Retailers are bracing themselves for one of the busiest times of the year as the countdown to Christmas, Eid and the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) begins.
Figures from last year show that more than 3.5 million visitors took to the malls to cash in on the winter sales and holiday bargains. And this year experts believe the number of shoppers and money spent will increase further.
“We received more than 2.4 million visitors during the festive season last year and are hoping to emulate that figure, with a 10 per cent increase,” says Lizelle Fitoussi, the marketing manager at Mall of the Emirates. “Consumers are in festive mood so they are more willing to spend,” she says.
Eisa Adam Ibrahim, chairman of the Dubai Shopping Malls Group, an association of 42 shopping malls in the emirate, adds: “It’s a really good shopping season for us because it coincides with so many things.
“The weather is cooler, there is Eid Al Adha, Christmas and New Year, which then goes on to the Dubai Shopping Festival in January so people tend to spend more during this time.”
While mall managements are reluctant to share sales figures, they say the festive winter season brings good cheer to cash registers.
Fuad Al Najjar, the vice-president of Deira City Centre, says his establishment’s 370 stores welcomed more than one million visitors during the same period in 2006.
“We have always seen an increase in consumer spending during this time of the year,” he says.
Visitor numbers during the DSF held between January to February saw more visitors to the UAE than during the Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), which recorded an impressive one million plus visitors from June 21 to August 21 this year. And the last combined DSF 2006-2007 saw total visitor spending exceed Dh10 million, a 53 per cent increase from 2005. According to Ibrahim, October to April is generally considered one season, which means DSF numbers roughly represent the Christmas and New Year period as well.
“The number of visitors is calculated by purchases made at participating establishments during the period, which is also the best time of the year for business,” adds the executive, whose organisation was formed to promote Dubai as the ultimate shopping destination.
Dubai resident Denise Lally, 40, says she spends more during this period. “I do tend to spend a lot of money this time of year. But back home in Scotland, the Christmas hype means prices double so people end up spending more than they have,” says the mother-of-two. “Here it is more relaxed and there are more choices.”
Mohamed Abdul Mannan, an official at the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), says December and January are the peak months as far as visitors making a beeline for the Emirates are concerned.
“There has been such growth in visitor numbers that the hotel industry is even grappling with the situation,” says Mannan. “There is also an increase in the number of repeat visitors.”
The number of visitors to the UAE, Mannan says, is based on hotel guest numbers. According to available statistics from the DTCM, there were more than six million hotel guests last year – a 15 per cent increase from the previous year. Of this, the highest number of hotel guests was recorded in December at almost 600,000.
Europeans make up the highest number of visitors, the official reveals. “We received more than 700,000 guests last year from Europe, with tourists from the United Kingdom being the highest followed by Germany.”
Mia Hedman, an official from Jumeirah, which runs five hotels in Dubai including the iconic Burj Al Arab, says her organisation’s properties received a “record number” of guests during the holiday season last year, and some hotels are booked up months in advance.
“Dubai draws travellers from around the world. What attracts them are the tax-free, high-end shopping, dry weather, good accommodations and pristine beaches,” says Hedman.
Maria Warner, the marketing communications manager for the Park Hyatt Dubai, says her hotel has consistently recorded 100 per cent occupancy over the New Years’ eve period. “Christmas and New Year are always a very busy time. Food and beverages is particularly busy on New Year’s eve with local residents,” she says.
Tourism official Mannan says his organisation is now focusing on creating niche holiday ideas. “We want to promote spa holidays, honeymoon destinations, sports and concert tourism. As more and more people come here, Dubai as a destination is developing very quickly.”