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Dubai booms as ‘wedding tourism’ destination

While the city is known all over the world for its sandy beaches, impressive skyline, luxury hotels and mega malls, Dubai is also catering to visitors who want to take home more than just souvenirs – they want to leave with a new husband or wife.

The growing number of “wedding tourists” flying into Dubai has not only boosted sales at jewellery stores and bridal suite bookings at hotels, many businesses are springing up to help people’s big day in the desert go off without a hitch.

Caroline Garvey set up her Proposal Boutique to offer a helping hand to couples planning to tie the knot, or even men looking for the perfect place to pop the question.

She got the idea after her fiance organised a five-day trip to New York that culminated in a candle-lit dinner in a closed-off section of Central Park, where he proposed.

Dubai, weddings, proposals, wedding tourism, Dubai tourism, Dubai weddings
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“We thought we’d set it up for British people coming to Dubai on holiday, but when we launched it last year the first person to get in touch was someone living here,” Ms Garvey said.

Her clients so far have come predominantly from India and the United States, as well as the UK.

Although some men think the more lavish the proposal the better, Ms Garvey said some of the nicest have been those with a smaller budget.

“It’s not about how much you spend, but how much thought has gone into it,” Ms Garvey said, although she is currently planning a hot air balloon proposal as well as a salsa-themed event.

British expatriate James Oliver, 32, who lives in Dubai, was one of Ms Garvey’s first clients.

“I wanted to propose for several months but didn’t know how to do it. I am away a lot and work long hours, so I really wasn’t sure how I would make the proposal work. If Jayne [my fiancee] saw me in the mall running around she would have been suspicious.”

The day included sending his fiancee a Parisian-themed picnic basket for breakfast, a spa treatment, shopping trip, and being driven around in a Porsche limousine, all finished off with him popping the question on board a luxury yacht in Dubai Marina.

Named one of the most romantic restaurants in the UAE by the travel website Trip Advisor, Pierchic at Al Qasr hotel has had a fair share of its customers getting down on one knee with a diamond ring in hand.

“We see guests proposing every second week,” said Margarita Khadyuk, the venue’s manager. “The setting is so spectacular that it’s really a special place to propose.”

Swedes Malin and David Aspehult can vouch for that. In December 2011, Mr Aspehult, 35, proposed to Malin at the restaurant, and two years later to the day the couple were married in the same place by a Swedish priest.

“Dubai is a fantastic wedding destination and I would strongly recommend it,” said Mrs Aspehult, 37.

Capturing a couple’s special day keeps wedding photographer Helen Shippey busy. She has seen the number of destination weddings rise in the past three years, especially from Scandinavian couples.

“The most sought-after locations are the Dubai beaches where you can see the Burj Al Arab Hotel in the background or Burj Khalifa.

“Souk Madinat Jumeriah is also a place many choose to take photos at since they then get a lovely Arabic feel in their wedding photographs to symbolise where they actually got married.”

Jerome Barbeau, food and beverage director of Mina A’Salam hotel says that the beach restaurant and lounge Shimmers, is the hotel’s prime spot for proposals.

He says staff are asked to assist in proposals by for example, organising flowers, rings and assisting with other surprises. He spoke of one creative couple whose special day took 48 hours of preparations. “An Indian gentleman proposed to his fiance in November and was very creative. He put love letters and notes on the sand all along the red carpet leading to the romantic majlis, where the lady had to pick them up along the way and read the messages,” he said.

“We arranged lots of candles and vases in the shape of a heart on the sand. There was a huge cake with the words ’Will you marry me’. Genuinely the gentleman was trying his hardest to make sure that everything was perfect for his fiancée, which was a joy to assist in.”

He says other proposals have included a private beachside tent with a private dinner and a private band playing exclusively for the couple with the ring hidden inside the flowers decorating the space. This took two weeks to execute.

“There is no specific time of the year for proposals [but] around the holidays is always very popular for marriage proposals at Madinat Jumeirah. Christmas and New Year are busy times,” he said.

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