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03 March 2024

DIFC now steps into retail sector

By Keith J Fernandez


The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has done “its job” and put the emirate on its way to becoming a global financial hub. Now it will focus on creating a world-class working and living environment for the potential 50,000 professionals it will draw from across the world, its governor said.


Yesterday, Sheikh Mayed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum inaugurated DIFC Lifestyle, a new retail initiative promising a distinctive environment comprising high-end retailers, world-class restaurants and the best in international contemporary art as well as entertainment.


In essence, says DIFC Governor Dr Omar bin Sulaiman, this is an attempt both to capitalise on the prime real estate that lies unutilised outside working hours and to position the complex as a retail and cultural magnet, offering the emirate’s residents a chance to, quite simply, enjoy life as hard as they work.


“Businesswise, we are doing well. It’s not an event to do well in business anymore, and every day we are getting better. The waiting list is a year-and-a-half for new businesses. That job is done. We’re getting bigger and we will continue growing,” Sulaiman told Emirates Business. “Our regulation system is being copied and followed in mature and developing markets, and in some sectors, we are even leading the international players.

“We are now focused on the people here, the people who live in Dubai. The question is, how does the DIFC as a responsible organisation add value to the community?


By participating in the cultural scene, being aware of our corporate social responsibility, entering the education sector, as we did recently with the launch of the London School of Business… It’s about being a city within a city, applying international best practice but also leading in a lot of areas, not only in business.


“The design of the DIFC was made to add value to human life, in both environmental and artistic terms, and what we’re doing here is trying to create that environment around people where they can enjoy themselves.


“Part of Dubai’s overall strategy is a big focus on the good things in life and that was His Highness’s focus – to add a productive environment to human life,” said Sulaiman.


The exclusive, self-contained precinct currently hosts 75 luxury retailers, restaurants and wellness facilities – from Porsche Design and Bin Hendi Jewellery to Testa Rossa coffee, Fitness First and Urban Male Lounge spa. It also features art exhibitions and cultural performances: while a concert pianist tinkles away in the lobby of one building, performance artists pose as living statues in another corner, and an octet launches into Beethoven on a terrace not far from where  executives hammer out million-dirham deals.


The new initiative is also an attempt to bring in the public at large, a move that will  increase footfall and hopefully, raise revenue for outlets that are otherwise busy only during working days. Shops are open until 10pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends.


“This is only the first phase of the DIFC’s retail component. Other phases will follow, beginning with the Gate Village in two months,” he adds, referring to a $150-million (Dh551m) high-street retail area that will be anchored by Villa Moda, the luxury multi-brand store founded by Kuwait’s Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah.

Al-Sabah, in a release, referred to the upcoming store as “a new concept in retail therapy”, and added it would focus on individually designed standalone retail spaces for luxury products and contemporary art installations. The opening of the Gate Village is expected to coincide with Art Dubai, the newly rebranded Gulf Art Fair, which will be held at the DIFC complex from March 19 to 22.


Already, new stores are opening here and retailers are hosting events at the centre. Yesterday was the official opening of a De Beers jewellery boutique at DIFC. And upping the cultural ante was Borders bookshop, which launched the book India Chalo (Let’s Go, India) by former Julius Baer CEO Brij Singh on the same day.


While the DIFC could be seen as staking its claim as Dubai’s newest mall, evident from the busloads of tourists making purchases at its bespoke shops, Sulaiman himself shies away from comparisons to malls. “You’ve seen the malls out there, you’ve seen what’s on offer, if you’ve seen anything like this, then we’ve failed,” he says. “It’s an attempt to create something totally unique.”


In celebration of the concept of DIFC Lifestyle, there will be a selection of activities and entertainment commencing today, which will include classical and world music performances, magic and natural theatre.





546: The number of companies operating out of DIFC as of January 30, 2008, including some of the world’s top financial firms

75: The number of retail enterprises in the first phase of DIFC Lifestyle

45,000: Projected number of people who will be working at the DIFC within the next three years