Dubai Shopping Extravaganza
The tourism sector’s reliance on the Dubai Shopping Festival is evident from the numbers. Seven million tourists made their way to the emirate last year, of which 1.7 million are estimated to have attended the festival, according to numbers from festival chief executive Laila Suhail.
Tourism is responsible for about 20 per cent of Dubai’s GDP, according to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. This year, says Suhail, DSF will be happy to match 2007 numbers. “Last year was exceptional, with a 45-day event that took in Eid, Christmas and the new year, so we don’t want to compare the two,” she tells Emirates Business.
“What we look to instead is 2005, which was also a month-long event, and if we factor in a growth of between five and 10 per cent, that brings us to last year’s numbers.”
She estimates total visitor numbers at activity areas during DSF, at 3.5 million. But with no holidays coinciding with the DSF season, which begins on Thursday and ends on February 24, retailers feel that matching those numbers will be a challenge.
“Over the past editions, officials concerned were keen to hold the event during a period marking an official holiday, which is not the case this year. DSF 2008 is intended in itself to be a focal point of the attraction, which is a big challenge for all people concerned,” Eisa Adam Ibrahim, chairman of the Dubai Shopping Malls Group said. “If we can achieve at least last year’s figures, it would be a resounding success, but in the meantime, we expect the month-long event to secure a 50 per cent increase in sales in comparison with the volume of sales achieved in any other month of the year.”
Retail sales during the DSF period usually account for between 25 and 30 per cent of annual volumes. Total spend during last year’s edition was Dh10.2 billion.
With people travelling more frequently during the year, in keeping with recent trends such as cheaper airline fares, DSF organisers are now targeting families in the core GCC market by organising more events around weekends, says Suhail.
“Tourists now travel throughout the year, and undeniably, this is one of the best times to visit Dubai. And our research shows that the majority of DSF visitors from the region came to Dubai over the weekend. Our weekend packages are designed to suit every age category and enable all weekend visitors to make the most of DSF 2008.”
Therefore, events such as the Dubai Carnivals and Fireworks Festivals are packed into the three days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
While the GCC is still the largest source market for the event, followed by Europe, India, the wider Middle East and the CIS countries, Suhail’s team is also looking further afield at tourists looking for a longer break. “We are now also hoping to bring in tourists from the Far East, and have expanded our marketing efforts into Japan and China,” she says.
In the feeder markets of the Indian Subcontinent and the wider Middle East, on roadshows to familiarise the travel trade with the event, the DSF period has been promoted as “the fifth season” in the year’s calendar.
And while hotels say their rooms are now near full occupancy all year round, several tourism stakeholders are nevertheless putting out a variety of packages.
Emirates airline’s annual hotel deals, for instance, start at $75 (Dh276) per person per night. Valid through the festival period on a twin-sharing basis, they provide something to suit all budgets.
“This is about the best time of year for anyone to visit Dubai – the shopping is great, there is plenty of fun and excitement for the family and the weather is perfect. Every year, the Dubai Shopping Festival just gets bigger and better, drawing in more and more tourists to Dubai,” says Ghaith Al Ghaith, Emirates Executive Vice-President Commercial Operations Worldwide.
“Emirates has supported the festival since its inception. We have successfully raised the event’s profile worldwide with our global promotional activities and the increasing number of tourists during the month-long festivities is proof that our packages are a great hit with our customers.”
So far, he says, sales have been doing very well. “We expect to sell more packages than last year, with an average growth rate over the last five years of 40 per cent.”
Hussein Hashim, General Manager of Al Murooj Rotana Hotel and Suites, says: “The hotel is expected to secure full occupancy during the month-long event in accordance with the excellent results achieved by the hotel in December, which witnessed a record occupancy rate.”
He expected occupancy levels between 92 and 95 per cent in January and February, adding that the hotel’s guests are Europeans, GCC citizens and residents.
In Deira, the Taj Palace Dubai is offering competitive room rates that are 30 per cent less than rack rates, says the hotel’s Emad Tohami. Other hotels offering add-ons or special deals include the Renaissance Dubai, The Sofitel Palace at the Old Town and City Centre. UAE hospitality chain Jumeirah is hosting several DSF events at its Madinat Jumeirah venue, and the group is offering promotions on hotel rooms and in many of its restaurants, says group spokesperson Maisaa Terkawi.
She said some of the group’s hotels had been fully booked one month prior to the DSF.
Part of this could have to do with the shortage of hotel rooms in the city, a situation that has been assuaged by the opening of several new properties, including the Raffles Dubai, a new Four Points by Sheraton, and three InterContinental Group hotels at Dubai Festival City.
Ultimately, it is the organisers’ ability to keep the festival fresh that will contribute to increased numbers.
“We have more new events and shopping destinations than ever,” says Suhail.
In Depth: DSF 2008