Dubai: First it was the British. Then it was the Russians. Now, the retailers of Dubai are increasingly keen on wooing Chinese shoppers, a trend best visualised through the widespread decorations put up around the city for Chinese New Year.

The push, largely driven by the government as it forges ever closer ties to China, has seen Dubai’s malls make a concerted effort this year to capture the booming market during an exceptionally lucrative period.

Chinese consumers spent $146 billion (Dh536.1 billion) shopping and eating out over the Lunar New Year holiday in 2018, according to the country’s Ministry of Commerce.

“Chinese New Year is a key season in our annual retail calendar,” said Ahmad Al Khaja, CEO of the Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), the government agency in charge of promoting shopping events.

“We were pleased to welcome so many visitors to the city to celebrate this special calendar moment and continue to forge a strong relationship with this region,” he added.

In May 2018, the government of Dubai embarked on an extensive diplomatic trip to China to court some of the largest companies in the world, in a bid to lure more Chinese visitors to the city, Gulf News reported at the time.

Explaining the significance of the country to Dubai, Majid Saif Al Ghurair, the chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, said: “It’s a very important market with a big population, and I think we just started to scratch the surface of the market.”

“The potential [of China] is huge,” Al Ghurair told Gulf News on Wednesday.

Dubai’s retailers would need to understand the spending habits of Chinese visitors in order to capitalise on their business, he said.

They “definitely” spent differently to Russians or British tourists, Al Ghurair said.

“You have to understand the customer, you definitely need to cater to that kind of customer.”

The DFRE’s Al Khaja said that the authority’s retail partners, which include Majid Al Futtaim, had offered a variety of activations, themed events and promotions throughout the festive period, making the city a “truly remarkable place to celebrate this important holiday occasion.”

Fuad Mansoor Sharaf, managing director for Majid Al Futtaim Properties - Shopping Malls in the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, said the company was constantly trying to improve its offering to Chinese shoppers.

“Every year, we aim to raise the bar and surpass the expectations of our Chinese visitors,” he said, “with unparalleled offers, entertainment and customised services.”

Mall of the Emirates recently became the first shopping mall in the UAE to launch WeChat pay, one of the companies that Dubai Tourism met with on its China trip last year.

“[This gave] our Chinese visitors the convenience of cashless payments at the mall and contributed to the efforts of our partners…in making Dubai a must-visit retail destination,” he said.

The company also offered an agenda of cultural activities, such as calligraphy and rice paper workshops, which Sharaf argued made the retailer’s Chinese guests “feel at home during this special occasion.”

Shaikh Majid Al Mualla, chairman of the board of directors of Hala China, said in a statement that 2019 represented a “significant milestone in our relationship with China, as we are hosting the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside China.”