By Rory Jones

Shopping bags boasting the names London, Paris and New York used to be all the rage, but these days, Dubai is officially the world’s hottest place to shop.

Attractions such as the aquarium in Dubai Mall have turned the emirate into a leading shopping destination.  Nicole Hill / The National
Attractions such as the aquarium in Dubai Mall have turned the emirate into a leading shopping destination. Nicole Hill / The National

The emirate’s malls now attract more international brands than the boulevards of Paris and the avenues of New York, a survey has found.

Sharing the top spot with London, Dubai now has more than half of the world’s international brands, and combined with Abu Dhabi, makes the UAE the second-biggest retail market in the world, just behind the UK.

“Dubai has unrivalled retail stock, with some of the best, if not the best, malls in the world,” said Michael Leighton, a retail analyst at the property adviser CB Richard Ellis which put together the survey.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar all make the global top 30.

Now in its fourth year, the study examined the reach of 323 global retailers in 73 countries.It found that 56 per cent of brands have a presence in Dubai.

“Obviously, the global recession has had a huge impact on the way retailers do business,” Mr Leighton said. “They have had to look at emerging markets and other ways to generate revenue.”

Dubai’s position as a global retail centre has been further strengthened by an influx of US brands over the past 18 months.

Of the six brands that entered Dubai last year, all were from the US and formed franchise partnerships with MH Alshaya.

“US retailers are changing their mentality. They have always traded their own brands and not seen the need for franchises,” said Nicholas Maclean, the managing director for CB Richard Ellis in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Almost 98 per cent of brands in the UAE are franchised, compared with just 6 per cent in the US.

“Some retailers cannot live with the franchise element of doing business here, but as the retail market becomes more liberal, we are seeing brands enter the market for the first time,” Mr Maclean said.

Dubai has slowly climbed the rankings, benefiting from the global economic crisis, which has caused many retailers to expand to new markets.

The nature of the relationship between many retailers and large franchisees that have numerous retail brands is changing.

Many local companies now look to work only as sponsors of the retailers, letting them get on with running the business, while others still have a hands-on approach towards managing their retail brands after many years of experience in the region.

Sales for UAE retailers have been strong, with growth last year double that of the overall economy.

This year’s Dubai Shopping Festival was deemed a success, with a large contingent of shoppers coming from Asia and Saudi Arabia.

Analysts say a recent dearth of Russian tourists has been made up for by visitors from China and South Korea.

In the CB Richard Ellis survey, Dubai leads the Asian retail presence, with 23 per cent of retailers from the continent trading there, compared with just 17 per cent in London.