Tills ring for Xmas in Dubai

Malls across Dubai are rolling out ambitious Christmas promotions in a bid to keep consumer sentiment upbeat amid the rumbling of a spending squeeze. Shopping centres across the board, including the newly-opened Dubai Mall and ski destination Mall of the Emirates, have embarked on lavish displays of festive attractions in a bid to scupper any doubt. Mall of the Emirates has erected a 13-metre-high Norwegian spruce as its centrepiece for a charity event, organised to collect donations for the Dubai Centre for Special Needs. BurJuman, which caters primarily to luxury spenders, is planning a large scale entertainment package over the next few weeks, including bands aimed at the Arabic and Indian community. The Dubai Mall is laying on shark and stingray feeding displays for the public every day in December. And a number of its stores have special offers, including Mini Grand Optics which is pushing a 25 per cent off all items in store, while Pepe Jeans is giving away a free rucksack with a purchase of Dh300 or more. Meanwhile, individual retail outlets are also launching special promotion to lure eager shoppers. Electronics store Sharaf DG said it is giving away a 32 inch LCD screen every day over the festive period as part of a competition in conjunction with Sony. It is also selling two LG mobile phones for Dh249 for a limited time only. Malls are facing a harder slog this Christmas to get shoppers through their doors compared to last year as a financial squeeze begins to bite. Fears have also been raised that a strong dirham could dent Dubai’s image as a cheap foreign shopping destination, according to mall chiefs. Some are reporting they are happy to just break even with spending recorded last Christmas. Meanwhile, none have complained that their entertainment functions for consumers during the period have been derailed as a result of the financial crisis. As a recession unfolds in the UK and other major Western nations, the appetite for foreign shopping jaunts has diminished. The strength of the dirham against the pound sterling and euro has compounded things, making Dubai shop prices seem even less attractive. “With the strength of the dirham, my worry is that we don’t want to offer ourselves as an expensive shopping option for people coming to Dubai,” said Eisa Ibrahim, General Manager at BurJuman and Chairman of Dubai Shopping Mall Group. “We do understand the sentiment of people and what’s happening worldwide which will definitely affect people, but we still expect them to celebrate christmas, which means shopping.” Ibrahim said he expected a tougher Christmas this year compared to 2007, adding: “If I said we won’t have a harder time this year then that would not be being honest for sure. The issue is how can we get people to get their wallet out of their pocket. Retailers will have to work smarter and harder to get consumers to spend. But we will definitely maintain last years figures,” he added. October visitors were up 12 per cent from last year, November remained the same and December is also expected to remain “neck and neck” with Christmas 2007, said Ibrahim. “You have to be realistic about what’s happening. It’s very important to speak the truth,” he added. BurJuman, which caters primarily to high-end spenders, is already working with marketing teams to prepare for Dubai Shopping Festival, which takes place in January and February next year. Meanwhile, Dubai could see its residents escape to recession-hit nations such as the UK, to sample some cut-price shopping, according to research. Lifestyle management firm WhiteConcierge found that with high street prices falling, the UK is now better value for a range of luxury festive presents than Germany and France. “We’re finding that this year we’re getting more requests from our mainland European customers about booking trips to London to do their Christmas shopping,” said WhiteConcierge Managing Director Will Holroyd. Of the six countries surveyed, Dubai offered best value for money for Christmas gifts, followed by the US, UK, Germany, France and China. Dubai was three per cent cheaper than the UK and 15 per cent less expensive than China for a range of goods including perfume, sunglasses and watches. “Dubai is rapidly emerging as an alternative to traditional shopping destinations. With fantastic new shopping centres opening all the time and some great prices, we expect to see Dubai become an increasingly popular destination for Christmas shopping in the future,” Holroyd added. But Nilesh Khalkho, CEO at Sharaf DG, said the threat of the strong dirham could affect foreign tourist sentiment in Dubai. “It’s concerning because the prices in Europe are lining up with the prices in Dubai. That could affect visitor numbers as tourists from Europe are very knowledgeable and won’t come here unless there are tangible savings to be had.” As part of a drive to boost its appeal over Christmas, The Dubai Mall announced yesterday it had opened 100 new stores since opening less than a month ago. The mall said retailers are opening their stores daily, as they continue to complete fit-out operations, and the majority of the 1,200 stores will be operational by early next year. These include Galeries Lafayette, one of the mall’s two key anchor department stores. Bloomingdale’s will also open in 2010. New stores that have opened in the past month fall into sectors including fashion, accessories and home appliances. Yousif Al Ali, General Manager at The Dubai Mall, said: “The opening of The Dubai Mall has energised the retail sector in the region with strong sales recorded throughout the mall. The continual opening of new stores on a daily basis gives mall visitors a wider choice to complement the upcoming festive season sales.” business24-7.ae