Retreat of Russian shoppers fails to dent Dubai retailers

Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:24am EST
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By Sagarika Jaisinghani

DUBAI (Reuters) - Russian shoppers caught in a currency crunch are staying away from the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) this year, but visitors from elsewhere look set to make up the numbers at the annual retail bonanza.

Every January, Dubai is decked out in lights, banners and roadside ornaments heralding the event. Luxury boutiques staffed with Russian and Cantonese speakers promise generous discounts, and raffles offer cars as prizes.

Dubai, one of seven federal states in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has far smaller oil reserves than the capital Abu Dhabi, and its economy relies heavily on retail, tourism and international trade.

The DSF, being held this year from Jan. 1 to Feb. 1, contributes over $1 billion of retail sales to the emirate's economy and Russian shoppers have always been among the biggest spenders, along with Saudi Arabians and Americans.

This year, however, more Russians have stayed home for the orthodox Christmas holiday, which coincides with the opening week of the festival, thanks to a crippled rouble that has nearly halved against the U.S. dollar since July. The UAE dirham mirrors the dollar.

Russian travel operators in Dubai reported a sharp drop in the number of tours booked to the emirate compared with the same time last year, one by as much as 80 percent.

Dmitry, a 38-year-old Russian tourist in Dubai, said he was only able to afford the trip because he paid for his travel two months in advance.

"We had to cut down on shopping because the prices are much higher now in rouble terms," he said.   Continued...

Russian performers participate in the Dubai Shopping Festival at Dubai Festival City, January 22, 2015.REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah