Over decades Modhesh, the festival mascot has endeared to children of all ages Image Credit: Supplied

Guided by the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) was conceived as a promotion to entertain residents, attract regional visitors and boost retail sales during the hottest months of the year. Several platforms have been born out of DSS’s success story.

The Dubai Shopping Malls Group (DSMG), for instance, was created to harness the momentum gained by the city’s malls and to give the industry a single voice. Working in concert, hotels, airlines, government and private sector players come together to offer the best of travel, stay, recreation and lifestyle packages. 

What started off as a simple icon of a sunny yellow jack-in-the-box figure has transformed into Modhesh World — the largest indoor edutainment venue in the Middle East. Dubbed the Mickey Mouse of Arabia, Modhesh epitomises its meaning in Arabic, which means amazing. 

As DSS enters its 20th year, GN Focus recaps a medley of incredible vignettes.

1998 

• Under the banner Big Fun for Little Ones, the first edition presented an igloo in the desert, a watermelon-eating competition, and the ceremonial release of a message in a bottle into Dubai Creek.  

• Dubai attracted more than 600,000 visitors, and its malls recorded a 50 per cent increase in traffic and 30 per cent increase in sales. The Win-A-Million promotion resulted in sales worth Dh850 million.

1999 

• Sales catapulted to Dh961 million.

• The first Radio-Controlled Model Car Racing Championship in the UAE was held as part of School’s Out Surprises, at a makeshift track at Al Rigga.

2000 

• Private sector support was led by seven key sponsors: Emarat, Majid Al Futtaim Group, Saif Al Ghurair Group, Emirates Airline, Dubai Shopping Malls Group, Coca-Cola and Mastercard International. 

• More than three tonnes of flowers were flown in from India to create an artificial rain of flowers at the inauguration of Flower Surprises.

2001

• Sports Surprises saw thousands of children learning to swim, ride, shoot and participate in contests at malls and beaches.  

• The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) launched DSS roadshows across the GCC, with several local travel agencies in tow. 

• A new record was set with 1.96 million visitors, and Dh1.18 billion in sales.

2002 

• The total event budget of Dh65 million was spread over 10 themes: Food, Water, Global, Ice, Flower, Sports, Heritage, Art, Techno and Back-to-School Surprises 

• Festivals of the World saw miniature versions of Mardi Gras, Red Earth, Carnival and Moscow festivals presented at 10 malls across Dubai 

2003 

• The 3,500 seat Modhesh Fun City entertained children for 72 straight days, with Modhesh, Modhesh Toys and Modhesh Game Master shows. 

• The inaugural Sweets Surprises featured 150 events and 120 ‘sweet cuisines’ at eight shopping malls and 33 hotels across Dubai. 

2004 

• The first Back-2-School exhibition at Dubai Airport Expo, saw books, bags, stationery and accessories sold at unbeatable prices.

• Heritage Surprises showcased traditional Arabian doors, henna designs, boat-building, herbal medicine and local dances. 

• UAE strongman team Shamshun of Arabia broke the world record for pulling a 26,220kg heavy truck bare-handed for 32 metres, at an Adventure Surprises event

2005 

• The Dh70 million event involving 17 government departments and 12 public and private sector organisations lasted 73 days

• After a spectacular ‘winter wonderland’ opening ceremony, Ice Surprises beguiled visitors at an Olympic ice arena, Eskimo Village and Arabian Ice City 

2006 

• Retailers and restaurants in Dubai were invited to join the promotion for the first time, under a choice of categories.  

• Modhesh became a goodwill ambassador and visited charities, orphanages and hospitals across the Gulf. 

2007 

• The 10th edition opened to a new strategy and new theme ‘Dubai...Miles of Smiles’, and featured more than 200 events over 10 weeks.  

• The 30,000 sq. ft. Modhesh Fun City at Dubai Airport Expo doubled in size from its former home at Dubai World Trade Centre. 

• Dubai strengthened its position as a regional fashion hub at Kids Fashion Week, Dubai Fashion Fiesta, and Sheila and Abaya Fashion

• Emirates offered First and Business Class passengers flying to or via Dubai complimentary hotel stays in the city 

2008 

• The opening ceremony at Dubai Dolphinarium featured breath-taking acrobatics – and antics – by resident dolphins and seals, set to sound, light and fireworks. 

• Under the theme ‘Tens of Surprises’, Dubai hosted Oliver! and Disney’s High School Musical; the Junior Chef Awards, Jumeirah Giant Charity Cake Sale and Cup Cake Weekend; and concerts by Ustad Shahid Parvez, Anuradha Pal, Kyla and Jay-R.  

• Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group’s Glittering Surprises saw 65 winners receive Dh10,000 in vouchers, while Dubai recorded gold and jewellery sales of Dh500 million during the 65 days. 

2009 

• The ‘Surprising Dubai’ themed event had an unusual opening ceremony at Mall of the Emirates that lasted 12 hours and featured up to 90 per cent discounts.  

• The inaugural 10-week Summer Health Festival offered free check-ups and seminars on nutrition, fitness, hygiene and wellness.  

• The DSMG raffle gave away prizes of Dh 5 million while the Emarat draw gave away prizes worth Dh 1 million

2010 

• Over 6,000 retailers participated in the 100 day-long ‘Summer Deals 2010’, while Modhesh World presented no less than 40 zones including a fun fair, mini zoo, magical forest and 4D cinema 

• An abundance of concerts and musicals included Fame, Hairspray, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Boman Irani and Bucket Boys 

2011

• The 14th edition saw 14 participating malls offering retail bargains and a flurry of entertainment.

• International children’s shows included Mr. Men, Bob the Builder, The Powerpuff Girls, LazyTown, Thomas the Tank, and Chowder.

2012 

• The 32-day event themed ‘Dubai. Summer Fun and More’ opened at Ski Dubai and had 100 activities. 

• It attracted 4.36 million participants, a 10.4 per cent increase over the previous year, and contributed Dh 12.3 billion to the Dubai economy

2013 

• DSS formed part of a three-month long ‘Summer is Dubai’ campaign organised by Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), alongside Modhesh World, Ramadan in Dubai, and Eid in Dubai 

• Eight shoppers who spent a minimum of Dh200 in participating won BMW cars. 

2014 

• Dubai stayed super cool through the summer with a variety of activities at The Ice Rink and The Glide Track at Modhesh World

• Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) ran a ‘Shop and Live for Free’ promotion, with a grand prize worth Dh 200,000 to cover one year’s living expenses. 

• The Official DSS Guide was launched in English and Arabic 

2015

• The theme ‘45 Days of Summer’ brought exciting new attractions to Modhesh World: The Slide, Mirror Maze, Valkyrie, Fly Jump, 5-D motion theatre X-Rider, and food bus Yumtingz.

• Blocks at Boxpark was a central attraction, with exhibitions and workshops featuring Danish toy brand Lego, while the word premiere of Power Rangers Megaforce enthralled fans at The Dubai Mall. 

2016

• The largest and longest summer extravaganza in the region was themed ‘Own The Summer’, and ran for 43 days. 

• The first Modhesh World Young Author Award ran a fiction writing competition for children between the ages of seven and 13. 

2017

• Running until August 12, this year’s summer surprises offer six weeks of sales ranging from 30 per cent to 75 per cent off at participating retail outlets in the city.