Dubai Shopping Festival lures thousands of Saudi tourists

With a week off work to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, many are being lured to the Emirates thanks to the Dubai Shopping Festival, cooler weather and numerous flight options.

With a week off work to mark Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, many Saudis are being lured to the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
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Thousands of Saudi Arabians are flocking to the UAE as they celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

With a week off work to mark the occasion, many are being lured to the Emirates thanks to the Dubai Shopping Festival, cooler weather and numerous flight options.

"Dubai is really nice this time of year and we wanted to take advantage of the shopping festival and maybe pick up a few things," said Abdulla Al Mussall, who was at the Mall of the Emirates with his wife and two young children. "We like coming here during holidays as it's very near and there are a lot of things for us and the children to do.

"Normally we stay for a few days in Dubai and then maybe go to Fujairah. It's a nice change of scenery."

The UAE has long been popular with Saudis thanks to the diverse activities on offer.

And visitors from the Kingdom are an important tourism market, experts say.

In 2011, about 874,000 Saudis visited the UAE, with 540,000 in the first half of the year, estimated the Saudi information and tourism research centre. About 150,000 Saudis flew to Dubai during Eid Al Adha last year.

Laila Mohammed Suhail, the chief executive of Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment, which organises the Dubai Shopping Festival, said the Kingdom's residents were an important market.

"We always factor this target market when planning for the festival," she said. "We make sure that we have a diversified list of events that cater to their needs of having family entertainment events in its best form.

"We expect a notable surge of Saudi families to Dubai in the last week of the event and we are very sure that they will find a great festive ambience across the city, while enjoying the entertainment, winning opportunities and great shopping promotions."

The shopping festival was the attraction for Mohammed Abdelaziz, who travelled with his family from the western Saudi province of Asir.

"I am here for the shopping festival and I want to purchase electronics, which are on great offer at this time," he said.

His three children, aged 7, 10 and 12, said they wanted to enjoy Dubai's signature attractions, such as Ski Dubai and the water parks.

"I heard a lot about Dubai Ski and I am excited to go there," said his eldest son, Bandar.

At The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, Fahad Al Qahtani and Mishaal Mabrook said they booked their holiday to enjoy the shopping festival and take a break from their office work in Riyadh.

"We drove down to Dubai as it made better sense than travelling to Europe at this time of year," said Mr Mabrook, a banker.

"We made a road trip out of it but we were supposed to make a big trip with more friends who were not able to come."

Abu Dhabi has also attracted large numbers of Saudi tourists this week.

Hatham Khaleel Abdullah, from Jeddah, was enjoying coffee at Abu Dhabi International Sports Club in front of Marina Mall.

"I came here with my family and kids, most of the time we come here," he said. "This is my first trip this year but last year I came three times. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both fantastic places to unwind."

Umm Najlah spent yesterday shopping at Marina Mall. "I drove here three days back in my own vehicle," she said. "We stayed in Dubai but today we came to visit Abu Dhabi.

"It's always good to visit the Emirates - they offer plenty of places to unwind and variety of sports activities for my children."

Etihad Airways runs 42 return flights each week from Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia and all have a very high occupancy rate throughout the year.

"We fly 16 flights to Dammam weekly, 13 to Riyadh and 13 to Jeddah from Abu Dhabi International Airport," a spokeswoman said. "This is a very important market for us due to its business and religious importance."

Emirates Airline is increasing the number of flights to the Kingdom from February 2.

Flights to Riyadh will increase from 17 to 28 a week, Jeddah will go from 18 to 21, and Dammam will have 13 flights a week, up from seven.