Desert dreaming

Encourage clients to pair Dubai with one of its Middle Eastern neighbours for a twin-centre that’s rich in culture, tradition and authenticity, says Ben West

The mighty 4X4 Toyota Land Cruiser plunges down a sand dune at great speed and a couple of us scream in response to this adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster experience. We grip any area of the vehicle’s interior we can as it slows down and teeters at the top of another dune at what seems to be an impossible angle. 

This is my first experience of ‘dune bashing’ and although scary it is immensely enjoyable. In the hands of an experienced driver, in a vehicle fitted with protective gear such as a roll cage, and the tyre pressure reduced to allow for maximum traction against the moving sand, it is also very safe.

This experience is coupled with a desert safari, a night spent under the stars in a Bedouin tent after an evening of camel rides, a falconry display, belly dancers, sheesha smoking and a feast featuring camel meat curry. 

It is a common excursion for Dubai holidaymakers – and indeed all the Middle Eastern destinations – and an alternative to exploring the city’s many attractions, mega-malls, restaurants, and perhaps skydiving, jet skiing and scuba diving.

However, even better than a fun-packed break in Dubai is a holiday combining another Middle Eastern destination too. 

Dubai lends itself well to a two-centre holiday. Dubai International is the world’s busiest airport and services a large choice of flights. Its sheer popularity means that it has holidays at all price levels and types.

“Dubai is an excellent twin-centre destination, due to the variety of routes offered,” says James Golding, Director of Sales at Hayes and Jarvis. 

“Dubai also provides a good introduction to the Middle East. For example, it is very easy to arrange a day out in the desert, a city tour or beach time at Jumeirah Beach. The emirate offers a lot and has plenty that can be tailored, depending on the interests of the traveller. 

“Agents can sell a twin-centre Middle East trip to travellers who might not otherwise have considered the region on its own, or see a trip just to Dubai as not adventurous enough. Combining two or more areas in the Middle East gives guests the chance to get a real feel for the region and all its diverse aspects – from the bright lights and luxury of Dubai to the more relaxed, local atmosphere of somewhere like Ras Al Khaimah.”

Says John Poulter, Destination Manager, East, at Gold Medal; “There are a multitude of flight and land connections to many destinations within the Middle East. Road transfers and local flight times are generally fairly short, so getting between places is easy and hassle free.”

Middle east ARCH V
Middle east desert V


Oman is a real contrast to Dubai. It feels a lot more traditional and low-key than the full-on ‘bling’ of the latter, with low-rise buildings, souks and shops the norm rather than awe-inspiring towers and gigantic malls. It boasts a rugged coastline, breathtaking wadis and lovely mountain villages.

“I’m a fan of Oman,” says Golding. “Our twin-centre tailor-made itineraries combining the UAE and Oman are popular among guests who want to optimize their time and yet still travel in a relaxed way. The mixture also shows how very different the various regions and countries of the Middle East can be.”

Sell it:Escape Worldwide has Dubai/Oman packages, such as a £1,615pp 10-night option, where you can take in everything from Downtown Dubai to the stunning Hajar Mountains of Oman.

Ras al-Khaimah

It is only an hour or so up the coast from Dubai yet Ras al-Khaimah is a complete contrast and the perfect compliment to a city break. It has long stretches of beach and ease of access to the wondrous northern tip of the Rub al Khali (empty quarter) desert. As well as the malls and marketplaces, there’s beach bars, mountain ziplining and mangrove canoeing.

Sell it: Gold Medal has a three nights Dubai and four nights Ras Al Khaimah package in September 2022, staying at the five-star Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa in Dubai and five-star InterContinental Ras Al Khaimah Mina Al Arab Resort & Spa in Ras Al Khaimah, both half board. Includes transfers to and from Dubai international airport and inter-hotel transfer. From £1549pp.

Middle east balloons

Saudi Arabia

As mainstream tourism is still in its infancy, Saudi is for now more suited to more adventurous travellers. Tourist visas were only widely available from 2019 and to set-up a dual-centre stay a bespoke package and itinerary must be arranged.

Saudi Arabia is kingdom that offers astounding landscapes, important archaeological sites and a fascinating society that is undergoing change.

The Saudis are ploughing big resources into developing the tourism industry, with gigantic projects such as Neom and Amaala being developed.

Top tip: Visitors should be advised that the bans on alcohol and photographing military installations, government buildings and palaces are non-negotiable. On matters of local etiquette, visitors should not point their finger at anyone they are talking to, not cross their legs or sit showing the undersides of their feet.

Abu Dhabi

Being 140km, or little more than an hour’s drive from Dubai, Abu Dhabi makes a really convenient choice for a twin-centred holiday. Abu Dhabi is generally more traditional and more peaceful, and its beaches even better than those found in Dubai. It still has considerably less tourists and ideal for those visitors wanting to immerse themselves in the Muslim culture. 

It has superior mosques and museums, and the Presidential Palace, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Abu Dhabi Louvre are all to be recommended. Great desert oasis resorts include the Anantara Qasr al Sarab.  Dubai is best for those who like to party, while Abu Dhabi has a more understated vibe.

Sell it:Tropical Sky has a 10-day two-centre option in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with five nights at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr and five nights at JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel, which is undergoing refurbishments including a new pool at JA Palm Tree Court, private plunge pools at JA Lake View and a new

waterpark feature and splash pad.


One of Qatar’s attractions is that it’s not especially on the tourist map but still has facilities of a very high standard.

Its capital, Doha, is pleasantly small and easy to explore. The Museum of Islamic Art is outstanding and has extensive displays of priceless artefacts. Conveniently, the striking building is right on the Corniche, a horseshoe-shaped promenade ideal for an evening stroll. 

Other musts are a boat trip on a traditional dhow and a visit to the Souq Waqif market. There are mangroves, salt flats, huge sand dunes and a magical inland sea to also explore. 

Emirates, Flydubai and Qatar Airways all fly direct from Dubai-International to Doha Hamad International Airport and public transport in Qatar is straightforward.

Top tip:Treat clients to the ultimate FIFA World Cup experience in November/December 2022 with a Dubai-Qatar twin-centre, staying at swanky new hotels such as the Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk in Dubai and Le Royal Méridien in Qatar. Book early to avoid disappointment.