DUBAI // In a country famed for its love of luxury - from gold-dispensing ATMs and million-dirham licence plates to star-studded Formula 1 parties - a new player has emerged promising consumers exclusivity at a cost.
Enter Barney, the "loveable, huggable, purple dinosaur", whose show arrived in Al Ain last night complete with a "very limited" number of tickets for VIP and VVIP toddlers and children, offering the best seats, culinary feasts and exclusive audiences with the show's Jurassic host.
But with VVIP tickets costing Dh1,000 any hugs from the loveable dinosaur could prove expensive, as such tickets are the only way children will be able to meet the dinosaur after the show.
Mere VIP toddlers and children, and all other categories of youngsters down to those with the standard Dh99 tickets, will have to content themselves with posing in front of a green wall and having Barney's image digitally added to their photo later on.
Some mothers and psychologists have questioned the need for such a ticketing system, saying it is at odds with Barney's "loveable, huggable" image and that in giving youngsters such an early lesson in capitalism the prehistoric celebrity could be compromising his reputation as being accessible to all.
"I understand that this could be acceptable in a grown up setting, but to have this discrimination in a child environment is crazy," said mother-of-two Rahaf Ahmad.
However, Mrs Ahmad said she would still take her children to one of the shows in Al Ain. "I am not happy with the situation at all but I will still take my children because they love Barney and I want to make them happy," she said.
Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist in Dubai, acknowledged that 'VIP' ticketing systems were part of the culture, but said it was "a shame that in an event such as Barney this has to happen".
"It is event that should be child-friendly and cater to children," she said. "The whole idea behind Barney is that he is accessible to everyone regardless of race, colour and religion."
Mrs Jiwani said she did not think being exposed to such an early lesson in capitalism would have a psychologically damaging effect on children, but said children over five would benefit from having "a detailed rational explanation" from their parents.
Deema Abdullah said she would rather not explain to her three girls why they weren't sitting closer to the stage. "I will just tell them that there are not enough seats in the front and that these were the only tickets we could get hold of. It is such a pity that tickets for children's shows have to cost so much, there is no need for such extravagance," she added.
"Unfortunately, society here has become like this, everything is divided according to a hierarchy. But it is sad to see this concept creep even into the world of children," she added.
However, Carmen Benton, parenting educator at Lifeworks Counselling, argued that in disappointing children, the dinosaur could be providing them a valuable life lesson.
"It could be a good lesson which teaches children how to cope with disappointment - it teaches them that they can't get everything in life," she said.
"Disappointment is like a muscle - the more you excerise this muscle the better equipped you are to deal with disappointment as an adult," she said.
The show's organisers defended their pricing structure.
"The price categories have been put in place to make the event affordable for everyone ... the show caters for all," said Riyaz Suterwalla, the chief financial officer at Sunshine events, the company organising Barney's tour.
He insisted that differing price categories were common practice in the UAE. "Having different pricing is not something that we created. It stands for pretty much every show that happens here - even children shows," he said.
However, he admitted there was no need for VVIP tickets, but said that nevertheless there was a demand for them. "There is no need but there is a demand for these types of tickets and we have to cater for these people who request them," he said.
Barney's tour started in Abu Dhabi in the last week of October before moving to Al Ain for three days, where the first of three shows took place yesterday.
The venue in Abu Dhabi catered for 1,200 people while the Al Ain Convention Centre will host about 600 people per show. Organisers said the tour had so far been successful with several sell outs.
The tour is being organised in cooperation with Adnec, which was not available for comment.