Fly Buy Dubai

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Spread over 3,885 square kilometers, Dubai that’s 10.655 metres above sea level indeed rises above the ordinary with its mother of all festivals, the Dubai Shopping Festival. It’s four weeks of unadulterated fun on the run, with over 220,000 Indians making it to Dubai every year with Bangalore making up 10 per cent of the tourism chunk.

As you zip down Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Road, you pause to gaze at the gorgeous girl on a hoarding beside the interchange. There is nothing to do but make that turn and ease into a parking slot and walk into the comforting interiors of the BurJuman shopping mall.

It’s Dubai Shopping Festival time and the mall has pulled all stops to offer huge discounts and a seemingly endless variety of prizes.

Every single one of the 190 shops ensconced in BurJuman has a buzz going for the shopping festival and the total worth of prizes on offer amounts to a staggering Dhs 1.5 million. If you manage to win ladyluck to your side, you could win a 318 BMW and exquisite diamond jewellery in their weekly draws.

Then again, BurJuman is not the only mall. You have the Sahara Centre, Mercarto, Sharjah City Centre, Twin Towers, Jumeirah Centre, Palm Strip, The Oasis Centre, Wafi City Mall and many more. And the funda remains the same: get as close to heaven as you can get with deals that are a steal, from 30 to 70 per cent off apparel, gold and jewellery, electronics, furnishings and more. Where the celebrations last a month and the memories, a lifetime.

Which is why many Bangaloreans have already left for the distant shore since the festival began on January 15. (It will go on till February 15.) Says Carl Vaz, country manager, India, Dubai Tourism: “Between January and September 2002, the number of business and leisure travelers was 220,000 Indians out of which roughly 10 per cent were from Bangalore. This year, we expect a growth of 20 per cent.”

Even while large tour operators like SOTC, TCI, Cox & King, Thomas Cook, Orbit Travels and Trade Wings promote Dubai aggressively during this season, Vaz says that many small and medium-sized travel agents generate 85 per cent of the traffic to Dubai. “The larger tour operators spread greater awareness, but the smaller ones actually generate more business from the mother of all festivals,” he says. “The appeal of the shopping fest is that it caters to every segment of the family, be it children, adolescents, men or women. It’s about having a pleasurable time when you are in Dubai.”

Not surprising that tourism accounts for 16 per cent of Dubai’s GDP, which is 45 per cent more than that generated by oil (9 per cent). Also not unforeseen to see many Bangaloreans hopping on to the Dubai shopping wagon. Cox & King representatives say that they have already booked 160 people on Dubai flights and 80 more are in the pipeline. The packages that include return airfare and accommodation for four days range from Rs 30,250 (3-star hotel) and Rs 44,750 per person (5-star). Airlines are not far behind. While Gulf Air is offering a fare of Rs 15,000 per person from Mumbai or Delhi, Emirates is doing so for Rs 15,550.

The enthusiasm is not unfounded. Not only is Dubai host to international performers and world-class sporting events besides providing an opportunity to buy the world’s best brands at the world’s best prices, it’s also a way to come back richer than before, because over Dhs 100 million will be given away in prize money and 128 Lexus cars as gifts from draws. Says Vaz, “One of the largest pavilions is of India spread over 6,360 square metres housing 205 stalls and modeled along the lines of the Amber Fort in Jaipur.”

BurJuman, for example, features instant rewards. They have two ‘scratch and win’ offers. The first one is worth Dhs 14,000 and includes shopping vouchers for perfumes and other beauty products (you get three chances on every card).
If the prizes weren’t overwhelming enough, the malls will treat you like royalty with attendants waiting at every corner of the cosy malls to make sure all your wants are met with a ready smile.

And there’s no time like now to buy all kinds of brands under one roof. From Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Christian Lacroix to Calvin Klein, Mango, Bebe and Lush.

Which probably explains why most travel agents are upbeat this season. Says Ranjini Sudhakaran, director (business development), Footloose Yatra Consultants: “Emirates has extensively promoted the festival this year along with other hotels to offer rock bottom rates for a three-nights package which includes airport transfers and breakfast for prices as low as $33 onwards per person.”

