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26/02/10

Interview with Nick Digby, Echo-Xpats (Dubai) - 26/02/10

Nick Digby is the founder of Echo-Xpats (www.echo-xpats.com), a Dubai based company established in 2005 delivering relocation services to individuals and corporations throughout the region. Nick is also one of the forum leaders in our UAE forum.


Expat Focus: Nick, can you tell us a bit about your background and how Echo-Xpats came into being?

Nick Digby
Nick Digby

Nick Digby: I have always worked in the hospitality industry, starting in a fabulous Italian restaurant in Singapore at the age of 13. I have worked in many world class hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental and Ritz-Carlton. I moved to Dubai in 2004 to start a role in Food & Beverage at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. After completing a one-year rotation, I considered my options for advancing my career. At that time, Dubai was booming, with many residential and commercial projects underway, including the Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Downtown (most famous for the Burj Khalifa – tallest tower in the world). The pace of development in the city was too exciting to consider leaving. At the same time, I considered opportunities in Dubai and I saw a real need for relocation services with an emphasis on the quality of customer service. Having being raised amongst hotels who pride themselves on customer service, I knew I could transplant my expertise and experience into the business. And so, late in 2005, Echo-Xpats began offering its services.


Expat Focus: What services does Echo-Xpats offer?

Nick Digby: Echo-Xpats primarily offers settling support, including Home Search, School Search, Car Search and assistance with the administration involved with moving to the Emirate. With some of our corporate clients, we assist with flight bookings, hotel reservations and ensure there is a service at the airport to expedite them through immigration, with a limousine to transfer them to the hotel. After the main items of the package are complete, we help our clients through the connection of utilities, assist with acquiring an alcohol license and further on-going settling support. Our support system, typically referred to as a ‘help-desk’, is delivered under the name OnCall, a concierge themed service offering more than basic assistance with regular questions.


Expat Focus: What were the main challenges you faced when you first moved to Dubai? How did you overcome them?

Nick Digby: I had very few challenges when moving to Dubai since I was working with a hotel group that provided transport and accommodation. By the time I had left the hotel, I was already quite familiar with the city, so it was quite straightforward. I did struggle initially with the weather, as I arrived in August, a time of the year when temperatures throughout the day are bouncing around 45c. It also took time to adjust to the main day off of the week, which is a Friday. When I came to Dubai in 2004, employees could choose if they took their weekend on a Thursday and Friday, or Friday and Saturday. This has since been standardized, and is now Friday and Saturday. And finally, the shock of seeing signs on the road in Arabic was unusual for me, having never visited an Arabic country before. At least they all have English translations!


Expat Focus: What is a typical day in your life like?

Nick Digby: Busy! I spend most of my day on the road, assisting my clients with looking at schools and homes. A lot of time is taken up by administrative work required for each client. I normally start the day at 08:30, responding to emails received throughout the night. Unless I have school tours, my day with clients typically starts at 10:00. We will look at places until lunch, when I will drop them off, and firm up plans or make adjustments for the afternoon. In the afternoon, we continue with the home search, and look at the more fun aspects (gym facilities, local amenities, proximity to the beach etc.) We tend to finish at around 5pm, at which time I catch up on emails and plan for the next day.

I also meet with my team once a week, and we have calls with prospective corporate clients once a month.


Expat Focus: What advice would you give to your forum members at Expat Focus to help them with expat life in Dubai?

Nick Digby: The biggest asset to anyone living in Dubai is tolerance, in every aspect of life. Hosting such a blend of cultures and nationalities, being able to accept, understand and embody this diversity is key to enjoying living here. The bureaucracy is not as bad as I had expected, and so long as you are aware of the various documents you require, you will find most processes are quite straightforward. Furthermore, you have many professional services who can guide you through the various hurdles.

Always remember that from Dubai, you are within 6 hours flight of mainland Europe, and the same to the heart of South-East Asia. Africa is 4 hours away, and there are many opportunities to explore the region (Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the other 6 emirates that comprise the UAE). It is important to escape from Dubai from time to time, to regain perspective on what great lives we enjoy.


Expat Focus: There has been some talk in the press recently about a downturn or slump in Dubai which has hit expats hard - what's your take on the current situation?

Nick Digby: Indeed Dubai has been splashed over the tabloids all over the world for its financial difficulties. Although Dubai has suffered heavily, I think it has been sensationalized worldwide because everyone has been led to believe over the last few years that the region had so much money that they could really afford to continue booming and were immune to the global crisis.

Since a large proportion of jobs were in construction and finance, it has been interesting to feel the effect of so many people leaving the Emirate. On the positive side, congestion has eased, property prices have fallen and the malls are less crowded.

Dubai remains a great place to live, and is still the center of attention with the newly opened Burj Khalifa. People often forget that the city is still developing, meanwhile the government continues to invest in infrastructure and multi-billion dollar residential and commercial projects.


Expat Focus: What does the word "home" mean to you? Where do you consider "home" these days?

Nick Digby: This is a very hard question. Home to me is wherever I feel most settled. I believe Dubai felt like ‘home’ to me only after my second year, when I had settled, established a nice place to live, and had time to fill my home with personal effects.

My family are all living back in the UK, after spending the last 16 years on international assignment. I have lived in Dubai, Singapore and London with some time in Hong Kong, New York and Texas. I would say it normally takes just over a year to feel really settled and find a place you would feel comfortable calling home.


Expat Focus: What are your plans for the future, both personally and professionally?

Nick Digby: Professionally, I would like to strengthen the reputation of Echo-Xpats in Dubai as the leader in quality, highly customer focused relocation services. I will look at expanding the company regionally also, to satisfy growing demand in Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I have just launched a limousine company, and so I will also develop and grow this business throughout 2010. I will look at creating a new business toward the back end of the year, as Dubai has a strong need for service providers who excel in customer service.

Personally, having lived for five years in the Middle East, I would like to divide my time between the US and UK and the UAE, enjoying the great months of weather during the winter here, and a more inviting summer abroad.


Expat Focus: What do you do to relax?

Nick Digby: At the moment, there is little time to relax! But when I have the chance, I enjoy spending time on the beach, scuba diving, travelling and enjoying the sun on the tennis court. I spend a lot of time entertaining clients, which is made easy in Dubai with an abundance of great dining options.



Expat Health Insurance Partners


Aetna

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Bupa Global

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