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Mammoth extravaganza

Conceived of as only a retail exercise, at first, with the idea of revitalising trade, the Dubai Shopping Festival has since grown into an annual mega event that tourists look forward to. SABITA RADHAKRISHNA on what to expect next year.



One of Dubai's landmarks, the Clock Tower.

DUBAI has always given me the impression of being a joyous and special city, endowed, no doubt, with affluence but that which is used for the good of the people and the city, through well-lit streets, planned townships and superb architecture, manicured parks and cultivated gardens, clean beaches, with the finest amenities for sports, and a shopper's paradise with world class hotels. Woven into all this is Arab hospitality and courtesy.

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum had a remarkable vision for Dubai resulting in expensive projects which streamlined the city, as one sees it today. His dredging of the waterways for example resulted in increasing the volume of cargo being handled in Dubai, strengthening its position as a major trading and re-export hub. Today, Dubai has grown into an enormous business and tourism centre.

Conceived as a pure retail exercise, at first, with the idea of revitalising trade, the first Shopping Festival took shape under the leadership of General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and the U.A.E's Defence Minister. The concept brought about a melding of the private and public sectors involving months of planning, co-ordination and hard work which were rewarded by unprecedented success when DSF '96 opened for the first time on February 15, 1996.

Today the Festival has grown into a mammoth extravaganza, an annual entertainment mega event which tourists from all over the world eagerly look forward to. The quality of the Festivals are benchmarks in global standards and local multinational brands and corporate houses have reposed their faith in them by becoming partners to the growth of the DSF.

The effort at economic revitalisation paid rich dividends in the inaugural year where retail outlet sales rose by 600 per cent, Dhs 10 million worth jewellery were sold each day, the electronics sector recorded sales worth Dhs 800 million, Carpet Oasis sold Dhs 400 million worth of stock and hotels reported 100 per cent occupancy, thanks to the 1.6 million visitors. Inspired by the success of the Festival, a total of 125 events were organised for DSF '97 (March 27-April 26). Disney figures appeared in this part of Central Asia for the first time and parks and streets saw laser shows and fireworks. The Global Village was erected on the creekfront of Baniyas Street, and with 10 countries taking part it was a big attraction for the two million visitors.

DSF 1998 (March 19-April 18) was designed on the theme of Children of the World Meet in Dubai which drew crowds. The Global Village shifted to a bigger space near Garhoud Bridge. The Parks offered delightful shows like Casper Village at Creek Park. Mamzar Park hosted Sesame Street, Mushriff Park had Smirgs Show while the malls had their own brand of entertainment. M.V. Doulos, the ship with the world's biggest floating library, offered 4,000 books at discounted prices.

DSF '99 (March 18-April) recorded sales which rose by 14 per cent over the 1998 figures, proving that Dubai did not conform to the economic crisis of recession the world over. There were 400 events spread over 28 days. Apart from the usual attractions there were Dolphin Shows, Firework Shows every night and fabulous prizes in the daily raffles like "Nissan Patrols" and gold. Hotels and airlines dropped their tariffs and the Dubai World Cup, which was the world's richest horse race, was a big attraction.

DSF 2000 (March 1-31) registered a visitor increase of four per cent from the previous year. Cars — 31 "Rolls Royce Silver Seraph" cars — were given away as raffle prizes, setting a world record. Dedicated to the mothers of the world, the theme "To Mother with Love" was inculcated in the 500 planned events. The ideal Arab Mother Award presented $10,000 to the most exemplary mother.

DSF 2001 (March 1-31) carried the theme "One World, One Family, One Festival", and registered sales of Dhs. 4.5 billion while hotel revenues shot upto Dhs.480 million. Prizes offered were Lexus cars and cash plus prizes to travel destinations with business class airfare and five-star accommodation. Gold prizes were offered in kilos! Street performers, in a class by themselves from Russia, Australia, Germany, France and China, dazzled the main streets with colour on weekends.

