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Suneeti Ahuja-Kohli / 24 January 2013
Is it consumerism on steroids or genuine celebratory spend? Humble beginnings of shopping festivals and other annual events in countries around the world have turned into grandiose events that spare no chance to spur retail business, bolster the tourism sector and significantly impact the nerve centres of the economies.
While sceptics will always question the exuberance and hype surrounding shopping and other festivals and attribute marketing tactics and shrewd PR activities to the success of such events, the truth, however, is that countries globally are increasingly using such events to lure the globetrotting population of enthusiastic tourists and shoppers to lubricate and revitalise their economies.
A Mexican group performs a dance at Dubai Festival City as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival entertainment activities. — KT photo by Rahul Gajjar
The popularity of Dubai Shopping Festival, organised by the Dubai Events and Promotion Establishment in our glitzy emirate, provides corroborating evidence. According to the study conducted by DEPE, the shopping festival organised in 2012 gave a Dh14.7-billion boost to the economy of the emirate. But is it the best shopping extravaganza, as it is often portrayed as, or are there better events out there that rake in more moolah for its sponsors and countries? The main contenders are Singapore Sale and the Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival.
Dubai Shopping Festival
The festival took shape in 1996 in a bid to reduce the emirate’s reliance on oil business for revenue and diversify the economy into retail and service sectors, and at the same time, place Dubai on the world map as the destination for shopping and tourism. Looking at the numbers sourced from DEPE, the organisers, it seems the efforts were fruitful.
The festival has consistently seen growth in terms of scale of participants, celebrations, spending by the government and, of course, consumers and tourist attraction, the most important criterion of all.
Visitors: The earliest data available is for DSF 2001, when the festival attracted 2.1 million visitors. The total count of visitors since then has risen more than 100 per cent at 4.3 million last year and according to the officials this year, the number is expected to rise by 7 per cent.
Spending: Likewise, the spending too has marked a significant rise. The stimulus provided by the event to the economy has surged considerably from Dh4.6 billion spent by tourists and residents during DSF 2002 to Dh15.1 billion in 2011 — amounting to almost five per cent of the emirate’s GDP of Dh306.2 billion in the same year. In 2012, the event brought in more than Dh14.7 billion, equivalent of $1billion per week. Total shopping spend during DSF 2012 rose from Dh8.7 billion to Dh8.9 billion and accommodation spend stood at Dh2.8 billion.
“Two in five international visitors (40 per cent) planned and timed their visits to Dubai because of the festival. Around half (48 per cent) of the visitors made the trip to Dubai during DSF after hearing about the festival from friends and family members. The 18th edition has attracted more than 70 participating shopping malls and 6,000 shops, offering up to 75 per cent off on a range of retail brands as well as daily Mega Raffles offering luxurious Infiniti cars and gold as prizes,” says Laila Suhail, Director-General, DEPE.
DSF 2012 attracted more than 4.36 million visitors, up from just under 3.98 million in 2011, representing an increase of approximately nine per cent; and the DSF attendance numbers rose across the board. Dubai residents visiting the festival are up from 1.32 million to 1.54 million, whereas the number of visitors from other emirates increased from 1.77 million to 1.93 million and that of international visitors from 885,000 to 895,000.
The growth of tourism in Dubai, courtesy of such shopping festivals, has had a positive effect on peripheral industries as well, such as food, accommodation and transport, which register a boom in sales around the festival period. During the current edition, Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group has clocked sales of Dh134.5 million, a growth of over 52 per cent compared with last year. Jumbo Electronics, too, has noted a 50 per cent rise in its tablet and smartphone sales and a healthy growth in business is reported by airlines, hotels and restaurants as well.
Performers dressed up like robots entertain visitors at The Promenade in Dubai Festival City. — KT photo by Mukesh Kamal
“Any consideration of retail tourism should also recognise the positive economic impact it has on associated sectors including food, accommodation and transport. Indeed it is argued that the overall economic effect of shopping tourism is more than double the shopping expenditure when spending on food, accommodation and transport is taken into account,” states “Shopping as a Driver for Tourism”, a study of the impact of festivals and events on economies.
The Great Singapore Sale
An initiative of the Singapore government to propel retail sales and increase tourism to the country, the Great Singapore Sale (GSS), was first organised in 1994. It is an eight-week shopping festival (between May and July) that has increased in popularity in the last 18 years and considerably helped prop up the number of tourists in the region. According to local media reports, GSS clocked retail sales of S$6.1 billion (equivalent to Dh17.69 billion) in June and July 2011, which is a 10.6 per cent increase from 2010. Around 2.3 million visitors arrived in Singapore during GSS 2011, marking an increase of 15 per cent year on year.
Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival
The shopping industry has a played a significant role in the Malaysian economy, attracting millions of tourists to its shores every year. As it is, shopping holds the second biggest share of tourist expenditures after accommodation. The Malaysian government held the first Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival (Usually held in June-August) in 2000, when shopping only constituted 23.1 per cent of total tourist expenditures. In 2011, it constituted about 26.8 per cent of total tourist expenditures. The country holds three other shopping festivals too that are very popular and bring in a lot of investment for the country.
Taiwan Shopping Festival
Taiwan is the latest one to join the bandwagon of shopping festivals. To provide a “synergy effect” and provide a shot in the arm to businesses, the island country launched its first-ever nationwide shopping festival. The nine-week-long event involved participation from domestic supermarkets, department stores, shopping malls, jewellers, bakeries, and even online stores, targeting consumers from home and abroad, said Chen Wei-ta, a section chief at the Economics Ministry, the organising body, in an interview to Taiwanese media. The organisers are looking at upgrading and creating a platform comparable with other successful events in the region like the Hong Kong and Singapore shopping festivals.
The event is expected to have generated $308.2 million business.
Why people attend them?
There are multiple reasons why consumers attend such events, explains Sridhar Samu, Professor – Marketing, Indian School of Business. One is the belief that the items are on sale and that they will get a good bargain. Like in the case of most such sales, companies offer discounts up to 70 to 80 per cent: “Second is the perception that much higher variety will be available at such events (mostly true). The third reason is the exciting things held along with such shopping events. For example, airlines could offer deals to attend such events, giving an added bonus to people wanting to visit the country or the event.”
Besides this, a prestige factor is also associated with attending such events. “Not only will you be seen with the other “rich” people, but one could also claim that they have attended such sessions/events. Parallels could be drawn to people buying products on the day of the sale or attending the US presidential inauguration. The snob value of being present at such events could be fairly high,” says Samu.
How does DEPE fare?
Since most of the shopping festivals organised by other countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, run for eight to eleven weeks, it will be unfair to compare DSF, which is usually for four weeks, to these events. Therefore, looking at the strategy of DEPE to split the shopping festival in two: one DSF, organised at the beginning of the year, and other, DSS, during the second half, seems to be working wonders for the domestic economy. It has surely succeeded in raking in moolah for the retail and tourism industry.
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