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Gulf mall operators rein in expansion as retailers reel from COVID-19



DUBAI (Reuters) – Mall operators in the Gulf region are delaying new mega-projects as the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices upend a retail industry built around huge centres catering to tourists and wealthy locals.

Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Middle East’s biggest mall-operator, told Reuters it had delayed the launch of its fifth and largest centre in Oman, the 145,000 square-metre (1.5 million sq-ft) Mall of Oman, because retailers did not have the cash at hand to fit out stores.

In Dubai, Emaar Malls EMAA.DU halted construction on two projects, according to two sources familiar with the plans. They are a mall near the site of the Expo 2020 world fair, which has been delayed by a year to next October, and a 185,000 square-metre mall in the Dubai Hills residential area, the people said.

Emaar Malls, owner and operator of the world’s largest shopping centre, Dubai Mall, did not respond to a request for comment.

“In malls under construction, timelines are being revisited. This is a fluid situation,” MAF’s Chief Executive Alain Bejjani told Reuters. “We will see how it goes and adapt,” he added. “It will be the case for the coming 12 months.”

Luxury malls, featuring international brands and entertainments such as dancing fountains and indoor ski slopes, have been the cornerstone of the oil-producing region’s retail industry, especially during the blistering summer months.

A growing population and steady stream of tourists has seen more projects planned in recent years even as competition has intensified and footfall has levelled off.

Last year, Alpen Capital forecast the Gulf retail sector to grow from $253 billion in 2018 to $308 billion in 2023.

‘All in tough spot’

The pandemic has changed the game in a matter of months, though.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been among the worst hit by coronavirus closures. At Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates last week, several shop fronts were boarded up and rental dispute notices hung in some shop windows, a visitor said.

EFG Hermes forecast a 20% drop in Dubai store-based sales in 2020 if foreign visitors were allowed entry in the third quarter, and a 40% drop if travel bans remain until year-end.

MAF, which operates 27 malls across the Middle East, said retailers in the Gulf region were not expecting a meaningful recovery for the sector in the next 18-24 months. Foot traffic at its malls in the United Arab Emirates in May was less than half of what it was a year ago, it added.

“They are all in a tough spot. They’re focusing on liquidity issues,” Bejjani said.

He said the impact was being felt, from retailers to companies in their supply chain. Some of the firms will “throw in the towel” this year, he added.

Kuwait’s Alshaya Group, the Gulf’s largest franchise operator with brands including Starbucks, Pottery Barn and The Cheesecake Factory, provided a grim outlook in April in an internal staff video seen by Reuters.

“Today, less than 5% of our stores are open … Our revenues have shrunk by 95%, whilst our cost base has stayed the same,” said acting Chief Executive John Hadden. “This is not sustainable for any business anywhere in the world.”

Alshaya declined to comment.

Race to go online

The slow move to online sales in the region has compounded retailers’ problems.

Though malls reopened last month in the region’s two largest markets, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, some customers still worry about COVID-19.

“I just looked at things from a distance and didn’t buy anything,” said Sahimaa in Riyadh. “I couldn’t get myself to touch anything.”

A senior executive at a large fashion conglomerate, who declined to be named, said 96% of sales last year in the Gulf came from malls, versus 4% from e-commerce.

“To get 80% from online, vs 20% brick and mortar – that’s not gonna happen in the next 20 years,” the executive said.

Online sales in Saudi Arabia accounted for about 0.8% of retail sales in 2018, and 1.5% in the UAE, according to a Boston Consulting Group report. By contrast, online grabbed more than 14% of retail sales in the United States in 2018, research firm Digital Commerce 360 found.

Many mall operators have offered a digital platform for shops to place products online to help cope with the pain.

MAF has placed some of the shops that sell household items on its Carrefour shopping marketplace, for example. Emaar Malls helped its tenants at Dubai malls place products on Namshi, an e-commerce website it owns, and

“People still stood on the fence, thinking e-commerce is in the future. Because of corona, they were forced to use the available technologies,” said Rabih Khoury, partner at Dubai-based venture capital firm Middle East Venture Partners.

“You have to have the digital part. If you don’t have it, it is as if you don’t have a key location at a mall.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters


Atmosphere Core expands in South Asia with Atmosphere Living ultra-luxury residences



Atmosphere Core, a globally renowned name in hospitality, has announced the launch of Atmosphere Living as part of its continued expansion in South Asia. Headquartered in India, this new company will offer branded ultra-luxury residences with customised end-to-end amenities and indulgences, including coffee lounges, wine cellars, private transport, and bespoke concierge services.

The global branded residences market has experienced a remarkable 150 percent growth over the past decade, and projections indicate a surge in demand. With the real estate veteran Sandeep Ahuja at the helm as Managing Director, Atmosphere Living is strategically positioned to capitaliSe on this demand.

Atmosphere Living will focus on a conscious design philosophy. All properties will be built in harmony with the environment and will incorporate features such as smart recycling, efficient waste and water management, and green energy solutions.

