Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Thoughts on Shopping

Following on from the story about Ibn Batutta Mall (IBM). Towards the end of this year the Mall of the Emirates will open. This will be the world's biggest mall for a few years, until the Dubai Mall beside Burj Dubai opens. Mall of the Emirates also includes an indoor ski slope and a hotel - I believe the mall is already fully-let. It is being developed by the owners of Deira City Centre, which is certainly Dubai's most successful mall up till now.

The developers of IBM and MotE have both realised that the most critical factor for a successful mall is accessibility and parking. IBM built its own interchange on Sheikh Zayed Road, and Mall of the Emirates paid for an access bridge directly onto their site when the Police College Interchange was converted from a roundabout into spaghetti last year.

There are those nay-sayers who wonder whether Dubai can sustain these developments, but I believe it can. IBM is perfectly placed to serve 'New Dubai'. Within a 15 minute drive you have the Gardens, Dubai Marina, the Greens, Emirates Lakes and Emirates Hills and the Meadows. Within 3 years you will also have Discovery Gardens, Jumeirah Beach Residence and the Palm Jumeirah within the 15-minute drive area (when the roads are finished!). This will probably represent a population of about half a million affluent people. Within a 1-hour drive of IBM you can include the entire population of Dubai - currently put at 1.3 million and rising. Within a 90-minute drive you can include all of Abu Dhabi City, another 800,000 people. But a major factor driving retail growth in Dubai is its positioning in the regional market. You actually do get gazillions of people coming from the other Gulf States - shopping as tourism. It doesn't do a lot for me personally, but there are plenty of people out there who just do not have access to the range of goodies we have in Dubai, and who do come here just to buy stuff.

Up until about 5 years ago there was a different kind of tourism shopping. Nouveau riche Russians and CISers would come here, wallets bulging with dollars, and buy as many TVs, VCRs, mobile phones and other items of electrical gadgetry as they could. If you wandered around Deira, you would often see these items stacked on the pavement outside hotels because the hotels had nowhere else to store them.

It was all a bit puzzling to someone who grew up with these things as a matter of course. But then you cast your mind back to any image you've ever seen of Russian domestic technology, and you can see the appeal of a 29" flat-screen colour TV over an antiquated, valve-driven, black-and-white telly with a 5" circular screen mounted in a wooden box the size of a filing cabinet.

But I digress. As one of the world's major ports, Dubai has easy access to any goods kicking about on the world market. And as a major retail market we have most of the big names in 'luxury' goods beating a path to the door. But we also have the old soukhs, and these are very appealing too, especially to Westerners. How much do you pay for about 10 strands of saffron at a supermarket in the West? I'll tell you, you pay about 10 times too much! Saffron here is ridiculously cheap. And gold and jewellery? Persian rugs? Hand-embroidered silk garments?

I tell ya, if buying stuff is your thing, Dubai is the place to buy it.