Flakes of snow drift to the ground while laughing children throw snowballs at each other and a woman in a ski suit covered by a burqa toboggans down a hill. The idyllic Alpine scene is rendered somewhat surreal because it is in a shopping mall in Dubai, it is mid-July and the temperature outside is 47°C. Ski Dubai, the indoor snow park and ski slope, is enjoying a surge in popularity due to regional tourists flocking to the emirate, its operator says.
This has led to an increase of between 5 and 10 per cent in revenues in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year, and a forecast that this month is on track to be one of Ski Dubai's most successful yet, says Lucas Marchand, the operations manager. "We're amazed every day," Mr Marchand says. "It seems that bringing snow and bringing the mountain experience to people who haven't had a chance to experience it is a winner.
"People want to see snow and there are so many people in this region who haven't had the chance to enjoy snow that they just keep on coming, and to be frank they don't have any other place where they can do it." Mr Marchand says the region is the biggest market for Ski Dubai, with large numbers of customers coming from the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in particular. He says only about 30 per cent of these tourists ski at Ski Dubai, with most choosing to use it as a leisure park. But the interest in skiing builds up as customers keep returning.
"We're slowly creating the ski culture," Mr Marchand says. "Most of the regional people play with the snow, they take some luge and tubing rides, and eventually they ride up and down on the chairlift. "The challenge for us is how we can create products to encourage people to start skiing and snowboarding and pick it up as a sport." Last year, Ski Dubai attracted 750,000 customers and there is likely to be a slight increase this year, he says. Last year was flat in terms of visitors compared with 2008.
"There was not the growth that we used to have but we were expecting a harder time than we had," Mr Marchand says. The attraction has also managed to increase its revenues by launching more costly passes that cover more activities within Ski Dubai, he says. Despite the fact that 30 tonnes of snow are produced a day and the temperature in Ski Dubai has to be kept at minus-1°C, the operation is still profitable, Mr Marchand says.
"To keep running the business, it's not so difficult because it has been so well built," he says. "The insulation is about 5 metres thick. "It is a profitable business. It's more profitable than we expected because the numbers are bigger than we expected." email@example.com