Dubai tempts Christmas shoppers with low taxes and winter sun

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The Independent Online

This year, though, the Big Apple has a new rival in the Christmas shopping market. The temperature there is currently 30C. The shopping is tax-free. The lavish malls are air-conditioned and the locals are actively courting foreign custom. Welcome to Dubai, the new New York for winter consumers.

According to lastminute.com, the number of Britons visiting Dubai in October and November is up 15 per cent on last year. John Bevan, flights and holiday director, said: "Since the weather turned arctic in the UK, people are looking to go for sunshine rather than yet more wintry weather in New York."

With New York's hotels raising prices and a stronger US dollar, seasonal bargain-hunters from Britain are increasingly drawn to the Middle East rather than the east coast of the United States. "Dubai is taking share from New York this year as shoppers flock to take advantage of the tax-free goods and are buying hi-tech gadgets as well as jewellery. Dubai has world-class hotels, guaranteed sunshine and roughly the same flying time," Mr Bevan said.

Although famous for its controversial artificial islands - which have attracted criticism from environmentalists and custom from Premiership footballers - Dubai's real commercial lure lies in the malls. Gold is particularly cheap and caviar, pashminas, digital cameras and DVD players are also good value.

Shopping is a central part of the emirate's plans to reduce its reliance on oil. The ruler, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, intends to treble tourism to 15 million visits by 2010.

Last year, 620,000 Britons visited - double the number from any other country. This winter, the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) is rating Dubai among its "hot destinations". Sean Tipton, of Abta, said: "Dubai has some of the best shopping worldwide, particularly for jewellery and luxury goods. They have also invested a lot of money in building new hotels."

Despite the increasing competition, New York's consumer credentials - famous department stores and affordable designer clothes, sportswear and technology - is still very popular with long-haul shoppers. However, the exchange rate means that the US is 12 per cent more expensive for British visitors than it was last Christmas. Two nights in a New York hotel ($400) and a serious shopping trip ($900) would cost £759 this year compared with £667 last year, according to the foreign exchange broker HIFX.

Regardless of where you go, anyone returning to the UK with suitcases laden with gifts should beware of the taxman, as well as environmentalists. The Customs and Excise limit for general goods, excluding alcohol, tobacco and perfume, is £145. Anything over that may accrue duty.

New York versus Dubai

* POPULATION

New York: 8 million

Dubai: 997,000

* LANGUAGE

New York: English

Dubai: Arabic (English spoken widely)

* AREA

New York: 785 square miles

Dubai: 35 square miles

* TIME DIFFERENCE

New York: Five hours behind GMT

Dubai: Four hours ahead of GMT

* SAMPLE BARGAIN

Nike Air Max Breathe trainers

Dubai: (Nike Shop, BurJuman Centre) $108

New York: (Macy's) $110

Britain: (Sport-e) $206 (£119)

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