The UAE’s soaring temperatures make its malls the coolest destinations in the summer. More than 90 per cent of respondents polled in a recent survey of 1,000 Abu Dhabi residents said visiting a mall is an important part of their lives, according to data from UAE developer Gulf Related.
Footfall at shopping malls grew 5.8 per cent year-on-year last year, according to recent data from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The chamber forecasts the country’s retail sector will see annual growth of 4.9 per cent to reach $71 billion (Dh261 billion) by 2021.
Innovation is necessary to maintain that growth. Developers have responded by creating a well-rounded range of activities for resident families that goes beyond shopping alone. Even the smaller neighbourhood retail precincts have added leisure offerings to their mix, from ski slopes and adventure zones to animal attractions and theme parks.
The retail-leisure nexus will be further solidified after the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority brought the two sectors together recently to collaborate on marketing and promotion efforts with the development of an industry committee for events and retail.
Brands are also getting in on the act through experiential programmes designed to attract footfall, with athleisure labels hosting yoga studios and tech brands offering lifestyle events.
What does this mean for the consumer? With the retail experience now encompassing more than just shopping, we look at a few ways consumers can benefit.
Learn about nature
Several shopping centres in the UAE allow children and adults to interact with animals in ways that wouldn’t be easy otherwise.
At Mall of the Emirates’ Ski Dubai, a variety of interactive packages allow visitors to learn about how two different species of penguins live and eat, as well as helping support penguin conservation and research. Adult visitors can swim with the penguins, an encounter available every Wednesday.
Elsewhere, at Dubai Mall’s Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, there’s a chance to learn about marine life and breeding projects while feeding stingrays and sharks. For a more immersive experience in aquarium operations, the facility also takes on students and recent graduates as interns.
Improve your health
Besides patronising health clubs such as Fitness First and Gold’s Gym, residents can now achieve their fitness goals at the mall.
The Abu Dhabi Mall Walkers is a long-standing programme that anyone can sign up for. On weekdays from 7-10am, striders from all walks of life gather to tackle steep stairs and long hallways. Leisure sportswear brand Lululemon Atletica, which launched in the UAE in 2015, organises yoga classes each weekend at its Dubai and Doha stores. Early risers can stretch their way to health at Dubai Marina Mall on Fridays and City Centre Mirdif on Saturdays, no registration or mats required.
Pick up a new skill
Our experiential economy is all about learning to do new things and there are several options to do so at community shopping centres. Mall of Emirates is home to the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, which has classes in manga, mosaics and pottery for children, as well as creative writing and art appreciation for adults.
This month, Apple stores at Yas Mall, Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates will offer free learning sessions in coding, photography, video, design and more. Some, such as Photo and Sketch Walks, will explore and interact with local communities, while others will help professionals and small business owners.
Bond with the kids
Their time is one of the best presents any parent can give their children, and almost every mall has activities to help create new memories. From bowling centres to arcades, there are attractions for all budgets.
The high-tech Hub Zero at City Walk in Dubai is the region’s first fully immersive entertainment venue, home to the only wireless VR experience in the world, a high-speed rotating ride with zero-gravity effect, as well as real-life attractions themed on video games Gears of War, Battlefield and Resident Evil.
As one of the largest indoor entertainment centres in the region, Sharjah’s Sahara Centre has hours of entertainment. Rides spread over the 70,000-sq-ft venue include the Motocoaster, a stunning, gravity-defying thrill ride, and a two-level indoor go-kart track.
Ride the adrenaline rush
When they put their smartphones down, millennials and Gen Z are looking for an entirely different level of fun. Why not ride a zip line across an indoor theme park? Or push the envelope with a free fall experience? Those are the sort of activities available at Bounce in Marina Mall Abu Dhabi and Remal Mall Al Ain. If you aren’t brave enough, you could always try your hand at dodgeball or take a tumble on a 19-metre fast-track trampoline.
Adventure HQ, a retailer of adventure sports equipment, has expanded its business to activity areas at some of its UAE stores. The Times Square Mall outlet has a nine-metre climbing pinnacle wall inspired by Bulgaria’s limestone cliffs, with options for both beginners and experienced climbers, while a five-section skate park presents ways to take sport to new extremes without the associated danger. The brand has similar experiences at The Galleria Dubai and Dalma Mall Abu Dhabi.