Ensuring DSF Success will be Challenging in Midst of Recession, says Ghurair

DUBAI - The Dubai Shopping Malls Group’s new chairman, Majid Saif Al Ghurair, admits that the retail industry in the UAE has been affected by the global economic slowdown and that it is important to restore people’s confidence and stimulate consumer spending.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Fri 16 Jan 2009, 1:56 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:37 AM

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Al Ghurair spoke on how tourism could get a boost by further promoting Dubai as a shopping destination.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you perceive 2009 for shopping malls in Dubai considering the fact that the economy is in a state of turmoil?

Like any other sector that has been affected by the global slowdown, the retail industry in the UAE has also been hit. We have to restore confidence in the people because they are uncertain of the future.

Now people will rationalise their spending. I have no hard facts on the drop in spending. But it will get tougher for us, we have to wait and watch and hope for the best.

What about the more ambitious projects like the Mall of Arabia in Dubailand? What is the scope and future of upcoming malls?

I have no facts on their status. The future of the new malls in the UAE depends on the way retailers perceive the situation. For some it could be good and for some it cannot be so good. Investors would have to rethink their plans for the region and the existing businesses will have troubles with their projects. But newcomers in the market are at an advantage: they can re-think their business ventures and take more apt decisions.

How do the plans on boosting tourism in Dubai through shopping malls go? Most shopping malls now have become a one-stop destination for shopping and entertainment. How are you planning to take that further?

All shopping malls will carry on with their programmes. A mall’s management in general has little to offer except provide the perfect environment for shopping and make it customer friendly. The greater onus lies in the hands of retailers. We are going to have more promotions, reduction in prices, more raffle draws and more entertainment to attract more crowds.

We would also collaborate with government organisations like the Department of Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the aviation industry, especially Emirates Airlines, and the hotel industry for the same.

Do you think this year’s Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) would be as successful as the previous editions?

This year, ensuring success will be challenging. In the previous years, the DSF coincided with various festivals like Eid and Christmas, which would naturally draw a huge crowd. This year, the DSF has to attract people on its own, not tagging on to other festivals. The organisers have to establish an identity. Even then, at the end of the day, it comes down to the tourists the DSF would attract.

Don’t you think the high rents in shopping malls will affect the retail industry?

The rent scenario in the UAE will stabilise in the near future. The real estate sector would have to offer more competitive prices to the retailers to attract them to the UAE market. But the biggest problem now is that of investments.

Banks are not going to offer retailers money for business ventures and it’s not just a matter of paying rent to sustain the outlet anymore. There has been a trend of opening outlets in the malls every year; there is a chance that this will be more limited in the coming years.

Previously, shopping malls had a huge list of retail outlets waiting to open but that is not the case now. The mall owners are going to be pickier about the list of retailers they want in their malls, they would want to analyse which outlet has the potential to deliver the most.

How close are we to achieving Dubai’s strategic goals of attracting 15 million tourists by 2105?

I don’t know the exact figures, but I think Dubai is already very close to achieving that number. The good thing about Dubai is that we have a lot more to offer than shopping: we have a superb infrastructure, fantastic hotels, a highly sophisticated airline network. I can confidently say that even in countries like Europe there are no hotels like the ones Dubai have.

In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that there is very little competition to Dubai’s tourism industry and very little is actually happening around the region which is an added advantage. Do you still hold on to that view?

Yes, in the Middle East we are still the topmost when it comes to tourism, entertainment and leisure. A few years ago, we had predicted Lebanon would have a boom. The important thing is that we want our neighbouring countries to do well because it will improve business relations. I would love to hear of a neighbouring country having its GDP running into billions. Take India for example, when the income of the middle class increases by one per cent, there will an automatic boom in Dubai’s tourism industry.

What are you going to do to bring in more of UAE’s traditional nuances to the shopping malls?

We would encourage more traditional architecture to be incorporated into the modern buildings which would give them a local flavour and we would also encourage display of traditional artefacts and handicrafts.


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