Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Diverse Dubai


“Tenth shopping festival ends with a flashbulb.”
This headline appeared in a foreign paper, after a small fire broke out at Global Village recently.

Within minutes, the fire, caused by a fire-eater on stilts who tripped during a parade, was put out.
The fire crippled one of the floats, but the headline painted a different story.

“Perhaps this indicates the jealousy other destinations feel for Dubai. A molehill is turned into a mountain,” said Ahmad Abdullah, a UAE national who was at the Village when the fire broke out. He was visiting the Japanese pavilion with his friend Louay when it happened. “I learned about it through the public address system.”
The month-long fête did not end just then.
The fun had just begun.

The festival, started in 1996 as a shopping and family leisure event, has evolved into a fabulous fair and turned Dubai into a mosaic of cultures under the theme “One World. One Family. One Festival.”

Dubai, a city of about 1 million inhabitants, received 3.1 million tourists during the last festival. This time, Saeed Al Naboudah, chief executive of Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), said the city is on target to receive 3.3 million visitors.

During the 32-day festival, Dubai becomes a magnet for shoppers, with about 5,000 visitors coming from Iran alone daily. About 45 per cent of visitors are tourists who have flown in, while the rest are nationals and other Gulf residents who have made the journey by road.

The city is home to 180 different nationalities.

“This is the season when bargain basement prices in Dubai could beat [prices in] Hong Kong and Singapore, hands down,” says Kiran Chhabria of Jumbo Electronics.

The raffle draws are unheard of — three Lexus luxury cars are raffled off everyday (with a grand cash prize of Dh10 million). Shoppers also qualify for the daily raffle of Nissan cars, while gold aficionados who spend Dh500 at outlets of the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group get the chance to win 1 kg of gold on a daily basis during the festival’s 32 days.
People who buy a commemorative gold coin for Dh250 are entitled to win 5 kg of gold weekly and 100 kg of gold (worth Dh5 million) at the grand draw.
On the first day, Abdullah Ebrahim Al Baik, a two-year-old Palestinian boy, struck it rich for his family when he won three Lexus cars — valued at more than Dh500,000.

A testimony to Dubai’s open embrace of diversity can be seen in the 900 or so outfits in the Media City free-zone (including CNN, BBC and Asharq Al Awsat). There are thousands of other companies in the free zones dealing with aviation, manufacturing, internet, shipping, health and humanitarian aid.

Yesterday, General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister, announced a new initiative to open a biotech zone.
When it comes to the media, Dubai has evolved a mindset that sets it apart in a world that often only sees news when there is blood on the streets. When the local media reported toilets at Global Village needed repairs and the traffic around the Village had caused four-hour road jams, the organisers and the police did not kill the messenger; they got the message.
Defective toilets were closed for repairs and mobile units were installed in no time. Rank-and-file police officers offered solutions to traffic problems and considered proposals from the public.

Since then, the flow of traffic to the Global Village has improved immensely.

“Dubai is not just a city, it is a feeling, an experience. Everyone who has a good idea to offer is recognised here, not punished or sidelined,” said Ayad Abbas, an Iraqi-Canadian engineer and an expert in total quality management. “That’s the only way to go forward.”

Rewarding good ideas is a practise started by the late Shaikh Rashid, founder of modern Dubai and father of the current rulers, who gave land to Christians working in the emirate on which they built churches.

During the festival, the best cultural groups in the world — from Kenya’s Waza Africa team and Bayanihan Dance Company of the Philippines to Bollywood stars, top-class jazz musicians and native Maoris dancers — descend upon the city in a scintillating masala of cultures unseen anywhere else.

Also in town are sculptors, craftsmen and visual artists from different parts of the world, who turn some parts of the city, such as Diyafa Road, Al Seef Street and the Heritage Village into virtual open-air galleries.


Though most visitors come from neighbouring GCC countries, an increasing number of Europeans, Iranians, Iraqis, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and other East Asians are also coming, according to the Dubai Commerce and Tourism Marketing, the government’s main tourism-promotion arm.

On regular days, Dubai gets about 40,000 tourists per day. This shot up to 96,875 per day during DSF 2004, according to Dubai’s immigration department.
This year, officials expect the numbers to increase further. Visitors to Dubai, especially families coming in for the festival, are welcomed at the airport by a multinational group of 100-plus volunteers that speak 37 different languages.
“Most of the expatriates who come here finds the city’s well-paved streets, charming buildings and top-class infrastructure a pleasurable experience,” said Vicky Elabd, a Westerner who lives in Dubai, as she checked out paintings of Iraqi artists at their national pavilion in Global Village.

Because women are allowed to drive here, many Saudi women have quietly moved to Dubai.

“The UAE enriches its own culture by embracing others,” K. Suleiman, a Saudi office manager who works here.

Khalid Al Shami, an accountant from Al Ahsa, in eastern Saudi Arabia, recently took 10 members of family for a week-long vacation to Dubai.
“I’ve been here five times before. The cityscape keeps on changing with each visit. Dubai is a city without fear of trying new ideas,” said Al Shami.

When Dubai opened its property sector to foreign ownership under the freehold scheme in 2002, the move raised some eyebrows among some of its neighbours.

By throwing in a residence visa with every freehold property bought, the emirate has virtually given a second citizenship to any foreign buyer.

Dubai has become an example of how a country can be transformed in one generation. Its oil trade now accounts for less than 10 percent of its GDP.
Many people outside the UAE still can’t believe the much-publicised Palm Islands project.
What they don’t realise, however, is that in addition to the first one, Palm Island Jumeirah, Dubai is now building two more — Palm Islands Jebel Ali and Deira.

“Dubai just amazes me,” says Rajini Apiah, a teacher from India, who snapped up a mini DV camera and DVD recorders from Jumbo.

Not everything is perfect. The tsunami has affected Dubai’s property market, especially the seaward developments.

Still, its been reported famous football players such as David Beckham and other celebrities are bidding for a patch of the frond. With the world’s most luxurious hotel, the Burj Al Arab, Dubai is now building what is reportedly the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, expected to be completed in 2007.

Since the government has introduced “freehold” ownership in 2002, other parts of the UAE and other countries in the Gulf have followed suit, or are at least contemplating similar steps.

Top 10 DSF destinations

1. Global Village at Dubailand on the Emirates Road, with 46 national pavilions in 17.2 million sq.ft. arena. Open for 79 days (from January 12th to March 31), served by 50 buses to shuttle public from different points of Dubai to the Village (average fare is Dh2 (70¢); food has 60 restaurants and four main cafés, 75 kiosks for the retail sector, a 6,000-seat amphitheatre and a 4,000 sqm man-made lake. Products showcased range from traditional household items to furniture, foodstuff, garments, antiques, jewellery, education and universities, handicrafts and gift items, etc.

2. Al Shindagha Zone allows visitors to have a chance to learn more about the UAE and the region's heritage and culture.

3. Dubai Carnivals, which bring various DSF venues bustling with entertainment activities.

4. Night Souq offers unbeatable prices for shoppers.

5. Desert Camp, a hive of traditional activities.

6. Prizes galore - raffles for cash, cars and gold.

7. Public parks offer various interesting activities for all age groups.

8. Al Seef Road

9. Al Riqqa Road

10. Al Muraqqabat Road


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