Lights, camera, action

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“I don’t like popcorn very much,” John Ramia laughs as settles into his cinema seat at the Grand Megaplex in Dubai’s Ibn Battuta mall. Liking popcorn might seem like a prerequisite for the CEO of a cinema operator but it certainly hasn’t stopped Ramia growing his family-owned business, Grand Cinemas, into the largest chain of cinemas in the Middle East.

Ramia, who heads up the chain of cinemas across the region as well as its movie distribution arm Gulf Film, plans to double the number of Grand Cinema’s screens in the GCC as part of a $30m expansion plan. The firm will open new cinemas in the UAE and Qatar as well as launch its first movie theatre in Georgia as it looks to grow its business outside of its home market amid a slowdown in new mall openings.

“At the moment we have 108 screens in total….in about two years time with the confirmation of the signed projects and others in the pipeline, we are going to reach 201-207 screens,” he tells CEO Middle East.

Planned new cinema complexes include Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, The Emporium at Central Market, Abu Dhabi, The Pearl, Doha and the extension of Dubai’s Dragon Mart. “The Dragon Mart will be targeting different demographics. We will be showing the same movies but adding different movies, such as ones from China, to target the nationalities that surround International City,” says Ramia.

“There are another two planned outside of the GCC in Georgia,” he adds, without adding further details.

The ambitious plans will boost the firm’s audience by up to 60 percent, says Ramia. “There are other countries we are introducing our first multiplexes. I would say not double but I would say at least 50-60 percent more [from our current capacity of] around 6.5 million a year.”

Plans are also underway to open a cinema on Nakheel’s flagship development, The Palm Jumeirah, which were stalled in the wake of the downturn and the firm’s multimillion dollar restructuring. “The Palm project was delayed and it was resized,” says Ramia. “There are still plans to do a shopping mall there but of course it will be on a different scale. It is still going ahead but I don’t know the date. Eventually [we’ll open on the Palm]; we are partners of Nakheel, who are the owners of Ibn Battuta Mall, so definitely we’ll be working with them,” he adds.

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