The 2013 Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) kicked off in spectacular fashion last Thursday evening alongside the shores of Dubai Creek.
Fireworks, dancers and a water show were all part of an opening performance ushering in 32 days of the annual fair’s 18th edition.
I can still recall the event’s more humble beginnings in 1996 when the firework show that lit up the Dubai night was the only significant indication.
Coinciding with the shopping festival’s first years was the grand opening of Deira’s City Centre Mall, not only the festival’s centrepiece but also the largest UAE mall at the time.
Not being an avid shopper or a mall enthusiast, I paid few visits to the City Centre and when I did, saw little evidence of a shopping festival aside from the increase in sale signs.
The festival’s intended desire to boost retail business in an emirate looking to further expand its already well-established trading sector did little to change my tendency to shy away from shopping.
This is not to say it did not attract those more mall-savvy and inclined to shop than me.
Organisers from the DSF’s first celebration approximated that 1.6 million visitors were drawn into Dubai’s retail outlets, spending Dh2.1 billion. But during the first years, it did not grab the imagination of many such as myself and the month during which the occasion was held passed by like any other. Fast-forward 17 years and the DSF has become an entirely different creature.
It has grown into the region’s largest and longest-running shopping and entertainment extravaganza, with 70 malls participating and more than 6,000 retailers offering bargains and promotions.
No longer a festival limited to the exchange of goods and money, visitors from around the world are now enticed by the fair’s numerous shows and events staged around the city.
Tourists and residents alike will be drawn away from their couches by the bright lights of theatre, art and competition.
Famous musicians, stage groups and tournaments such as the Arab composer Omar Khairat, the live show The Attraction Black Light Theatre and the falconry tournament The Fazza Championship, are all part and parcel of this year’s festival.
Due to the expansion of the festival, the total number of visitors and the amount of money spent has increased every year, with the latest figures from 2011 indicating 3.6 million visitors letting go of Dh15.1 billion. The economic and advertising gains are set to be shared by all the seven emirates, all of which will witness an increase in tourist and shopping traffic.
Unlike years past, now retailers are not limiting their promotions to Dubai but are targeting customers in their chains around the country, further benefiting the entire nation.
Where once I viewed the Dubai Shopping Festival with relative insignificance and thought of it as nothing more than an overhyped extended sale, I now realise its impact and significance to the UAE.
Not only does it attract millions of visitors from around the world, but it also encourages them to contribute to the local economy, while revealing to them the welcoming and hospitable nature of the country.
It also has begun encouraging a reluctant consumer such as myself to go out there and get the new pair of jeans I so desperately need.
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US