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Thu 16 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Bags of fun

Malls aren’t just places to shop, they’re places for fun as well, explain experts in all things retail.

Bags of fun
Sega Republic is one of the facilities that will be opening in The Dubai Mall later this year.
Bags of fun
John Hudacek, vice president, operations, Emaar Malls.
Bags of fun
Cirque du Soleil is an example of diversifying mall leisure.
Bags of fun
Brett Judd, head of leisure and entertainment, Nakheel Retail.

Malls aren’t just places to shop, they’re places for fun as well, explain experts in all things retail.

How important is it to include a leisure offering within a mall?

John Hudacek:Today, shopping malls have become leisure destinations for families. Weekend breaks are increasingly being defined by visits to malls, not only for their retail choices but also for the leisure opportunities they provide. Leisure attractions have therefore become indispensable to the successful operation of any mall.

Weekend breaks are increasingly being defined by visits to malls, not only for their retail choices but also for the leisure opportunities they provide.

The Dubai Mall has proved this with Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, Dubai Fountain and the Dubai Ice Rink. Soon the mall will add the region’s first Sega Republic and KidZania as well as Dubai’s largest cinema—the 22-screen Reel Cinemas.

Brett Judd:Leisure is becoming a major factor in malls because there’s a fair amount of congestion within the market to create a certain level of excitement. Including a leisure facility has now become so commonplace to the point that it’s now essential for any mall to have some sort of leisure facility.

There’s a few components you need to look at when including leisure facilities because it’s not just about including leisure destinations. You need to think about the ‘softer side’, such as the theming of a mall, which can help increase its appeal. There are also subtle things, such as including rest areas. Then of course you’ve got things like movies, kids’ clubs, and the food and beverage side of things.

We’re also seeing major attractions moving into malls. Dubai is really pushing the envelope with high activity events such as climbing wall, and then speciality leisure options such as Cirque du Soleil. Leisure facilities are a wonderful way to drive people to shopping malls.

What sorts of leisure facilities work best within a mall?

JH:A mix of leisure facilities that appeal to all cross-sections of visitors – irrespective of age and cultural differences – works best within a mall. To achieve this, careful planning has to go into developing a balanced portfolio of overall family entertainment and niche entertainment for specific age groups.

The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, for example, appeals to the entire family with over 33,000 aquatic species to discover, the world’s largest acrylic viewing panel and a walk-through tunnel for closer encounters with marine life. Likewise, Dubai Fountain has quickly become another favourite for families, and Reel Cinemas is set to attract movie-goers of all ages.

On the other hand, Sega Republic is expected to have more niche appeal to the young and adventurous, similar to Dubai Ice Rink.

BJ:The most tried and tested element is mall is movie cinemas. They make an excellent ‘anchor’ tenant to attract people into a mall. Above all, mall leisure is very much about providing indoor options. There is a lot of freedom though. Really you can include almost anything, from rollercoasters to ghost trains.

What unique challenges arise from providing leisure facilities within malls?

JH:There are many unique challenges posed by operating leisure facilities within a mall. For example, the issue of entrance and exit flows from the mall needs to be considered. Other challenges include providing infrastructure such as power, as well as support systems to cater for large crowds.

BJ:You need to remember that malls are ultimately retail destinations. They’re the truest example of mixed use retail around, and your leisure facilities need to be complimentary to your retail. Some big leisure attractions can distract your visitors from actually visiting stores. In a mall, you need to make sure people are carrying shopping bags!

You also need to establish a mall as a community base. Theming and branding are very important to ensure that the people living near your mall identify with it. Building the brand is also very important if you’re trying to create ‘shopping tourism’. That can involve having shuttle busses to major hotels, making it more convenient for tourists to experience to the leisure and retail on offer. What advantages are there for leisure outlets located within malls?

JH:The key advantage is that you have ready customers—shoppers who can be easily converted. The leisure attractions at The Dubai Mall also benefit from the mall’s ample free parking, lively ambience and wide selection of food and beverage options.

BJ:Malls are a bit of a modern day oasis. They are safe, secure, and easily accessible. These are all valuable commercial aspects.

Including a leisure facility has now become so commonplace to the point that it’s now essential for any mall to have some sort of leisure facility.

Malls are in themselves a destination, and carry brands that have a lot of power. You’ve also got bookend tenants for necessities, such as supermarkets, which guarantee footfall.

How can a mall developer create a diversified and unique leisure offering?

JH:This naturally falls into place once the unique challenges and advantages of operating in a mall have been addressed. In addition, The Dubai Mall has enhanced its leisure offering by partnering with strong brands, such as Sega and KidZania, to bring original new entertainment concepts to the Middle East for the first time.

BJ:You need to look at the demographics of the area you’re in. Don’t just cater for today – you need to be adaptable.

If you truly understand your demographic, you will be able to plan ahead and include leisure facilities that will appeal to those people in the future.

At Ibn Battuta Mall we’re also including elements of corporate social responsibility. We’re using the facilities within the mall to help push through the sustainability message and encourage people to be more ‘green’.

Leisure facilities can also provide a cultural element. During Ramadan, we’ll be showing a movie about the life and journeys of Ibn Battuta. It’s an opportunity to help people experience something of the Hajj even if they are unable to make the journey themselves.

Education is also important. You can see kids travelling around the mall, learning about Ibn Battuta. This is also supported by our website as well.

What’s important though is making sure your leisure facilities stick in the minds of your visitors. If your visitors found it easily and it was reasonably priced, that will happen. More than anything, your visitors will be attracted by word of mouth.

About the expertsJohn Hudacek, vice president, operations, Emaar Malls

John Hudacek joined Emaar Malls Group in 2008. He is responsible for the operational aspects of all Emaar Retail leisure and entertainment venues including Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, Dubai Ice Rink, KidZania, Sega Republic, and Reel Cinemas in The Dubai Mall.

Prior to joining Emaar, John served as a consultant to the leisure and entertainment industry for many years in several international markets. He started his career in this industry with Busch Entertainment Corp, the owners and operators of the Bush Gardens and Sea World family entertainment themed parks. John has also served on the Board of the International Association of Amusement Parks.

Brett Judd, head of leisure and entertainment, Nakheel Retailcorp

Brett Judd joined Nakheel Retail, in July 2008 and is responsible for a diverse range of business activities from Nakheel’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil through to Nakheel’s movie cinema complex, Grand Cinema.

Brett has worked on numerous major events including the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the FINA World Swimming Championships and other international sporting events as well as major concerts and theatre productions in Australia, Asia and the Middle East. Over the past 15 years, Brett has held senior management positions with some Asia Pacific’s leading entertainment services companies including Ticketek, Village Roadshow Corporation and the BMS Group of Companies.

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