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DUBAI -- Special festival offers marking the start of Chinese year of snake are still rare in the Gulf Arab sheikhdom, but they are on the rise.
For many Chinese tourists spending their New Year holidays in Dubai, the sheikhdom is still an oriental mystery. The same applies to local hospitality groups as offers for celebrating the year of the snake are still rare, despite an ample community of 200,000 Chinese nationals living in Dubai.
Growing global awareness of Chinese habits and culture has also motivated hotels and restaurants in Dubai to lure Chinese nationals and tourists from other parts of the world for dinner treatments or parties for families. In 2011, 214,000 Chinese tourists travelled to Dubai, nine times more than the figure at the start of the millennium, according to the official Dubai tourism body DTCM.
On the occasion of Chinese New Year, Dubai's famous seven-star hotel Burj Al-Arab, literally Arabian tower, projected on Sunday evening a gigantic snake on the building's front. The iconic Burj Al-Arab which is most popular among Chinese tourists has seven days of festivities with menus like Fa Gao (Chinese-style cupcakes) , Nian Gao (New Year cake), and Peking Duck being served at the hotel Far East restaurant Junsui.
"We chose Dubai for the good weather and for shopping," said Cui who spends a week with his wife in Dubai. Both are in their mid-thirties and have fallen for extensive shopping tours in the Dubai Mall, the world's biggest shopping center.
On the occasion of Chinese New Year, shoppers who spend more than 300 Dirham (82 U.S. dollars) in the Dubai Mall are eligible to enter a raffle draw with a luxurious holiday trip to Hong Kong being given away.
Jocelyn and Soie from Hong Kong said they chose Dubai because of its vast shopping opportunities, the good weather and its security.
"Prices for luxury goods are much lower than back home," said Jocelyn, who travelled with her friend in Dubai. Both young girls were excited with a safari trip to Dubai's desert. "We enjoyed camel riding, BBQ and belly dancing. Dubai gave us a real oriental touch."
Nevertheless, Laura, a Chinese sales person working in the boutique of French luxury goods producer Louis Vuitton, said that the number of Chinese tourists decreased compared to last year. " The rush when the year of the dragon started in 2012 was much bigger," she said.
This does not prevent Emirates Airline chief executive Tim Clark from looking to increase Dubai's state-owned carrier's footprint in China. "Emirates currently operate 38 times per week to China. It is a very important and fast growing market for us," he told Xinhua, adding that "We are keen on increasing our flight frequency and on spotting new destinations in the middle kingdom."
In 2012, Dubai became the world's third busiest airport as it hosted 56.6 million passengers, a 13 percent increase year on year. One reason was the increase in travelers from East Asia, said Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airport.