Dubai: The Dubai Summer Surprises is delivering results – and setting up the local retail sector for what could be a strong finish to the year. With the latest announcement that malls will be able to raise their visitor capacity to 80 per cent, the mood in the retail sector is definitely at its most bullish since COVID-19 came calling in March last year.
“Their (shoppers’) return has been a welcome boost to the sector, which remains a key economic driver and an integral part of Dubai’s unique offering,” said Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment, the government agency responsible for the city’s retail extravaganzas. “The industry is rebounding with enthusiasm, aided by the support shown by the government and consumers alike.”
This sets up the retail sector for what could be a bumper fourth quarter, with the Expo’s opening on October 1 feeding more demand. If that comes through, the UAE’s overall retail industry could see a 13 per cent gain for 2021 to ring in sales of $58 billion. That’s according to the latest estimates from Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The last year has demonstrated just how important the retail sector is to the city, not just in terms of economic impact but in the relationship residents and visitors have with their favourite malls,” said Al Khaja.
Discounts do their bit
Based on retailer feedback, the discounts during DSS 2021 hit their mark with shoppers, many of whom had decided on spending a second successive summer in the UAE itself. Those travel-related expenses thus got diverted into shopping and entertainment. Those shopping trips are clearly helping retailers and mall operates bounce back.
Early this month, Emaar Malls released a statement confirming an 80 per cent growth in net profit to Dh622 million in the first six months of 2021, with revenues for Q2 rising by 27 per cent to Dh1.14 billion compared to Dh901 million for Q1.
Strict safety procedures such as social distancing of two metres, reduced capacity signage and the wearing of masks at all times, as well as highly visible and proactive cleaning policies, helped to instill greater confidence in customers.
Mercato Mall and Town Centre Jumeirah have each recorded a 50 per cent increase, which are numbers being recorded at other destinations such as those operated by Nakheel Malls and Al Futtaim Malls.
“We witnessed a double-digit growth in visitor numbers across all our shopping, dining and entertainment destinations - Nakheel Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall and Dragon Mart,” said Omar Khoory, Chief Hospitality and Assets Officer, Nakheel Malls.
The benefits of helping out retailers cope once the intensity of the pandemic is also clearly visible. The leading mall operators chipped in to offer a mix of benefits, including deferred rentals and, in some cases, waivers as well.
“We supported our tenants at the peak of the pandemic by waiving rental fees to reduce the financial impact,” said Khoury. “We worked closely with them to help stabilise and support their recovery since the pandemic began.
“With many campaigns running across the year, such as the 3-Day Super Sale, DSS and DSF, we are committed to increasing visibility and footfall for all our tenants, including hospitality and F&B brands.”
Mall operators applied a flexible approach to fee collections to lessen the financial burden on tenants while they adapted to the staggered return of customers.
Keep adding more
The challenge will be for malls to keep the innovations and attractions coming through steadily – even when the situation on flights return to full normalcy. “Malls need to find the right facilities to keep and entertain people for five to six hours, while balancing active experiences of interacting with brands with the more passive experiences of shopping and dining,” said Timothy Earnest, Group Director, Al-Futtaim Malls, which runs Dubai Festival City Mall and Festival Plaza in Jebel Ali.
But having charted a way out of the worst of the COVID-19 impact, coming up with fresh concepts for the future will be less daunting for mall operators in Dubai and the UAE.