a sunlounger with a glass of Whispering Angel, we can assume that there’s some fudging going on here, which for restaurateurs, musicians, beauticians and taxi drivers back in Blighty must be galling. Just so long as there’s an intimation of work; a pretend-casual feature of a laptop and an overcompensatory caption about getting shit done, eh? The lady, methinks, doth protest too much.

As Dubai was taken off the no quarantine list, the internet joked that groans from certain pockets of the country could be heard far and wide. It questioned why the R-rate in Essex was so high when its entire population was in Dubai, and whether “this lockdown include[s] the London borough of Dubai?” Some influencers tie themselves in IGTV knots justifying their travel, while others flagrantly flout the rules altogether. Take former Miss Britain and Love Island contestant Zara Holland for example, who tried to flee Barbados after her boyfriend tested positive for the virus.

Dedicated to outing irresponsible, shameless holidays taken by celebrities and influencers, Instagram account @celebritycovidvacations posts their sun-kissed selfies alongside the number of recorded deaths that day. Its bio reads: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than one million people worldwide. But hey, those yachts aren’t gonna charter themselves'. 

Having identified a new mutant strain of the virus, health experts warn vehemently against unnecessary travel. To find loopholes or to obtain documentation of exemption via an agent is not the point. And cutesy cluelessness doesn't wash either. It’s hard to believe that someone who can make more than the UK's average salary by posting a single picture, needs, like really needs, to travel to Dubai. 

Influencers have long inspired both envy and ire, but in 2021, the latter rings louder. The appetite for them hasn't necessarily changed, in fact the need to consume mindless fare has never been greater. People are bored at home, ready and ripe to be influenced, but they're understandably put off by first class flights, beaches and buildings called the Burj right now. At a time when anything more than getting by reads as privilege, it's the influencers who've mined their bedrooms and patrolled the pavements for content who've come out on top – without the artifice of glam squads and ring lights, their relatability is refreshing. 

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Standard-issue platitudes about being in this together can go in the bin. When the world outside shrinks to a screen, it matters what we see. And when the death count is rising and businesses are shuttering, galavanting across the world to a moneyed mecca is tone deaf and wrong. They might not care about saving face, but surely they care about saving followers. 

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