Over 6,000 retail outlets expected to participate

Dubai: The Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (Depe) has an official mandate from the Government of Dubai to boost the emirate’s retail and events sector through year-round attractions.

So far, 2011 has been a challenging year to do business globally — political upheaval in the region, nuclear disaster in Japan and soaring commodity prices. Gulf News talks to Laila Suhail, chief executive of Depe on organising the Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) amid these dramatic circumstances. 

Gulf News: The duration of DSS has been cut short this year. Why?

Laila Suhail: Dubai Summer Surprises 2011 is the shortest in the history of the event. Numerous factors are taken into account when deciding on how long DSS or other festivals organised by Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (Depe) should run.

The GCC is a key target market for DSS so the festival ideally starts when school holidays begin across the region. This is an important factor for families that decide to go on a holiday during summer.

Additionally, Ramadan is scheduled to begin in August, so obviously we cannot extend DSS beyond July.

Given these circumstances, Depe created a campaign called ‘Summer in Dubai’ that would encompass Dubai Summer Surprises, Modhesh World, Ramadan in Dubai, and Eid in Dubai (Eid Al Fitr). So despite the fact that DSS is five weeks long, residents and visitors can expect an exciting summer of over three months.

What is the budget allocated for this year? Is it more or less than last year and why?

The budget of DSS 2011 stands as last year’s budget of around Dh60 million. 

How many retail outlets are participating this year?

Over 6,000 retail outlets are expected to participate in this year’s DSS. 

What new marketing initiatives will you be taking and which platforms will you be concentrating your marketing efforts on?

Like every year, Depe will be embarking on a GCC road show to promote “Summer in Dubai” and its components.

This road show will also include Depe strategic partners such as Emirates and Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). Also, we are trying to increase our exposure through diversifying the marketing channels. So we are looking to make the most of social media, which has a wide and credible reach across the GCC today.

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are as popular as conventional media among the youth and we believe that social media represents word of mouth which is the strongest form of marketing. 

People from Dubai usually leave town for the summer and tourists from the area often go to destinations with cooler weather — factors leading to lower footfall. How will you be dealing with this?

In the absence of any reliable statistics, it is only assumed that the majority of residents leave Dubai during summer. In our experience, the resident market is as important as the visitor segment during DSS. Additionally,

DSS has helped position Dubai as a family holiday destination, with its logo “big fun for little ones.” Vacationers from across the region are more likely to choose Dubai as a secure, affordable, and family oriented summer destination. 

What are your expectations for footfall in shopping malls this year compared to 2010?

Due to the summer season’s challenging weather, shopping malls become the main destination for all visitors and shoppers.

However, footfall has become highly unpredictable in the past few years. Nevertheless, we have done our homework and we are very optimistic that we will witness an increased number of shoppers this year. Dubai’s retail is focused on offering value added shopping experiences to shoppers. It is notable that the majority of DSS visitors are GCC nationals who are also among the highest spenders. 

From which income bracket of shoppers are you expecting the most footfall?

With more than 6,000 shops participating in DSS 2011 with a wide spectrum of promotions and sales offers, each sector of the community will be able to enjoy the shopping aspect of the summer fiesta. Depe makes sure that the promotions offer something for everyone, hence we are expecting the effective participation of all levels of income earners in Dubai. 

From which countries are you expecting the most visitors this year? And who is your target market?

GCC and Mena are generally the main target markets for DSS. We don’t expect any major shift in this strategy this year. 

How are you co-operating with retail, tourism and airlines sectors for a well-rounded DSS?

DSS always enjoys unique support through the collaboration of private and public sectors to add value to the event. Retailers come together to offer the best promotions and discounts in the region during DSS. Tour operators prepare special packages during the summer fiesta to attract more families, hotels also offer visitors reduced prices and added value packages, while major airlines create innovative packages that includes offering children free tickets during DSS. 

How would you evaluate Dubai’s retail sector now, following the economic crisis and the regional political unrest?

In a recent Nielsen study, UAE ranked the eighth country globally in terms of regaining consumer confidence — one of the few countries that had a double digit increase. Depe will be building on these new facts to create innovative promotions that will help attract shoppers and encourage them to spend in a more positive way. On the other hand, retailers after the crisis are more aware now of the importance of maintaining and gaining new customers in these difficult times. So they will have to raise their customer service standards and make sure that shoppers get the maximum value for their purchases. 

Market research shows Abu Dhabi’s retail scene is picking up with the construction of more shopping malls, making it an attractive shopping destination for customers and retailers. How do you see this development?

We feel that Abu Dhabi and Dubai complement each other’s efforts to attract tourists to the UAE in general. It is a very well known fact that most of the visitors to Abu Dhabi tend to spend a few days in Dubai and vice versa.

Hence, we don’t really see this as competition but as joint efforts to position UAE as the shopping and events hub in the region. On the other hand, Dubai enjoys one of the highest retail space per capita in the region with more than 50 shopping malls. Dubai will always have the edge in terms of being a leading shopping destination. 

The political turmoil in the Middle East has made many tourists reluctant to come to the region while some foreigners tend to lump all the countries here together without distinguishing between them. Will this reduce the number of visitors to Dubai?

On the contrary, the modern-day traveller is well-informed of happenings in the Middle East and is able to distinguish clearly between destinations. The target market for DSS is the GCC whose citizens are aware of Dubai as a safe destination and hence we expect increased interest from this region.