That’s not all. Says Sudhakaran: “Every year, the response seems to get better. More than entertainment, people visit the festival to shop, shop till they drop.”

Girija Chandran of Hammock Leisure Holidays has a new twist to the tale. “We haven’t been doing much of Dubai packages this season, as we had not concentrated on the packages or the shopping festival. The shopping festival is usually in March. This year they had back peddled to January. Most of our clients would have had a high holiday spend around New Year time and then it is too close for another shopping holiday.”

But for Dubai regulars, it’s fun on the run. Says Anil Kapur, joint managing director, Rex & Symphony cinemas: “I have visited Dubai on six occasions not only for the shopping festival but also to meet my friends out there. The shops offer the best variety; prices are cheap and there are hundreds of lucky draws, though I have not won any.”

Kapur recommends the DSF desert camps. “It has 42 tents that provides an oasis kind of atmosphere where all sorts of food is available, and then there’s live music, camel rides and belly dancing. I am on video dancing solo with one such belly dancer. Another place worth going is Elaine, the greenest oasis city in the desert where there are more flowers than in Bangalore.”

Vaz recommends the Global Village where over 50 countries have put up their best wares on sale. Says he: “Each country’s pavilion features a beautiful and distinct historical landmark, genuine handicrafts, folk music, dances and authentic cuisine from their homeland.”

This aside, there are helicopter parades, baroques show, Singaporean Lion and Dragon shows, the stilt walking drumming robot shows, Egyptian Folkloric shows, percussionist shows, Venice dream parades, open air cinema, Mexican bull fights, African circus, and many more.

Fashion designer Madhuri Hingorani is won over by the weather. “Until February, it’s the right time to be there. But the traffic is terrible during peak hours. The best time to go is in the early morning or late in the evening. It’s a great place to get fashionable clothes, including sports and gym equipment. And the good part is the discounts remain even after the fest is over. So those who want to miss the crowd can go there (“but there won’t be enough variety then,” says Kapur) after February 15, and I am one of them.”

Kiran Bagade of LB Couriers, who has lived in Dubai for nine years felt that Dubai looks most cheerful during the shopping season. “DSF is the right time if you want to pick up stuff. But if you want to holiday, any time between September and February is just fine. And weather permitting, it’s a lovely getaway.” (Temperatures fluctuate between 25 and 15 degrees during this season.)

If you get your kicks out of shopping, there’s just one destination you need to put down on your calendar. It’s located in Western Asia on the Arabian Gulf in the Arabian Peninsula and it’s called Dubai.

FAST FACT
I’m a woman on the run headed for Dubai. Will I get a tourist visa. Who gets visas and who doesn’t?
Women and children who travel alone are generally not given visas to the UAE, unless a hotel or airline sponsors them, as was the case with the shopping festival that took place in Dubai between March 18 and April 14. Adult males travelling alone aren’t faced with these problems. A woman must be accompanied by a male or have a sponsor in the UAE willing to send a sponsored affidavit signed by the Indian Embassy. But once in a while, these rules can be broken!

But for DSF, Emirates airline is issuing visa if all the necessary documents were submitted. And if is only travelling for the DSF, either the airline issues the visa or the hotel where you stay or if you have someone staying over there they could issue the visa.

Destination Dubai
Best brands at the best prices

Up to 70 per cent off apparel, gold and jewellery, electronics, furnishings and more

Major tour operators include SOTC, TCI, Cox & King, Thomas Cook, Orbit Travels and Trade Wings, among others

Over Dhs 100 million will be given away in prize money and 128 Lexus cars as gifts

Attractions include helicopter parades, baroques show, Singaporean Lion and Dragon shows, the stilt walking drumming robot shows, Egyptian Folkloric shows, percussionist shows, Venice dream parades, open air cinema, Mexican bull fights, African circus, Global Village, DSF desert camps

(Published in City Reporter, 2003)