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Meet The Locals co-founder Abdulla Matar gives a glimpse into the emirate’s past

Since its early days as a humble fishing village, the UAE has undergone a major transformation to become a modern metropolis. From record-breaking structures to renowned leisure destinations, the nation is home to some of the most recognisable architectural marvels on the planet. Although these attractions take pride of place, locals will tell you that no visit to the emirates is complete without immersing yourself in the Emirati way of life. And while there are numerous ways to do so, there’s no substitute for exploring the destination through local eyes. That’s where Meet The Locals comes in.

The brainchild of Emirati entrepreneurs Abdulla Matar and Khadija Behzad, the cultural tour group was founded to encourage interaction between the local community and visitors to the country as well as expatriates. Although fairly new to the country’s tourism scene, the start-up has already come a long way, even winning an award for its concept, which aims to bridge cultural gaps.

“Our country has one of the most diverse mixes of people on earth. It is a global hub and a vibrant centre for travel and trade,” says co-founder Matar. “But there is far more to our land than sun, sand and shiny buildings. Each of the seven emirates that make up the UAE boasts their own marvels and as guardians of this rich heritage, we love to take people on a journey to explore the very attributes that make our home special. And that’s why we founded Meet The Locals.”

For the Emirati tour guides who make up the group, it’s all about creating opportunities that encourage people to connect. “That’s how our experiences are designed,” he says. “All of our tours offer a warm and welcoming environment for people to make themselves at home, enjoy our Emirati hospitality, ask the questions that have always been on their minds and engage in honest conversations.”

Journeying through the emirates with a Meet The Locals tour guide is a fascinating experience. From exploring museums in Sharjah to discovering Dubai’s modern attractions, every experience promises to take you off the well-worn path to gain an insight into the nation’s past and present. Matar tells us that while on tour, your guide will share lesser-known anecdotes and nuggets of information that you won’t find elsewhere.

Every experience promises to take you off the well-worn path to gain an insight into the nation’s past and present

Among the many experiences offered, the Old Dubai tour is a must, especially for first-time visitors. As Meet The Locals puts it, “It’s an invitation to step back in time as you meander through the peaceful streets of Al Fahidi Historical District, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of old Dubai with your Emirati guide.” Here, you can interact with other locals, listen to stories about life in traditional courtyard homes and also visit places of historic interest including the Dubai Museum within Al Fahidi Fort, the Coin Museum and Dubai Coffee Museum.

Talking inspiration, Matar says that it all ties in with the concept of Emirati hospitality. “We are following traditions we’ve learned from our parents and grandparents, creating a unique culture of hospitality. We always make our guests feel welcome and we treat them like one of us. We invite them into our homes and our lives and ensure they take a piece of our heritage back with them.”

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