THE CALL OF THE MALL

Dubai 2016 | TOURISM & RETAIL | FOCUS: MUSLIM TRAVEL SHOPPING

Dubai has transformed itself from a local trading community into an epicenter of sand, sun, and shopping. The Emirate has also emerged as a prime destination for Muslim tourists.

Dubai has positioned itself as the cornerstone of the region's shopping and travel habits. After years of maneuvering itself into the crown position as the Islamic economic capital of the world, those visiting the Emirate are bringing increasing spending power with them.

By 2020 the percentage of Muslim visitors to the UAE is estimated to be 61.2% of the total inbound tourism into the country, roughly 13.13 million people. Political and social unrest in other regional tourist destinations has led to an increase in the number of visitors to the UAE looking for safety, security, and shopping. Saudi Arabia, Europe, and Asian countries are the Emirate's top providers of visitors. The CEO of Strategy and Tourism Sector Development at the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Dubai (DTCM) Ahmad Belhoul has stated that growth was largely driven by the UAE's efforts to attract tourists by investing in tourism infrastructure such as shopping malls.

Following heavy investment, it is no surprise that Dubai has been ranked the number one destination in the world for Muslims to travel to for shopping, according to a report released by MasterCard and CrescentRating, the world's leading authority on halal-friendly travel. The Muslim Travel Shopping Index (MTSI) 2015 was released during MasterCard's Innovation Forum in Kuala Lumpur. The MTSI ranks destinations based on a number of factors, such as Muslim-friendly services and facilities, ease of travel, and family friendliness. Dubai scored highly across all of the categories, particularly in its prayer space access, safe travel score, halal dining options, airport services and facilities, and Muslim visitor shopping expenditure. Trailing Dubai's lead were Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, London, and Istanbul.

The seemingly endless provision of options, choice, and variety is one of the keys to Dubai's shopping success. The Dubai Mall, The Galleria, the World Trade Centre Mall, and Yas Mall are world-renowned shopping centers. The former, Dubai Mall, is one of the world's largest shopping malls and contains prayer rooms for both men and women throughout.

The Mall was also ranked the number-one destination for shopping in the city, followed by Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Center, according to a survey by research firm YouGov. The survey also revealed that people in Dubai visit Deira City Center mall on average eight times a month, with men visiting more often than women. By the same poll, the best new mall in Dubai was The Beach (JBR), followed by Shindagha City Center. Globally, travel and tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers and contributes 9% to global GDP. The Muslim travel industry is a strongly emerging segment within the travel sector and looks likely to have a sustained impact on the way tourist destinations look to attract retail tourists. According to Pew Research, one out of three people born between 1990 and 2030 will be Muslim, increasing the population to 2.2 billion by 2030. Already, the total expenditure of Muslim travelers visiting the 40 cities included in the MTSI report amounted to $36 billion in 2014. Of this total expenditure, $9.3 billion (26%) was spent on shopping, an amount not to be sniffed at during the low oil price environment.

Recognition of this growing retail space means many international designers are increasingly catering specifically to the Islamic market. The MTSI study pointed out that 40% of respondents spent their money on Islamic clothing and accessories. The market is responding, with DKNY, for example, releasing a Ramadan collection exclusively for the Arabian Gulf. Karl Lagerfeld also brought his Chanel Cruise Collection this year to Dubai, unveiling an array of designs inspired by Middle Eastern culture and tradition.