DSF 2002 (March 1-31) registered a spurt of shoppers/ visitors to 2.68 million, proving once again the success of this stupendous Festival. British actors brought to life "Alladin and his Magic Lamp" at Mushrif Park, while Creek Park featured performances by top Arab singers. The Dubai World Cup had a total purse of over $15 million. The U.A.E. World Cup Endurance 2002 was a sports event, featuring participants from 27 countries.

The DSF 2003 (January 15-February 15) promises to be even bigger and more spectacular. It will focus on a celebration of human emotions and family values through its theme "One World, One Family, One Festival". The Festival dates have been brought forward because of the Eid-Al-Adha holidays and changes in global tourism movements.

Round-the-clock shopping will be offered by more than 3,000 retail outlets in Dubai and the new exciting concept, is the Night Bazaar with bargains on world renowned brands of haute couture, perfumes, electronics, cosmetics, textiles, home décor and traditional handicrafts. DSF will offer raffle prizes for luxury cars, cash, gold and other big prizes worth more than $200,000 daily and a whopping US$500,00 on every weekend of the Festival.

The DSF 2003 attractions fall into two broad categories, the first being entertainment for children, which will include mega shows from a pick of favourite cartoon characters. Street performers and folk artists from Italy, France, Hungary Columbia. India and Russia will participate in jugglery, stilt walking, acrobatics and a hundred other unusual programmes.

Concert performances will include famous Arab singers with theatrical extravaganzas thrown in.

The Dubai International Jazz Festival which is a new-event will have a clutch of over 800 renowned jazz singers and musicians. The jazz will range from Afro, Latin and Oriental Jazz to more contemporary forms of jazz such as blues and funk.

Over 50 countries will open their stalls in the Global Village, a cultural melting pot of handicrafts, cuisine, folk music and dance from various regions of the world. The traditional gold souqs will continue to offer their attractions. The Carpet Oasis will showcase a rich collection of carpets from Iraq, Uzbekistan, China, Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan, India and the UAE.

Art enthusiasts are not to be left out, as Dubai's main streets will be converted into symposiums for painters, craftspersons from all over the world, sculptors, musicians, performing artists, etc. Visitors can have local adventure experiences like water sports on Dubai's sparkling beaches like jet skiing, sailing, cruising, fishing, diving and wind surfing. Dune bashing, bowling, archery, desert camping and desert safaris are also some of the attractions.

The Global Village, managed by DSF and built by the Al Futtaim Group has been redesigned with the parking facility at the village increased to 17,000 spaces from the 10,000 that existed last year. Transportation has been upgraded to facilitate easy flow of traffic without any bottlenecks. The Dubai Shopping Festival announces the DSF Journalism Awards, 2003 with a total prize money up to US$ 80,000. Journalists covering the DSF in local or international print or electronic media are eligible for prizes. If you've attended the DSF, night is transformed into day, you live in a state of suspended euphoria, satiated with displays, taking in as many attractions as you can in an atmosphere of joyous celebrations. You pig out at the eateries, and shop till you drop, slumping into bed finally, exhilarated and tired. You still come back for more, knowing that it just gets better and better year after year.

VISAS can be got easily and Emirates Airlines, the official carrier, and a key sponsor of the DSF, flies in visitors on discounted fares and extra baggage allowance.

Emirates has announced a special five-day holiday package for Indians. Priced at $599 per person, ( airfare, accommodation, breakfast and Indian dinner, all transfers, sightseeing with professional tour leaders), it combines a visit to all the attractions of the DSF.

The visa process has been largely simplified. A visit visa or a 96-hour visa can be obtained easily. Emirates passengers for the DSF can submit their visa applications to Blue Dart Offices across India and it will be processed in three days time.

The network of acceptance centres will eventually cover 77 outlets in 31 Indian cities. Passengers who book online earn rewards like having their skywards miles doubled and other benefits like Emirates holiday packages, upgrades, etc.

Online booking facility is available for flights departing between eight hours and 10 hours from the time of booking. Emirates applicants get an electronic visa, and once he or she touches Dubai, he or she can proceed directly to immigration where it will be rapidly processed in a special fast track queue. S.R.

S.R.

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