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In pictures: 25 glorious years of Dubai Shopping Festival

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On February 15, 1996, the first edition of the Dubai Shopping Festival was launched, the brainchild of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Few envisioned that in 25 years, this idea would transform the emirate’s economy, generating billions worth in revenue through retail infusion and tourism traffic. As DSF 2019-2020 celebrates 25 years, Gulf News journeys back to the festival’s beginnings and progression through each milestone.

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1. February 15, 1996 – Dubai Shopping Festival launches: The 43-day festival stretching across the Deira district, with festivities spread across Al Rigga, Al Murqabbat and Al Nasr Square, was welcomed with much excitement. In its inaugural year, the festival raffled 121 Lexus GS300 cars and 43 kilos of gold and set the trend for world records with the world’s longest cake that stretched for 2.5km. The fireworks capped off the maiden event.

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2. Modelled on Great Singapore Sale – In an earlier interview with Gulf News, Avi Bhojani, Group CEO of Bates PanGulf Group in the days before DSF, spoke about bringing the ‘sale’ concept to Dubai. The Great Singapore Sale, launched a year before in 1994, served as initial model of DSF, Bhojani said.

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3. Global Village debuts – In its second year, 1997, DSF was shortened to a 31-day festival, kicking off on March 27. This second edition saw the launch of the Carpet Oasis (above) and Global Village. To encourage in-bound tourism, Emirates airlines offered discounts on air tickets and promoted the event inernationally.

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4. DSF adopts a theme and gives away 100 cars – The third edition of the festival was held under the theme, ‘Children of the World Meet in Dubai’ and succeeded in attracting large numbers of families and children with attractions like the Al Rigga and Al Seef Street Festivals. The ‘Nissan Patrol A Day’ Super Safari raffle was added to the event, while 102 Lexus cars were raffled in 31 days (March 19-April 18, 1998). An additional seven Lexus cars were given away to a single ticket holder on the last day of the event.

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5. Millennium Edition: longest gold chain – Under the theme ‘The Biggest Family Gathering of the Millennium’, the fourth edition (March 18-April 14, 1999) expanded to cover more activities, as families flocked to the illuminated street venues of Al Riqqa and Al Muraqabbat, Al Diyafah and Al Seef, which came alive with hundreds of fun events like the Smurfs Village, Planet Pepsi and Toy City. The world’s longest and heaviest gold chain was yet another record for DSF. The 238kg chain could be stretched 4.3km.

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6. One World. One Family. One Festival. 31 Rolls Royce raffled – A new slogan, ‘One World. One Family. One Festival’ was introduced in year 2000 and this would be a familiar refrain at DSF thereafter. The year also saw a record-breaking raffle promotion offering 31 Rolls Royce cars, plus 31 Nissan patrol cars and 57 kilos of gold.

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7. World’s richest horse race joins DSF – The highlight of the 2001 DSF was the $100,000 prize money offered during the ‘To Mother With Love’ promotion, which was in addition to the Dh100,000 weekly cash prize given to a lucky mother besides the raffle draws for 41 kilos of gold. The Dubai World Cup also consolidated itself as the world’s richest horse race and joined DSF.

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8. Dh6.2 million in prize money – By the following year, 2002, DSF had amped the prize money, giving away Dh200,000 in cash daily, across 31 days, along with raffling 41 kilos of gold.

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9. Night Souq unveiled – By 2003, ways to reinvent DSF were being adopted. Hence the introduction of retail concepts such as the Night Souq and the Desert Camp. Dubai also joined the ranks of the fashion capitals of the world by organising Dubai Fashion 2003. The first of the mega concerts also kicked off this year with artistes such as Whitney Houston, Bryan Adams, A.R. Rahman, Zakir Hussain and Jethro Tull performing live.

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10. Dubai Fashion ups the style stakes in 2004 – By the ninth edition of DSF, fashion formed the spine of this annual event. House of Dior, Christian Lacroix, Givenchy and Emanuel Ungaro were showcasing their unique collections on the catwalk. This DSF also saw a world record for the largest shopping trolley.

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11. 100 kilos of gold anyone? – The 10th edition, in 2005, was a landmark year for DSF with the Lexus Mega Raffle being rolled out to offer two cars plus Dh100,000 every day. But headline grabber was the Dubai City of Gold promotion, which offered 100 kilos of gold to one lucky winner besides the daily one kilo of gold and solitaire diamond prizes to shoppers. A number of other prizes were also raffled away including four villas by Emaar Properties and 10 Nissan Patrol cars.

