Buying a real Christmas tree has become an important tradition for Anne Mulcahy’s family.
With two children, six and 10, the annual trip to Satwa in Dubai to pick the tree marks the start of the festive season for them.
“They really like the whole drama around it,” says Ms Mulcahy, 45, from France. The family has been living in Dubai for the past two years and have bought a real tree each year
“It’s really important for them,” she says. “We tried fake trees a few years ago and it’s not the same. What they like is the tree smell. For them, it’s the build up to Christmas.”
It appears that many out there agree as seasonal business owners selling real trees in the UAE say that demand is booming.
Simone Jucker, 38, from Canada, brought in hundreds of trees this season and had sold most of them before they even arrived in Jebel Ali port last week.
She started her Abu Dhabi-based business, Christmastreesuae.com, six years ago when she was working as a consultant promoting trade between the Province of Nova Scotia, the Christmas tree growing capital of the world, and the UAE.
“We were approached by Christmas tree farmers in Nova Scotia,” she says. “They wanted to export into new markets. I knew there was a market here because of the expats living here and they already were bringing trees into the UAE but I just didn’t think they looked very good. I approached a local florist here because I knew I needed them to have the trade license ability.”
She found a good partner, the florist Oleander in Abu Dhabi’s Al Seef Mall; the staff there know how to care for the trees but Ms Jucker had to convince the owner to switch from importing trees from Holland to getting them from Canada.
“The balsam fir and the fraser firs we import are hardier, more fragrant, denser tree than the ones from Europe and they tend to last a lot longer,” says the seasonal entrepreneur, a stay-at-home mum the rest of the year, who runs the business with her husband. “Luckily, I was able to convince them. We sent them a branch in a FedEx package from Canada, from the tree farmers directly to the local partner here and from that point on he switched over to Canadian trees.”
She sold all of the 500 trees she imported that first year of operations in 2011. This year she imported 2,000 trees in four 40ft containers, of which about 200 are still available for sale from her website . She says her customers are mainly Western but include Lebanese, Emiratis and others.
Anna Hickman, 35, from New Zealand, has been buying real trees from Oleander for the past four years and put up hers this week.
“It’s beautiful and the house is smelling fantastic,” says Ms Hickman, who and has lived in the UAE for nine years. “My husband said this year how about we get a fake tree this year because we have an 11 month-old. I was like ‘we are not getting a fake Christmas tree’. If we are going to spend money I don’t mind spending money on this.”
The firs, which cost Dh425 for 6ft to 7ft trees and Dh525 for 7ft to 8ft trees, are shipped across in refrigerated containers on a voyage of about 30 days and given a freshly cut base as soon as they arrive in the UAE. They then go into water for 48 hours to rehydrate before being distributed.
Christopher Green, the British owner and founder of Christmastreesdubai.com, receives trees in the same shipment from Canada.
He started the company four years ago after paying a lot of money for a poor Christmas tree and runs it in his spare time, while still working in his full-time job in IT.
He places the order with the supplier in July and sends a security cheque for his allocation of 400 firs.
His trees are slightly more expensive than Ms Jucker’s, at Dh525 for 6ft to 7ft trees and Dh625 for 7ft to 8ft trees, but the price includes the tree stand and delivery.
Mr Green has noticed an increase in sales in the past couple of years. Last year, he had practically sold out before they arrived. But he has no intention of increasing his allocation any time soon.
“I think there is only a certain amount of demand you can fulfill. I am happy with the size it’s at. It takes up a lot of time in the mornings and evenings and once the deliveries start you have to follow up with customers to make sure their trees are delivered on the days they wanted. To scale that up would probably be a lot more stress and not too much change in the profit you would make,” says Mr Green, who runs the business on his own. “It pays for Christmas, put it that way. But it’s not enough to retire on, just yet