Dubai is now gearing up for the World Expo 2020; Dubai Shopping Festival kicks off a year-long agenda of shopping-related events. (Photo courtesy of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Marketing)

Dubai, a Rapidly Growing Hub and Shopping Haven


JANUARY 09, 2015

Dubai is a place where the seemingly impossible happens. Skyscrapers stand tall above the sands; islands and beaches are made by men. From the world's biggest indoor ski slope to the world's tallest property, the emirate is constantly stealing headlines with their world-class facilities and ambitious projects.

For common travelers, Dubai is a popular connecting hub to reach any city in Europe or America. Emirates, their home airline, is the largest in Middle East. Dubai's biggest goal to date is not yet another world's biggest or tallest facility, but to be more than just the center point that connects 150 million passengers a day. It wants world travelers to come in and see what they have to offer.

According to Shahab Abdulla Shayan, the head of external affairs for overseas offices at the department of tourism and commerce marketing (DTCM), Dubai is currently gearing up for the World Expo 2020.

Two years ago, Dubai won the bid to host the prestigious, six-month event. Infrastructure development required is currently underway. Since then, the DCTM has also launched a tourism program to welcome 20 million tourists a year.

The program has been approved by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

"The Expo win is testament to Dubai's significance as a world-class destination not only for tourism, but also for business," Shayan said.

The Expo is expected to bring in around 25 million visitors, which means a significant boost for the economy.

There are plenty of things to do in Dubai, but shopping is the ultimate answer. It is because Dubai malls offer a shopping experience unlike any other.

With over 95 shopping malls, Dubai brings some of the most famous outlets like Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales and Fortnum and Mason closer to shoppers. Malls also double their function as family entertainment destinations, offering ice skating rinks, indoor theme parks, gigantic aquarium, dancing fountains, skydiving, skiing and snowboarding.

In Dubai, malls are thematic and hugely inspired by world's famous icons. The Ibn Battuta Mall is divided into various country-themed sections, such as Andalucia, China and Egypt. The Egyptian-themed Wafi Mall allows guests to explore pyramids. Mercarto Mall brings the atmosphere of an Italian village. And DragonMart, a marketplace in the shape of a dragon, has become the largest Chinese trading hub outside China.

It makes sense for Dubai to focus on indoor entertainment. In summer months, the temperature could go as high as 45 degrees Celcius, with humidity averaging over 90 percent. This is also why Dubai is the perfect winter escape for citizens of four-season countries. December and January are the best time to visit Dubai, where temperatures are around 20 degrees Celcius, and there is one festival after another.

At the Dubai Shopping Festival, which runs through Feb. 1, is a kickoff to Dubai's year-long agenda. Laila Mohammed Suhail, the chief executive of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), said that the current Shopping Festival is historical, as it marks their 20th anniversary.

To celebrate the big moment, they are hosting Celebration Nights, a mega-concert series that will give residents and visitors a chance to dance with 20 superstars of the Arab world. The biggest of its kind in the region, the lineup features Saudi singer Mohammad Abdo, Emirati superstar Hussan Al Jassmi, Iraqi singer Majed Mohandes, Eqyptian pop star Amr Diab, and Lebanese legend Nancy Ajram, among many others.

"We are committed to offering an array of world-class events befitting the festival's momentous milestone," she said.

The concert is held at Dubai Media City Amphitheater, an outdoor venue with capacity of 5,000 people at a single performance.

Shopping in Dubai is not complete without a visit to its traditional souks . To get an outfit done by a tailor in a matter of days, head to the Satwa and Karama districts. At Dubai's Creek, a huge lack of five-star hotels and fancy restaurants reveals another charming side of the emirate. The textile souk, spice souk and gold souk offer a truly quintessential Arabian shopping experience, where aromas of saffron fills the air and glittering gold from every corner catch your gaze.

Weekend starts on Friday in Dubai. On Fridays, you can either go for a picnic brunch, or head to the weekly Ripe Market at Zabeel Park. It's where local artisans sell their homemade arts and crafts and farmers sell organic produce. For yet another worldly experience, the Global Village has 37 lavish pavilions to showcase indigenous products from 65 countries, such as honey from Yemen, carpets from Iran and wooden pots from Africa.

Linda Abdul Hay, the director of public relations at Atlantis the Palm, is of Lebanese ancestry but was born and raised in Dubai. She recalls spending her childhood in the desert city as it changed, especially over the last decade, into rapidly transforming and hip tourist destination.

"I saw everything, from just a desert to place where you find buildings to buildings. It's overwhelming, but Dubai is now a place where opportunities are created," she said.

"We have over 185 nationalities in Dubai, and people come to Dubai to work and live and establish life, and you get a lot of experience especially in multinational companies."

Hay said she travels a lot, and compared to other developed countries all over the world, she thinks Dubai offers a unique experience in both destinations and hospitality. The Atlantis, for example, has around 400 employees from 85 nationalities.

"I always say we are a city inside a city," she said. "There are certain nationalities who are good in providing service, or in cooking and serving food. The combination of nationalities really add the flavor and it formularize something special in our hospitality."

In the future, Dubai will have a lot more to offer. It is currently building four amusement parks that are affiliated with toymaker Lego, Dreamworks, Sony Pictures and Bollywood. By 2020, Dubai will have the new Al Maktoum airport, a bigger Port of Jebel Ali and the upcoming Etihad Rail -- intriguing not only for connecting passengers, but also for families looking for lavish getaway.

The Jakarta Globe was invited on a media tour to Dubai, sponsored by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Emirates airline.