Sharing his insights on the launch, Salil Panigrahi, Managing Director, Atmosphere Core, said, “Atmosphere Living will bring a distinctive offering to India, and is a brand to watch out for. It will combine Ahuja’s decades of experience, knowledge, and industry network in real estate with Atmosphere’s hospitality expertise, introducing unparalleled serviced residences in India.”

Positioned in major metropolitan areas, established second-home destinations, and undiscovered scenic locales nationwide, these projects will also present lucrative investment opportunities. Elite homeowners will have the option to lease their residences back to Atmosphere Living, allowing them to be rented out for income generation.

Sandeep Ahuja, Managing Director, Atmosphere Living, said, “There is currently a gap in the Indian realty landscape for ultra-indulgent serviced homes catering to affluent consumers. We aim to bridge this gap by curating serviced homes that offer indulgences such as entering homes using smart key cards, 24/7 butler services, fine dining, and co-working spaces, among others. Our ultimate desire is to enable our customers to experience a life of true luxury and exclusivity.”

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A night of celestial wonders, luxury, and cosmic inspiration at Anantara Kihavah SKY Observatory by British astronaut Tim Peake



Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas celebrated a historic  milestone with the exclusive visit of the renowned British astronaut, Tim Peake. On the evening of November 2, Astronaut Peake hosted an exclusive space talk at SKY Observatory, the finest  overwater observatory in the Indian Ocean, housing the most powerful telescope in the Maldives. 

Perched gracefully over the pristine Maldivian waters, SKY Observatory provided an idyllic setting for  this extraordinary event, complemented by a stunning sunset. The exclusive gathering attracted a full  house of eager guests to a delightful evening that seamlessly blended science, luxury, and natural  beauty. 

The evening commenced with a lovely cocktail reception, where guests were serenaded by the soulful  tunes of a live saxophone band. Attendees savoured exquisite cocktails and canapés as they eagerly  awaited Tim Peake’s presentation. 

Tim Peake’s talk unveiled his personal journey, where he shared his path to becoming an astronaut  and narrated the rigorous training that astronauts undergo. He provided insights into life in space, the  daily challenges faced by astronauts, and the awe-inspiring experiences he encountered during his 

historic mission. He also offered a glimpse into his exciting future projects, leaving the audience both  inspired and spellbound. 

Following Tim’s presentation, an interactive Q&A session allowed guests to engage directly with the  British astronaut. The audience posed thoughtful questions, deepening their understanding of  astronauts’ unique experiences and the intricacies of space exploration. 

The event was further enriched by the presence of the resort’s three SKY gurus, Hammadh Rasheed,  Zunnoon Ahmed, and Ali Arushal, who conducted a stargazing session for the guests afterward. 

The success of the event was evident in the overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, who  left with a deeper appreciation for space exploration and a memorable evening to cherish. 

The evening marked a significant moment in Anantara Kihavah’s history, showcasing the resort’s  commitment to offering unique and memorable experiences for its guests. The presence of Tim  Peake, a celebrated astronaut and highly accomplished author, added an extraordinary dimension to  the resort’s already spectacular offerings. 

Tim Peake is a renowned British astronaut who made history as the first official British astronaut to  visit the International Space Station (ISS) and conduct a spacewalk during his six-month mission. He  also achieved the remarkable feat of running the London Marathon from space. Beyond his  extraordinary space endeavours, Tim is also a bestselling author with his most recent book Space: A thrilling human history published earlier this month. 

An astronomer’s paradise, Baa Atoll in the Maldives, is one of the best places on earth to enjoy  stargazing due to its proximity to the equator. Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas promises a voyage of  discovery on a private Indian Ocean Island, with Sky—an overwater observatory and luxury cocktail  bar—providing guests a chance to sip champagne under the stars and explore the Universe.

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Visit Maldives website adds atolls segment to showcase diverse regions



Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation’s (MMPRC/ Visit Maldives) has added a new segment to the official Visit Maldives Website specified for atolls showcasing the diversity of the Maldives.

The segment, now live at provides in depth information regarding the different regions of the Maldives, divided by atolls, to refine the traveller’s experience, commencing with an in-depth exploration of Addu Atoll and Fuvahmulah Atoll.

With 26 atolls, the Maldives offers a wide array of unique accommodations and awe-inspiring travel experiences, and this informative section of our website will serve as a gateway to discover the hidden treasures unique to each area. This falls under MMPRC’s initiatives to encourage tourism growth in all regions of the Maldives, broadening exposure to the diverse tourism products available in the Maldives.

The goal is to elevate Visit Maldives’ digital marketing landscape by showcasing the Maldives as more than just a honeymoon destination with various accommodation options. This initiative is driven by a desire to increase awareness about the distinctive offerings within each of the Maldives’ atolls. It aims to positively shape their perception of the Sunny Side of Life brand by curating engaging content that highlights the unique features of the atolls and diverse experiences available in the islands.

Additionally, the initiative will target the affordable luxury market to promote the Maldives as the most appealing option for short holidays and weekend getaways under a unified Maldives brand umbrella.

MMPRC aims to continue exploring other atolls in the Maldives as well, encouraging growth and tourism development in all regions of the Maldives, building on the foundation we have created to promote the destination beyond the traditional paradigms of sun, sand, and sea.

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