Mother of all festivals

Saeed Mohammed Al Nabouda, CEO of DSF, on what the festival has in store this year
DSF 2004 promises to be an extravaganza, (inset) Al Nabouda.

Every year, the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) gets bigger and bigger. From 1.6 million visitors who spent Dh2.15 billion in the first year of the festival in 1996, it grew to attract to 2.92 million visitors spending some Dh5.2 billion last year. And, by all accounts, DSF 2004 is going to be no exception.

To be held from January 15 to February 15 on the theme One World One Family One Festival, it promises to break previous records and enhance Dubai's reputation in hosting international events and attracting investors and visitors from all over the world.

'Now in its ninth year, the festival has achieved a high level of maturity and professionalism,' Saeed Mohammed Al Nabouda, CEO of DSF, told TTN. When asked if DSF is the biggest shopping festival in the world, Al Nabouda said  he wouldn't say that himself. All he says is that, judging by comments from people who have experienced DSF, it is perceived as a 'very special event'.

He added that it's not just the scale of the event and the variety of venues that make DSF special. It's the little things and attention to detail that makes all the difference. 'For instance, DSF starts with a smiling reception at Dubai International Airport by Dubai nationals, giving visitors a warm welcome to the emirate,' he says. 'Besides, the diversity of events taking place cater to all nationalities and preferences. From children and families to sports lovers and so forth, there's something for everyone.'

To its credit, DSF has grown over time to become more than just a shopping festival and Al Nabouda is proud that the strategy behind launching the DSF, which was to help position Dubai as a major player in the region and attract visitors to the emirate, has paid off. Clearly the hugely-popular DSF, based on three objectives - shopping, entertainment and prize winning - has done a lot to change the international community's perception of Dubai.
'Over the years, the growth in visitors has been around 5-8 per cent per annum and that has been sustained every year,' points out Al Nabouda. 'Last year, we had 2.92 million visitors and I am confident, we will quite easily pass the three million mark at DSF 2004.'

So what does DSF 2004 have in store for residents and visitors? 'We endeavour to bring the best forms of entertainment from all over the world - from the West and from the Fast - so there is something for everyone,' says Al Nabouda. 'As always, we expect the Global Village, which attracted more than three million people last year, to be a great success. This year, we will have pavilions from 58 countries including those from Italy, Germany, Russia and Brazil, who will be participating for the first time, making it a truly global event.'

Other attractions during the DSF 2004 include the night souq, the desert camp, haute couture week, musical concerts, the Dubai Jazz festival, street parades,  carnivals, spectacular fireworks and cultural and sporting events. But, like always, shopping will continue to be one of the biggest draws and the organisers are doing everything to ensure that visitors get the best bargains. 'Towards this end,' says Al Nabouda, 'we have employed a lot of 'mystery' shoppers who will move around checking that the reductions during the festival are genuine. In the past years, we have closed down several shops that were cheating customers.

It's important to ensure that the offers are genuine as that adds to the credibility of the festival. However, shoppers need to remember that not all shops are participating the festival and even those that are need not necessarily put all the goods in the shop on sale. To avoid confusion, special buttons are placed on the sales items and participating outlets have DSF signs on their windows.'

Clearly, one of the major reasons for the success of DSF is the fact that organisers manage to attract so many sponsors. 'This year we have as many 20 key sponsors and new ones include Spinneys, Paris Gallery and Dubai Duty Free,' informs Al Nabouda. 'We could have had more but the idea is to ensure that these sponsors add value to the festival. The number of support sponsors has also been growing steadily over the years and we should pass hundred this year.'

Asked if he sees other shopping festivals in the region - Muscat, Bahrain and Doha - as competition, Al Nabouda is quick to reply in the negative. 'The reason these other countries have started shopping festivals is to boost their economy as they have observed how Dubai is benefiting from the event,' he says. 'If anything, we are pleased to see these events taking place elsewhere in the Gulf as they will boost the economy of the whole region, which will benefit us all.”
As for DSF, with new ideas, it continues to be the trendsetter. Or the mother of all festivals.