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"We have been on a very aggressive marketing campaign," says Laila Suhail, the chief executive of Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment. Satish Kumar / The National
'We have been on a very aggressive marketing campaign,' says Laila Suhail, the chief executive of Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment. Satish Kumar / The National

Dubai Shopping Festival goes digital

The emirate's annual Shopping Festival has developed into a major revenue generator and other big events such as Summer Surprises are following suit. And the organisers, the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, now have another trick up their sleeve.

Shoppers and tourists spent a whopping Dh15 billion (US$4.08bn) in stores, hotels and restaurants during the Dubai Shopping Festival last year.

And although the numbers have yet to be released for this year's event, organisers believe they will smash records as tourism in the emirate continues to increase.

"The performance should be similar if not better than last year," says Laila Suhail, the chief executive of Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (Depe). "Yes, DSF [Dubai Shopping Festival] was really positive this year, for different reasons. One of them being the Arab Spring. The whole UAE has been impacted by this and we had really good numbers of visitors coming, across the UAE."

Last year, DSF added Dh15bn to Dubai's economy, according to a survey by YouGov Siraj and commissioned by the Depe. Ms Suhail says this year is likely to be even better, as occupancy at hotels in malls was about 100 per cent and retailers all reported an increase in sales compared with the year before.

With the Shopping Festival and the city's Summer Surprises both flourishing in recent years, the Depe has now begun work promoting its latest brand, the Dubai Calendar.

Launched last year, but now being heavily promoted, Dubai Calendar is an online website and print magazine that details every event in the emirate during the full year.

Here, Ms Suhail explains how the calendar works and why it will boost spending for retailers and hoteliers further.


q You recently began heavily marketing the DubaiCalendar.ae. What is it and why is it important for tourism and retail in Dubai?


a Dubai is a vibrant city and there's so much happening every day, so there was a necessity to have an online reference for tourists, business travellers, organisers. To have one single resource of information where they can check what's happening. Dubai Calendar has details on concerts, sports events, exhibitions and everything that is going on in Dubai.

You launched the calendar last year, but have only now been promoting it. What have you been doing?

We have been on a very aggressive marketing campaign. We launched a smartphone application that has had 10,000 downloads since the start of the year. We have launched a Dubai Calendar magazine and leaflet that offers different content in a print format, because not everyone is savvy with online.

Where can someone pick up the magazine?

It is monthly. May will be our third issue. It is in English and we are also launching an Arabic version next month. We distribute it in newspapers. At the same time, it will be available across most of the shopping malls and we have partnered with major hotels for this product to be available at the concierge. It will also be accessible for people coming into Dubai at the International Airport in terminals one and three.

The Dubai Calendar sounds a lot like a Time Out Dubai. Are you not just copying that brand?

The focus of the Dubai Calendar is mainly on events. It's not a commercial product driven by advertising. There will be information about issuing permits for the organisers, so there's much more content we provide.

Right, so you can also offer practical help in setting up an event. Not just information and news articles about the events?

Yes. If you are planning to do an event and another person is planning to do an event we can help both parties in putting the event together. Also, one of the long-term objectives of Dubai Calendar is to help us be able to plan our yearly calendar. For example, we had feedback saying March was very active in terms of activities, but April was bit slow, so having a reference gives us a solid platform for the event planning cycle.

Has the marketing campaign worked?

Since last year, there was a 10 to 15 per cent increase each month in the people using the website. But since we began increasing our marketing of the product in March, there has been a 400 per cent increase in the number of people using and interested in using the Dubai Calendar.

How does this new initiative affect your traditional role as the organisers of Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises?

Being an agency of the Department of Economic Development we are looking at two major sectors in Dubai. One of them is the retail sector, setting promotion policies, working with the retailers in Dubai. And the other is event management. Dubai Calendar promotes both these sectors.

Was the Shopping Festival a success this year?

For our strategic partners, they said it was an exceptional year. It keeps on growing and it's strengthening its position. The city itself is becoming more exciting for tourists and visitors who are coming to Dubai every year.

You moved the festival forward two weeks to the start of January. Did that help or hinder retailers and hotels?

That was really good because it coincided with the local school holidays and GCC school holidays. The Chinese New Year also coincided, so that was really good for us in terms of moving DSF a bit forward.

But with Eid Al Adha, UAE National Day and Christmas all coming before the festival, were people not tired of shopping?

If you look at it, you have December and New Year and people celebrating Christmas, they are the ones doing shopping then. During DSF, it's totally different shoppers. Electronics and furniture were discounted and offered great value. A lot of my friends postponed their furniture shopping until DSF.

When is Dubai Summer Surprises launching this year?

We have DSS starting from June 14 to July 14, then we will have Ramadan promotional campaign starting about the 19th and we conclude with the Eid in Dubai celebration. The whole summer is being packaged.

Which festival provides the biggest fillip to Dubai in terms of spending?

When we launched DSS in 1998, the whole focus of summer was around activities in the mall, there was no comparison with DSF. But 15 years later, I think DSF and DSS are offering promotions and events in two different seasons. In terms of spend its almost the same amount.

What else are you doing to promote retail and tourism spending in Dubai?

One of the initiatives we are looking at is a centralised ticketing system for the all the events in Dubai. The central ticketing system is being facilitated through a joint venture between private sector and Government funding. We are also looking at centralised system for organising events. For any organiser, you will have to approach one portal to find out the requirements to run an event.


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