Dubai’s prize for civic responsibility is, literally, solid gold

People register for the “Your Weight in Gold” contest in Dubai in September.
People register for the “Your Weight in Gold” contest in Dubai in September.
Image: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah
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Public Transport Day falls on Nov. 1 this year in Dubai, and to celebrate the emirate’s transport authority is getting ready to give away 4 kg (8.8 lbs) of gold throughout this week. In total, prizes worth 1 million dirham ($272,000) will be handed out to residents who opt out of taking a private car to work and ride public transport instead.

If this sounds a little familiar, it may be because offering gold to its residents appears to be a popular form of public incentivization in Dubai. Last July the government launched “Your Weight In Gold,” a campaign that offered participants a gram of gold (about $40) for every kilogram of body weight they lost. The three biggest losers were entered into a draw to win a gold coin, at the time worth around $5,400.

The campaign was such a success that it made a comeback this year too, with a twist. “Your Child In Gold” was aimed at helping families shrink their waistlines together, by offering extra incentives to participants who signed up with their children. This year two grams of gold were awarded for every family member that lost a kilogram of body weight.

In most countries being awarded a lump of gold would be less convenient than being given cash, but in Dubai, a major world trading hub for metal, gold is a far more common commodity. In fact the metal is so common in the emirate that one local bakery uses it as an ingredient in what may be the world’s most expensive cupcake: The $1,000 Golden Phoenix is made with Italian chocolate, Ugandan vanilla beans, and strawberries dipped in gold. And yes, it’s edible.