How a tiny city became one of the world’s biggest shopping destinations

How a tiny city became one of the world’s biggest shopping destinations

I was back in Dubai last week looking at stores and meeting with brand owners wanting to export to Australia and New Zealand. I am still amazed at how much the idea of being the best shopping destination in the world has now driven the majority of investment and jobs in Dubai.

I used to live in Dubai in the early days of the small city state deciding, and then implementing, its plan to be the best shopping destination in the Middle East. But at the time nobody was coming to Dubai to shop. In fact nobody was coming to Dubai. So Dubai looked north to Dublin and south to Hong Kong; Dublin because it had a large, duty free retail trade based upon the flights between North America and Europe needing to stop and refuel there, and Hong Kong’s booming duty free for the same reason, but due to flights stopping between Europe and Asia Pacific.

Sheikh Rashid and his then young son Sheikh Mohammed decided to build the best duty free offering they possibly could. Dubai had always been a duty free port for commerce, so why not apply those skills to duty free shopping for individual shoppers. They recruited two key execs out of Shannon Duty Free in Ireland and started the journey.

When Dubai Duty Free won multiple awards for “Best Duty Free in the World” for a number of years, and shoppers were choosing flights based upon their desire to ‘fly via Dubai’, the Al Maktoum family then made the bold decision to start their own airline, and Emirates was born to fly shoppers to Dubai on Dubai’s airline.

Then they needed a reason for shoppers to leave the airport and stay in Dubai to spend money and create jobs in Dubai. So they built malls and hotels. Now Dubai city is tiny – smaller than greater Sydney. Yet it now has 113 shopping malls, and 395 five star hotels, plus two seven star hotels. It has the tallest building on the planet. Built on sand, above a shopping mall. All of it planned to bring tourist shoppers to Dubai to shop and to holiday.

Every retail brand in the world wants to be in Dubai, creating millions of jobs at all levels of retail. And malls of every shape, size and offering. From the glitz and glamour of the Mall Of The Emirates (MOE to the locals) and Dubai Mall under the Burj Al Khalifa, to the Chinese focused Dragon Mall.

The Dragon Mall is a clever mall frequented by people wanting to buy stuff in bulk to sell through their own stores in other countries or buy for their home in other countries. It’s alongside a huge COCSO – China’s sea freight company – warehouse. This allows containers to come straight in, be broken down and the contents cross-docked. This means that shoppers buying their new kitchen or bathroom or windows for the home they’re building can have it delivered to their home in any country. This is big shopping on a borderless scale, and allows big business to trade from Dubai with thousands of small businesses across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Just like Singapore I am impressed by the vision of the leadership in Dubai to create commerce around tourism and retailing. Not big factories to produce, just thousands of stores to sell and hundreds of hotels to cater for the foot weary, money-spending tourist shopper. A plan for Brisbane and its north and south coasts perhaps?

Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings.




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