Organisers keep some festivities for this year's shopping event

The violence in Gaza and the global economic crisis make the Dubai Shopping Festival a more sombre affair this year.

Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // The violence in Gaza and the global economic crisis are making the Dubai Shopping Festival a more sombre affair this year. The Festival Centre, near Dubai Creek, will be one of the Red Crescent Authority's main collection points for donations of money and clothing for Palestinians during the event, which is traditionally a time of heavily discounted shopping.

A festival spokeswoman said a decision to cancel the opening ceremony and fireworks display, which would have taken place yesterday, was made to show respect for victims of the Israeli attacks. Tom Miles, the general manager of Festival Centre, the event's main venue, confirmed that not all festivities had been dropped. "We ride on the edge of that line, trying to keep a balance," he said. "We also want to get people excited to escape the harsher realities of life. It's the same with Hollywood. If you look at the movies during the Great Depression, they helped people forget about their worries."

The Festival Street Fair, featuring roller coaster rides, events and market stalls, will still be held along the Dubai Creek, and the mall will hold daily performances by the Chinese State Circus and the Shaolin Wu-Shu Warriors. The Egyptian singer Tamer Hosni will be perform a concert today. The same number of sales are expected to be held as last year, when the event attracted between 10,000 and 15,000 people a day.

To entice more tourists to visit during the festival, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has encouraged hotels to discount their rates by between 40 and 60 per cent and reduce food and drink prices by a quarter. Dubai's hotel occupancy rates have slid by as much as 25 per cent this year because of the economic crisis and an increase in the number of rooms in the city. Consumer confidence has slumped as well: more than 75 per cent of UAE residents say they are trying to save more money and are less willing to spend than they were six months ago, according to new data provided by MasterCard, the credit card company.

Mr Miles said discounts were expected to be particularly deep this year because of the financial crisis. "We've always needed to be pretty aggressive in the past," he said. "This year, because of the downturn in the global economy, everyone is looking to ratchet it up a notch or two." The festival was launched in 1996 to boost tourism and has ballooned into the emirate's biggest retail and tourism event.

The 2008 edition brought 3.2 million visitors to Dubai, who spent about Dh10 billion (US$2.7bn) in 32 days. The combined 2006/2007 edition, which lasted 45 days, saw 3.5m visitors who spent Dh10.2bn.