Seasons are generally based on yearly periodic changes in weather, marked by changes in the amount of sunlight. If it was possible, Dubai’s inventive tourism board would probably tilt the Earth’s axis on an angle where the weather was just right for its newly declared fifth season: the Dubai Shopping Festival.
For now, visitors will have to settle for the flurry of activities on offer during the month-long consumer-driven festival, including art and fashion shows, concerts, carnivals as well as raffles and major discounts at most shopping venues.
I was with the last group of journalists invited to cover the final days of the DSF, and although things had quieted down, the city was still bustling with shopping festival fever.
“The festival season was created to encourage commercial activity, promoting tourism in Dubai and benefiting the economy as well, Laila Suhail, the DSF’s chief executive officer – the first woman to hold the position – told Daily News Egypt.
Besides a booming real estate sector, Dubai’s economy depends largely on tourism, and most people come to shop or to do business. In October 2007, DSF came completely under the government umbrella with a mission to organize the shopping festival as well as Dubai Summer Surprises, said Suhail.
“It’s timed to stand on its own, unrelated to any holidays, to invigorate an otherwise slow season, she explained.
Since its inception in 1996, the DSF has welcomed 28 million visitors with consumer spending totaling AED 54 billion. Like every year, the 13th edition, which ran from Jan. 24-Feb. 24, attracted millions of visitors. Even though the final numbers are not out yet, it’s easy to predict that this year topped the last, in keeping with the year-on-year growth the DSF has witnessed.
Just one of the featured exhibitions, Carpet Oasis hit sales of AED 10 million in the first week, selling 1,190 carpets and receiving 2,000 visitors.
That number jumped to AED 70 million by the end of the festival as the exhibit attracted 15,000 people, Abdulrahman Essa, head of Carpet Oasis Committee, told Daily News Egypt.
Organized by the Dubai Ports and Customs Authority, Carpet Oasis exhibits around 100,000 handmade carpets from Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and East Europe. The total value of the carpets exhibited is approximately AED 1 billion.
We got to see a 150-year-old carpet valued at AED 4 million, made using 5,000 natural colors. “It takes years to make a carpet like this, and in the end it tells the story of the generations who have toiled at creating the masterpiece.
Another beauty was a gold-colored carpet made of 100 percent pure silk, which took 25 years to make and is valued at AED 500,000.
At first we walked carefully around the carpets, trying not to step on them.
However, as Essa informed us, with carpets like these, the older they are and the more you step on them, the more they gain in value. Each carpet is copyrighted and comes with a certificate to ensure authenticity.
Dubai Gold and Jewelry Group is another key player in the DSF. According to Suhail, gold and jewelry sales in the first two weeks of the DSF totaled AED 400 million.
Swapna Nair, the group’s general manager, told Daily News Egypt that Dubai is gearing up to be the region’s gold hub, and the group’s role is to bring together the city’s major players, be it manufacturers or importers.
Our next stop was at Global Village, a lively carnival of pavilions and stalls representing countries around the world. Indigenous products were on sale inside each themed pavilion: facial masks and creams from Jordan’s Dead Sea; handmade galabeyyas from Egypt’s Kerdasa district; and all-natural soap from Lebanon’s renowned Khan As-Sabon. This was one of the highlights for me, and I ended up going home with a case of aromatherapy soaps, all with a pure olive oil base and no added chemicals.
It was here that we got to see the true spirit of Dubai, a city with a population of less than two million, around 80 percent of which are expatriates, mostly of Indian origin. English, Persian and Hindi are widely spoken in this multi-cultural society.
I think of Dubai as the city of superlatives, boasting the largest man-made harbor in the world (Jebel Ali) and the world’s tallest and most expensive hotel, Burj Al Arab. To celebrate these achievements, the DSF organizes an annual contribution to the Guinness Book of World Record, which, for the 2008 installment, was the world’s largest galabeyya.
In keeping with this tradition, Burj Dubai became the world s tallest structure in July 2007. Currently under construction, the towering structure will house the world’s largest mall when it is complete in late 2008, as well as the largest indoor aquarium.
Malls are big in Dubai, and not just physically: Much of the social life takes place in the city’s numerous malls, which have more to offer then shopping outlets. For example, you can ski at the Mall of the Emirates and then sit down for a cup of hot chocolate next to a pretend fireplace at a rustic café designed to give the feeling of a ski lodge.
Ski Dubai is the first indoor, mountain-themed ski resort in the Middle East, where you can also snowboard, go tobogganing or just play in the snow.
A good share of our tour featured seeing these malls, but the two that stood out were Madinat Jumeirah and Souk Al Bahar. Both are waterside markets designed with oriental architecture to make them look like the traditional souqs found in many Arab cities.
After all the walking around – and shopping of course – it was great to come home to Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, a trendy establishment with elegantly furnished rooms, where the food was always delicious and the service friendly. It’s also located just minutes away from the airport, mercifully away from Dubai’s traffic.
We ended our trip with a bird’s-eye-view tour of Dubai on Microlite gliders. Sponsored by Mashreq Bank, this activity was another highlight of the DSF 2008, and was extended for three weeks following after the festival due to its popularity.
More than 400 visitors came to Naddel Sheba for their Mashreq Sky Adventure during the DSF, and the 20-minute tour costs AED 200. The Hungarian group of experienced pilots – who have been flying for over 25 years and also perform air acrobats – took each of us on a flight over Dubai.
The shopping festival came to an end with a lavish closing ceremony, where Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, recently named deputy ruler of Dubai, recognized the best mall, marketing campaign, DSF journalism feature and photograph, among other awards. Looking forward, Mohammad Ahmad Al Marri, member of DSF’s supreme committee, said, “Our new strategy emphasizes shopping as a core focus in the coming editions of the DSF. Additionally, the festival will play a significant role in promoting new entertainment projects and establishing a vibrant entertainment industry in Dubai.
But besides shopping, there’s always something to do in Dubai. Even as the DSF came to an end, the International Jazz Festival was already underway and Dubians were looking forward to a concert by Celine Dion.
To help plan your trip, Emirates Airline launched a number of promotions to Dubai from Alexandria valid until March 31. One way from Alexandria’s Borg El Arab to Dubai: LE 888; round trip: LE 1,890.