Emirate Ajman is storming on to the UK travel scene as a more affordable alternative to Dubai. Gary Noakes visits with Kuoni to discover its authentic appeal
I’m kayaking down a mangrove creek that I could be in Australia or Asia, but this snaking green sliver is just 45 minutes from Dubai, in the neighbouring emirate of Ajman. It’s a major draw for migrating birds (about 100 species) and, as we float, I spy an osprey, oystercatchers and flamingos, while a kingfisher’s metallic blue is an avian glimpse of Dubai bling as it its past.
Kayaking tours are run by Welshman Brian Parry, whose mission is to educate local schoolchildren about how important a habitat carbon sink mangroves are – even their roots prod upwards to take in CO2 and breathe out oxygen.
Parry explains that in this part of the world, mangroves have often been bulldozed for development, but attitudes are changing.
“They are now seen as so important they’re protected by satellite surveillance,” he says. This was not what I was expecting from the UAE and, at his request, I plant a tree, which in my head carbon offsets the short drive back to Ajman city.
Ajman is not what many imagine from the UAE, as its dowdy corniche and largely undeveloped beach resembles Dubai 30 years ago. Away from the main drag, however, there’s nothing dowdy about our hotel, Ajman Saray, a Luxury Collection Resort, or its white-sand beach where waves break gently – perfect for families. Germans and Russians are already here in numbers and they love it as, Kuoni hopes, will the Brits, particularly as it’s 25-30% cheaper than Dubai.
“It’s affordable luxury – it fits our brand,” says Wendy Kenneally, Kuoni’s commercial and operations director. She adds that in contrast to the mega city nearby, Kuoni’s average stay in Ajman is longer, nearly seven nights – proof some see it as a fly-and-flop destination in its own right, particularly as hotels offer all-inclusive packages.