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12. 11th and 12th editions combined to raffle 141 cars – A new 45-day festival format was unveiled for the combined 2006-2007 edition, bringing in top acts such as the globally-acclaimed Cirque du Soleil, along with the Dubai Balloon Festival. A total of 141 cars were raffled, along with 45 kilos of gold and cash prizes were given away in raffles. This edition also featured the ‘Largest Parade of Stretch Limousines and Convertible Cars'.

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13. From 5 to 40 malls participating – The success story of DSF saw more retail houses join in this economic boom, with 40 malls now signing on to offer entertainment and shopping packages for tourists, from only five malls participating in the inaugural year of 1996. A Dubai Records feature also saw the city host Guinness World Record events including the sewing of the largest kandoora.

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14. Bolstering the economy amidst the global financial crash – The 14th edition of DSF was conducted amidst the global economic meltdown. Yet, DSF 2009 brought out the big guns for its Dubai Fashion enterprise with shows by Saks Fifth Avenue, John Galliano (Middle East debut), and La Etoile. The Dubai Food Festival, a signature event of DSF, succeeded in gaining Dubai another entry in the record books with the ‘World’s Largest Dessert Buffet’ featuring 2,232 different kinds of dessert. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa was also opened during this edition of DSF.

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15. 150 events – DSF marked its 15th edition in 2010 with more than 150 local and international events. The popular street festivities made a comeback, while the Dubai International Jazz Festival was a key attraction of the festival.

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16. 74 cars and Dh6.2m in raffles – By 2011, the economy was back in the upswing and that was visible in the 74 cars raffled off during the 16th edition of DSF, with Dh.3.2m handed in cash, Dh3m in diamond promotions and 21kgs of gold. Dubai also saw one of the last few performances of Amy Winehouse during DSF before her untimely death a few months later.

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17. Longest musical fireworks – DSF 2012 started in its inimitable style with an opening ceremony that featured the longest ever synchronised musical fireworks display. The display took place over six kilometres by Dubai Creek.

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18. Dh14.7b pumped into economy – Ahead of DSF 2013, it was revealed that visitors spent around Dh14.7billion during DSF2012, with Dh8.9 billion of that amount spent on shopping alone.

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19. Dubai Metro’s fashion makeover – In the 18th edition of DSF, in 2013, Dubai Fashion boarded the Dubai Metro (above). Express Fashion hosted a live catwalk show that of both day and evening wear. While the first half of the journey up to Nakheel Harbour and Tower station saw daytime fashion being showcased, the return leg to the Dubai Mall was dedicated to evening wear.

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20. Dh114b pumped into Dubai’s economy- The first 18 shopping festivals attracted 47 million visitors who injected Dh114 billion into Dubai’s economy, according to numbers released by the Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE).

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21. 20th year of celebrations – DSF 2015 was a landmark edition under the theme, “20th Anniversary – A Journey of Celebrations’. The edition also brought to Dubai another Guinness World Record for ‘Dubai Celebration Chain’ – the longest handmade gold chain in the world at 5.522km in length and approximately 256kg in weight. The mega raffles this year included a gold promotion offering 100 kilos of gold and 40 carats of diamonds in prizes.

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22. 12-hour sales launched – A new retail promotion was launched in 2016, the 12-hour sale, which was launched at malls of the Majid Al Futtaim Group.

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23. Focus returns to shopping – While DSF shifted focus to fashion and entertainment in the growing up years, this 22nd edition of DSF saw shopping deals take centre stage. Super sales and raffles were the name of the game.

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24. Friday Surprise and the Final Weekend Sales launched – In 2018, the 23rd edition, new retail initiatives such as the Friday Surprise and the Final Weekend Sales were launched. Every Friday throughout DSF, there was a ‘Friday Surprise’ with an exclusive retail product/product range sold at a discounted price at a specified shopping location.

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25. Milestone year: 2020 – This is the year DSF is letting the raffles steal the spotlight. Running until February 1, there’s a daily an Infiniti QX50 car, plus Dh200,000 in cash every single day of DSF. The Nissan Grand raffle will offer DSF shoppers the chance to win a total of 33 cars. Shoppers will have the opportunity to enjoy massive discounts of up to 75 per cent from more than 1,000 brands and around 4,000 outlets that will participate in this edition.

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