shopping husband wife
Focussing only on those shopping destination visitors who buy might be too short-sighted an approach on the part of mall managers. The shopping destinations of today need guests too. Image Credit: Shutterstock

What makes a destination desirable? The answer is a complex combination of factors that take into account industry trends, geography, culture, and of course, constantly changing guest expectations.

The distinction between ‘guest’ and ‘customer’ is also important. While the latter does not take into consideration those who do not purchase, ‘guest’ extends to every member of the family, individuals within a group, and those who will return again and again in the future. By creating seamless experiences for every guest, and providing the right mix for each specific market, a destination will become more than an enjoyable place to spend time; it will also position itself as a vital part of the community.

Local identity, global reach

Some of the most successful destinations elevate their offering with a local vernacular, catering to their specific community, while also offering world-class options across categories. These destinations curate local personas, offering home-grown brands, a foothold in the market and opportunities to grow within an established retail destination.

Simultaneously, they entice the masses through comprehensive international retail offerings and world-class entertainment facilities like waterparks, aquariums, concert halls, art galleries and other attractions. To create rich destinations, many also utilise interconnectivity with other assets such as luxury hotels and office towers, enhancing their appeal and convenience amongst demographic segments.

In North America, Hudson Yards in New York and West Edmonton Mall in Canada achieve this particularly well. In the UK, Westfield London and Covent Garden offer a distinctly British experience alongside international favourites, while New Century Global Center in China and Central World Mall in Thailand perform a similar role within the Asian market.

This ‘glocal’ approach caters to guests’ desires to support their local community, while enjoying the convenience, benefits and notoriety of international brands and experiences. The UAE has become a benchmark in this arena, with the top destinations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi striking the appropriate balance as both a platform for local businesses to thrive, and destinations where leading international brands establish and maintain a strong presence in the evolving Middle Eastern market.

Experiential evolution

Unforgettable and memorable guest experiences remain a defining factor in the success of every destination. Guest experience today relates to every interaction, direct or indirect, that a guest is likely to have across any channel. Walt Disney brought this guest-centric mindset to the forefront of his theme parks in the mid-1950s and destinations across the world have been trying to incorporate it ever since.

A true guest-centric mindset informs every aspect of the destination and business, from pre-opening elements like location and design, to ever-evolving aspects such as the retail mix, entertainment and dining offering. Even on a local scale, this developed insight can create competitive advantage and points of differentiation.

A large percentage of footfall in Dubai for example is comprised of tourists, and therefore specific facets of the offering cater to this demographic. These often include enhanced interconnectivity with public transport terminals, labyrinthine layouts, and single-visit attractions. All of which encourage exploration, human connection and elongated dwell times.

Conversely, the top destinations in Abu Dhabi attract a largely residential population and therefore become part of the community’s regular routine. Entertainment for example, needs to cater to this and offer activities guests can enjoy as weekly pastimes rather than one-off experiences.

Ease of access and convenience also become critical factors for this demographic, as minor friction points become sources of frustration and inconvenience over time, which may negatively impact repeat visitation.

Changing times

As guests’ priorities changed, enhanced integration between digital and physical environments became an absolute necessity. Retail destinations are preparing for further integration and adapting to developments such as cryptocurrency, augmented reality, virtual reality, AI and curating new experiences as new technology develops.

These technologies will continue to transform industries, and in addition to ensuring foundational elements such as quality of service, a diverse offering, and an enjoyable environment, new advances will create a definitive shift in the ways in which we conduct our lives and will be key to ensuring long-term guest satisfaction.

Secret to success

There are many recipes for success, but the single defining factor of malls leaving their mark today is willingness to become wholly and truly guest-centric, and embrace change based on actionable guest insights.

This is why the experience is so important, as creating a positive connection and elevated experience, in turn encourages the guest to engage and re-engage with the destination. If it serves your guest, it will enhance the guest experience, ultimately driving the business forward.