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Dubai’s Global Village: an incubator for startups

Dubai Global Village Creative Commons
The profile of food retailers operating at the world-themed attraction helps them grow and develop beyond the park
  • Site witnessed a 595 percent increase in travel trade sales
  • Potential to replicate attraction in other countries

Dubai’s Global Village has been running for over two decades and it had a record-breaking 7.8 million visitors for its most recent season that ended on May 7, but organisers are keen to emphasise that the attraction is more than just theme park rides, food and retail from around the world.

They claim Global Village has also developed a way of growing and developing startups and new businesses – just don’t compare it to Expo 2020 Dubai.

“What a lot of people don’t realise about Global Village is we are a bit of an incubator for entrepreneurs and a lot of massive businesses in Dubai started in Global Village,” Jaki Ellenby, executive director marketing and communications at Global Village, told AGBI at the recent Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

“We have thousands of partners from all over the world that come here, because you’ve pretty much got guaranteed traffic. We deal with the marketing, and we have a lot of resources for the businesses – we help them set up, especially entrepreneurs, with visas, with point of sale,” Ellenby said.

Global Village is about getting visitors in touch with a country’s people, products and entertainment

Jaki Ellenby, executive director marketing and communications at Global Village

Examples of dining concepts that entered the Dubai market at Global Village and then grew into successful local businesses are Al Haaj Bundoo Khan from Pakistan and Bosnian House from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Several entrepreneurs also got their first break at the site and expanded quickly.

“We have businesses that started in Global Village and are still in Global Village but much bigger,” Ellenby said. “So, for example, the lady who runs the Morocco pavilion, she started with a little store outside one of the pavilions with dhs10,000 ($2,722). The next year she had enough money to rent half a shop in a pavilion, then she had a whole shop and now she runs the entire pavilion.”

Bader Anwahi, chief executive officer at Global Village, also pointed out that part of the success of the event is to regularly update its offering for returning guests. “We also strive to contribute to the economy by supporting local entrepreneurs and attracting international businesses to Dubai,” he said.

“This year 60 percent of our partners were new to Global Village, which keeps our offering fresh and our guests coming back season after season. The improvements we made and our focus on guest experience led to over 90 percent of guests declaring their intent to revisit this season.”

Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world fair to be held in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, closed on March 31. Having attracted participation from 192 countries, the six-month event was twice the size of Monaco and saw visitor numbers reach 24.1 million, just shy of the 25 million pre-pandemic target.

While many observers have compared Global Village to Expo, as both had dining, entertainment and pavilions representing multiple countries, Ellenby said the comparison is not correct.

“It’s strange for me, actually, in a lot of ways, that people compare [Global Village to Expo 2020 Dubai],” she said. “Global Village is a totally different experience. It’s a totally different target audience. It’s a totally different event”.

Person, Human, LightingCreative Commons
Syrian singer Assala Nasri performs at Dubai’s Global Village

“Expos have been going for 100 years, it’s more of a business-to-business play and a country play. [Global Village] is not about showcasing the new innovations of the country, which is what Expo is about.

“[Global Village is] about getting people in touch with the people of that country on a granular level. So it’s their people, their products, their entertainment, their cultural shows and all of these different pavilions. And we are not working with the countries, we are working with the entrepreneurs.”

Part of Dubai Holding’s entertainment portfolio, which includes the Ain Dubai wheel, Dubai Parks and Resorts theme parks, the Coca-Cola Arena, Laguna Water Park and the Arabian Radio Network, Global Village’s site location has developed to full capacity, so Ellenby has not ruled out the possibility of replicating the attraction in other locations or countries.

“I mean, we do get approached, obviously, because it’s such a successful concept. Never say never. It’s something that is very innate to this country, though,” she said, without giving any further details.

With the attraction witnessing a 595 percent increase in travel trade sales during the most recent season, and Dubai welcoming 3.97 million international overnight visitors between January and March 2022, an increase of 214 percent year-on-year, it is surely only a matter of time before overseas investors and backers look to replicate the Global Village model elsewhere.

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