By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Majid Al Futtaim has yet to decide whether rent relief will continue now that malls have resumed limited operations
Malls are here to stay despite an increase in online shopping and the possibility of lingering health concerns in the wake of Covid-19, according to Fuad Sharaf, Majid Al Futtaim’s managing director for shopping malls in Oman, the UAE and Bahrain.
In an interview with Arabian Business, Sharaf said that he believes that people will still continue to flock to malls in the aftermath of the pandemic, even if the experience of doing so is different in the future.
“The experiential element will always remain, and people will [still] love to come to malls. The concept won’t change, but elements within the malls will,” he said. “There will be more of a focus on service and experience.”
“We’ve seen that people are missing malls,” Sharaf added. “That’s not a shift that will happen overnight, but the experience will always remain. People like to feel the experience and the service.”
Majid Al Futtaim’s malls across the UAE – including Mall of the Emirates and City Centre Deira – have re-opened to the public following the lifting of restrictions imposed by the government, albeit with health screening, a 30 percent occupancy limit and other safety measures in place.
According to Sharaf, the malls, particularly Mall of the Emirates, have seen “reasonable” crowds return.
“All the malls have seen people, but they are behaving totally different. They know what’s required before they reach the malls. They know that temperatures will be taken at entrances, and they know they need to wear their masks and maintain distance.”
During the government-closures, Majid Al Futtaim waived rent fees for its tenants in a bid to help them retain working capital.
During the interview, Sharaf declined to say whether rent relief measures will continue now that shopping centres have resumed limited operations.
“We don’t have full visibility to date about Covid-19. That’s a separate discussion that will take place after evaluating the whole situation,” he said. “It’s too early for us to judge.”