The turnout to Dubai's Global Village is better than last year, organisers say, but retailers say spending has not kept pace. Retail spending at the country-themed pavilions has fallen by as much as 50 per cent, and with a rise in rental fees for shopkeepers this year, some say they are struggling to break even.
Still, with one full day of Global Village left, visitor numbers are already ahead of last year. "As of our last count, we actually hosted a total of 4.4 million visitors this year," said Saeed Ali bin Redha, the project director for Global Village. The annual Global Village festival was launched in 1996 by Dubailand's master developer, Tatweer. It features entertainment, carnival rides, food and shopping in stalls at more than 30 pavilions. It is a major tourist attraction for Dubai, and last year's edition brought in 4.4 million visitors over 102 days between November and February. However, due to the financial crisis, this was down on the 4.5 million visitors it saw in 2008 over 80 days. Sunil Bhatia, the co-ordinator for the India pavilion, said despite the stream of visitors to the festival grounds in Dubailand, spending was down roughly 20 per cent.
"It is a recession the world over - Dubai is not an exception to that," he said. "In general the market is a little slow. Under the present circumstances we feel it is good." However, the Global Village organisers raised the rent on their stalls by as much as 50 per cent this year, he said, and with the drop in spending, some retailers may be reluctant to sign on again next year. "If they don't make enough money, it will be less attractive for them to come back." Global Village is one of the few parts of the vast Dubailand development that is operational. Original plans suggested that Dubailand, projected to cost Dh235 billion (US$63.97bn), would eventually have 45 attractions, including theme parks such as Universal Studios, as well as some 55 hotels.
Analysts say that the attractions at Dubailand are needed if Dubai is to achieve its ambitious tourism targets of doubling its visitors to 15 million by 2015. But the economic crisis has meant that those plans have been put under review. On Friday, long queues of cars were lined up on Emirates Road waiting to enter Global Village. Many of the parking lots were full and crowds flocked to the various attractions. However, few festival goers had shopping bags in hand.
Bilal Boutzadin, a salesman at the William shop in the Lebanon pavilion, said sales were down roughly 50 per cent compared to last year's festival. "In past years, there was more cash around," he said at the stall, which sells leather handbags and designer china. Sales were extremely slow at the start of Global Village in late November but had picked up in the past two weeks, he said. Tamer Nasef, the assistant organiser at the Egypt pavilion, said visitor numbers were up 25 per cent but people were spending 20 per cent less. "Egypt is a popular pavilion, but if we compared this year, it's a little less than other years."
Ahmed Farag Ahmed, who has two stalls in the Egypt pavilion, said he was not sure whether he would make money this year. The rent on each of his stalls rose from Dh50,000 to Dh55,000 this year, he said, and he would have to wait until after the last day to work out how well he had fared. Mr Ahmed said if he did not break even, he might sign up for one stall instead of two next year. "This year it is very difficult," he added.