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Mall than meets the eye, Part I

Mall than meets the eye, Part I

Dubai boasts tens of glitzy malls, including the largest one in the region. But what are the essentials of a successful shopping center? Part I.

February 12, 2009 1:04 by

After much hype, delay, and drama, The Dubai Mall opened up its countless doors to the consumer world in November last year. The latest addition to the city’s cluttered shopping scene is one of the biggest malls in the world and takes the spotlight off the previous largest mall in the Middle East, the Mall of the Emirates, and those that came before it.

While there was once the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East offering real snow in the desert, and over 450 stores at Mall of the Emirates, there is now an aquarium housing 33,000 fish – including the world’s largest collection of adult sand tiger sharks – on the other side of the world’s largest single viewing acrylic panel (a Guinness Book of World Records entry, say mall representatives), an ice rink, and, when completed, 1,200 stores at The Dubai Mall. No matter whose features are more exciting or more ground-breaking, arguably no one does malls quite like this part of the world.

In a region that swelters under the summer sun for more than a quarter of the year, the idea of outdoor shopping hasn’t garnered much enthusiasm. Climate-controlled malls became a hit the instant they began sprouting across the region, providing people with an alternative to walking up and down hot streets, looking for their favorite boutiques.

Much like the trend spreading across the rest of the world, malls in the region – and in Dubai specifically – are not just shopping gimmicks offering a host of retailers, a few coffee shops, and a busy food court. Today’s malls are about the experience, pulling footfall in with themes, attractions, journeys, and education. They have become part of communities, rather than just convenience go-tos, providing wandering shoppers with things to buy, things to look at, and things to do.

“The hermetically-sealed shopping mall has no relationship with the community around it, and it will not carry on in that vein,” says Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director of Portland Design, a UK-based company that designs “consumer facing environments” for the retail, leisure and travel sectors. “If you’re going to create a shopping mall that is enclosed and climatically-controlled, at least try to build it in the vein of a community. In a community, you walk through shops, you walk through entertainment, and you eat and you drink and you shop all in the same area.”

A walk through Ibn Battuta mall, “the world’s largest themed shopping mall,” shows great effort to follow the “experience” movement. With six themed courts based on the life of Arab traveler and adventurer Ibn Battuta, the mall adheres to the “edutainment” trend by positioning itself as an interactive museum-type mall. “What we like to do with the décor and the icons is give the place a sort of unique ambience,” says Marc Jones, marketing manager of Ibn Battuta mall, part of Nakheel Retail. “It’s entertainment in a recreational and cultural way. The USP is the cultural attraction and the history. The actual icons themselves are worth millions of dirhams and are effectively interactive museum pieces.”

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