Majid Saif Al Ghurair, head of the Dubai Shopping Malls Group and president of Burjuman Centre Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai’s retail sector may be well-stocked with malls at present, but there is still ample space to test out new concepts and new projects, according to the head of the Dubai Shopping Malls Group.

“With what’s already available in Dubai now, it might sound difficult to aim for something new or untested... but there is always something,” said Majid Saif Al Ghurair, who is also president of Burjuman Centre — Dubai’s second mall which opened in 1991 — and Reef Mall. “The possibilities come from the many new global brands that will be created in the years to come.

“Another area where Dubai’s malls can do a lot more in the future is finding synergy with on-line shopping. If this can be done, future malls can click and score with a younger generation.”

Five-year break

After a near five-year break, developers are back to announcing mega-mall projects in Dubai; Nakheel has confirmed it will soon unveil one at its Deira master-development, and there is to be another built on-site of the Expo 2020.

Having been one of the first businesses in the region to take up organised retailing in a big way and away from traditional street-side outlets, does the Group feel it might have waited too long to take up a new project?

“When The Dubai Mall was being built, it wouldn’t have made sense to create another of the same size and which would have entered the market at the same time,” said Al Ghurair. “Being next to the tallest tower created a factor for the mall that could not be repeated anywhere.

“But once that mall was ready and accepted by the market, it has led to more tourist arrivals and that is creating fresh opportunities for other developers. They have to be very careful with getting their timing right on projects — for instance how many outlets of the same brand can open up in any city?

“Even in a London or Paris, there aren’t more than a handful of Chanel stores, even with all the tens of millions of tourists that visit both cities. You cannot keep putting out the same concept over and over again to shoppers. Older concepts have to be reworked again and again and new elements brought in. There is never such a thing as a constant in retail.

Meanwhile, work continues on the crucial expansion at Burjuman Centre ahead of the completion date some time in the second-half of this year. Al Ghurair targets as much as 50 per cent by way of new tenants.

 

New tenants

“I don’t think that’s too high an aim, there’s plenty of space for new tenants,” he added. “Even with the expansion complete, Burjuman will remain a niche mall — our size is quite convenient for a certain kind of shopper and that will always be an advantage.

“Can anyone doubt whether Dubai’s gold souq can still attract shoppers despite all the competition from locations in the city? No, and what it shows is that there will always be an audience for a right niche. They are not just going to walk away.”

Also, the area in and around the mall is going through a makeover of its own, at times radical and at times more incremental. Residential and office occupancy is at record highs, which would form a captive market for the mall once a Carrefour hypermarket (all of 60,000 square feet) and a multiplex take up their spots post the expansion.

On whether this requires a subtle rebranding of what the mall stands for, Al Ghurair said: “There is no need for a change in message — it is a mall for people living in Dubai.”