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Sandance organisers consider refunds, as ticket holders forced to turn back

By Bindu Suresh Rai

It was meant to be a night of celebrations and revelry; however, for party goers who were headed to the biggest gig on The Palm Jumeirah, the December 31st night quickly descended into chaos, which has now resulted in Sandance event organisers considering possible refunds.

A spokesperson told Emirates 24|7 over the phone: “We have received calls from people asking for refunds for their tickets because they were unable to reach the venue. We are looking into this and will be in touch shortly.”

Sandance organisers issued this statement on their Facebook page:

"The safety and satisfaction of our guests is our main priority and as such we worked under the guidance of our partners and the local authorities to provide an incredible New Year’s Eve experience as Dubai tried to break the world record for the largest firework display.

"We are extremely sorry that after months of preparations with the local authorities that some of our guests were not able to reach Sandance or experienced significant traffic delays. Our loyal fans of Sandance know that each festival we aim to blow away our guests with an incredible experience and great line up.

"We regret that many guests did not experience Sandance as it was planned and will provide a resolution for the guests that were impacted within the next 48 hours."

Hundreds of people found themselves trapped on buses in a gridlock on The Palm Jumeriah trunk due to confusion over bus lanes promised by Sandance organisers; the traffic jam lasted well over four hours and forced many to quit and turn back in anger and frustration.

Others who decided to brave the 5km walk from the trunk to the Crescent had to adopt “extreme measures” when they could not enter the Atlantis tunnel on foot – some even standing in front of moving vehicles to be allowed to the gig.

The Sandance NYE party, which boasted a line-up of world class acts, including DJs Paul Oakenfold, Axwell and British artist Emelie Sande, was touted as one of the biggest December 31  celebrations that included a front row seat to watch the 400,000-odd fireworks to be set off at the stroke of midnight.

Due to traffic restrictions on December 31 night, organisers had told Emirates 24|7 last week that the only way to access the Sandance venue at the Atlantis would be via shuttle buses from the American University of Dubai, which would run between 5pm and 9pm via a bus lane specifically set up for the NYE beach party.

However, on December 31 night, there was no dedicated bus lane, while private cars and taxis blocked all roads leading into The Palm due to traffic restrictions not imposed until after 10.30pm.

Umaid Khan, who was a VIP ticket holder with a dedicated table that saw his friends spend Dh10,000,  made it to the event with his wife, with just minutes to spare before midnight.
His bus journey from AUD started at 7.30pm.

“My wife and I were so excited about celebrating NYE on The Palm, with friends and the chance to watch the fireworks. But little did we know that this would turn into one of the worst nights of our lives,” he said. “We boarded the bus by 7.20pm and were on the road within 10 minutes.

“It was slow moving right from the start, but the minute we reached The Palm trunk, the bus came to a complete standstill. The minutes ticked by and the bus had barely moved more than a few feet. All around us were a sea of cars and buses with everyone feeling the same frustration we felt.”

Finally at around 9.30pm, after two hours of standing in the bus (they only got standing room) on a journey that takes less than 10 minutes on usual days, Umaid and his wife decided to walk the 5km to reach Atlantis on foot.

“Hundreds of us disembarked from various buses and started walking towards Sandance in a bid to salvage our NYE,” he said.

RM, who was also attending Sandance with his wife as a Dh600 VIP ticket holder, said: “My wife started to cry when they told us we can’t enter the tunnel on foot, after having braved a walk for at least 3km in the cold.

“Looking at her plight, I found the closest bus heading to Sandance and requested the driver to open the door to allow us in. But he refused.

“As things got heated, others joined in to help. Finally, we were forced to stand in front of the bus to block it from moving until the women in the groups were allowed to board and travel to venue safely,” he said.

Abhishek Sharma, who, along with his friends, had paid for two VIP tables costing Dh6,500 each along with extra VIP tickets that set them back nearly Dh15,000 in total, said that half of his friends never managed to even make it to the party.

He said: “We were lucky to board the bus around 5.30pm and reached the venue by 6.45pm. But six of our friends out of our group of 21 did not make it to the party because of the three-hour traffic jams they found themselves stuck in. They are now enquiring with organisers for refunds.”

A look at Sandance’s Facebook page and the comments are just as harsh, with Peter Archard penning an open letter to the organisers, saying: “Never before have I experienced such a shambles. I write this still on a bus after waiting four hours in line with a total of six security staff trying to police 1000s of people trying to get on four buses.

“At 23.55 I am now stuck in a traffic jam after being told the lanes will be clear as Sandance has an exclusive lane for buses.

“… My ribs are pretty crushed from the endless pushing from 100s trying to get on a bus. I was waiting for one bus with hundreds of others, which drove off with no people on it which nearly caused a riot.”

Archard later writes: “We have just been informed that the road has been closed so now have to make my way home at 12.10am.”
‘The drama just didn’t end.’

Meanwhile, for many party revellers who did make it to the Sandance NYE celebrations, the journey back was just as “harrowing”.

Zeeshan Khan, who was there with five other friends, said: “We had a sick friend with us who could barely stand, so we decided to leave the party by 2am to get her home. But the bus lines ensured at least a one-hour wait, so we opted for a taxi.

“However, no taxis were being allowed inside the Sandance parking lots, so we decided to trek another 1km to try and flag one down in front of the hotel but there we saw another gridlock.”

Many party goers simply slept on the street as they waited in vain.

Anna Vantura, who was there with two other friends, said: “Looking at the bus lines, we decided to walk to the main road to get a taxi. After an hour and a half of waiting in the freezing cold on the street because no cars were moving and no taxis were being allowed inside, we finally walked back into the Sandance venue and stood another hour in a bus line to get out.

“Imagine our horror when the bus dropped us off at the AUD parking lot around 4.45am and we discovered they had failed to make taxi arrangements for people there. The drama just never ended.”

Anna and her friends, who were headed for TECOM, finally walked another hour in the cold to reach home around 5.45am.