Top thoroughbreds will compete in the richest horse race in the world at Dubai's new Dh10 billion (US$272.3 million) Meydan Racecourse, but the big winner on Saturday will be the tourism industry.
Contenders and spectators will fly in from all over the world and Meydan is expecting a crowd of up to 60,000, which will be the largest audience for the $10m Dubai World Cup. Pete Warsop at Tailormade Racing Breaks in the UK says the event this year seems to be more popular than ever because of the new racecourse, which replaced Nad Al Sheba. "Our ticket packages sold out within the first morning of going on sale," he says. Dubai officials are hoping that the World Cup and other initiatives will reverse a declining trend in tourist numbers, which have suffered three consecutive quarters of falls, according to latest official figures. And the fact that racegoers are not allowed to bet in Dubai is not a deterrent, says Mr Warsop, describing the race as equal in popularity to high-profile events in the UK such as the Grand National.
"I don't think the fact that you can't bet in Dubai inhibits people from travelling there for the race." He says some tourists choose to combine the races with a 10-day holiday in Dubai. "Dubai is a popular destination for UK citizens generally." Tailormade Racing Breaks offered three-night packages for between £925 (Dh5,100) and £1,375. Organisers say the Dubai World Cup is an opportunity to showcase Dubai.
"Sport has typically been a wonderful aggregator for people to enjoy the atmosphere, spirit and excitement," says Mohammed Nasser al Khayat, the commercial director at Meydan. "Some good examples of how sports promotes tourism are the F1, Olympics and the FIFA World Cup." Dubai in recent months has hosted international sports events such as the Barclays Dubai Tennis championships and the Race to Dubai golf event.
"We expect that with the growing popularity of horse racing and how accessible it is, it will be a draw for people to travel," says Mr al Khayat. "Sports tourism will indeed be a cornerstone for any country that aims to diversify its value offering." The Godolphin racing stable was established as the racing and stud stable of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 1992, followed by the inaugural Dubai World Cup meeting four years later. Godolphin's headquarters are at Al Quoz Stables in Dubai.
After the winter in Dubai, the Godolphin team travels to Europe where the horses spend the summer at Godolphin Stables or Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket, in the UK. "The Dubai World Cup really is about the celebration of the sport and the opportunity to showcase our prowess in hosting an international sporting event of this calibre," says Mr al Khayat. "Racing is geographically borderless, as we see people travel from across the world, who then extend their stay to experience our unique culture, sightsee, dine and shop in Dubai and the UAE."
Sportsnet Holidays, a sports travel company in Australia, says it has launched a package for the Dubai World Cup. The four-night package, which cost from A$1,159 (Dh3,905) include a desert tour to allow tourists to see more of the emirate. "Dubai is seen as a prestigious horse-racing venue and the glitz, glamour and prestige is what attracts horse racing fans," says Michelle Greve, the communications manager at Sportsnet Holidays.
The vast Meydan City development plans to include a network of canals, a mall in the shape of Sheikh Mohammed's signature, a marina, villas and residential buildings. According to plans, the Goldophin Gateway Tower, will have the man-made Goldophin River flowing through the sculpture of the head of a horse carved into the building. The five-star Meydan Hotel, which is touted as the first trackside hotel, opened earlier this month and expects to be full during the event.
"We think the course will give us business," says Abdin Nasralla, the vice president, Meydan Hotels and Hospitality. "The hotel is there to support the grandstand. We're not talking about a one-day race; we're talking about preparation for the race and after the race. "There are 30 races next year and this will provide 100 days of business, because they are flying two days before and leaving one day after. That is only one component. A lot of tourists will come because we're close to Dubai Mall.
To have exhibitions right next to your hotel is also a big advantage." Mr Nasralla is forecasting occupancy levels of 60 per cent for this year. The racing season in Dubai runs from November to March. Other hotels in Dubai expect to benefit from the influx of visitors during the event. "The Dubai World Cup is a niche market and indeed it has a great impact in promoting Dubai globally as one of the leading destination worldwide," says Naeem Darkazally, the area director of sales and marketing for Rotana Hotels in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
"The Cup itself is growing year by year as we can feel the increased demand especially. We do expect good occupancy levels in the properties which are located in the nearby area of Meydan." firstname.lastname@example.org