UAE malls need to re-focus on 'lasting memories', says The Galleria's David Robinson

Dubai: A chance to shop, dine or catch a movie – those alone won’t be enough for shopping malls to get visitors coming back for more. It’s time to throw in a whole lot of experiences to make it truly worth their while.

Or as David Robinson, General Manager at The Galleria Al Maryah Island – Abu Dhabi’s swank shopping and leisure destination – the best outcome that malls can work on is to create memories. “It is not simply about drawing numbers, it’s about creating lasting memories,” said Robinson.

“We need to remain focused on providing a sense of safety and comfort for all consumers. Our efforts have had to go beyond offering gloves, masks, sanitisers and temperature testing at entrances. Because consumers are also looking for safe spaces to resume their lifestyle in the ‘new normal’ - a place to seek out social connections, activities and entertainment.

“Lifestyle destinations, like The Galleria, will continue to be the meeting place of choice for the Abu Dhabi community. The community is more eager than ever to shop, eat and play with family and friends… in a safe environment. I believe this is a key factor in the return of pre-pandemic lifestyles and consumer habits.”

The lockdown measures came just months into the opening of The Galleria's expansion. Since May of 2020, all efforts have been about rebuilding visitor numbers and adding new retail options. Image Credit: Supplied

Stop... relaunch

Robinson should know. In January last year, The Galleria recorded its highest single-day visitor traffic of 140,000 plus. And in December 2019, it pulled in 2.8 million visitors, which was the highest monthly record since the mall’s expansion in September that year took it to a 3.3 million square feet spread. The destination sure added a Wow factor to Abu Dhabi’s retail mix, and doing its bit to have the city’s residents spend their time and dirhams locally.

And then the COVID-19 came calling. “The Galleria was closed for a duration of five-and-a-half weeks, and reopened May 2 last year,” said Robinson. “All stores were closed with the exception of the supermarket (Waitrose) and pharmacies (Boots and Bin Sina Pharmacy).

“We have taken the time to understand the consumer mindset and curated experiences that meet these demands. It took The Galleria four months to reach its pre-pandemic footfall of 2 million visitors per month, which was achieved in July 2020.

“The Galleria is operating at a 40 per cent capacity as per the rules by Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, while restaurants and coffee shops must operate at no more than 60 per cent of their capacity.”

The Galleria was about giving Abu Dhabi's residents a destination that takes care all of their shopping and leisure needs. It will also be about creating 'lasting memories', says Robinson. Image Credit: Supplied

Numbers spell hope

Last year, the mall eventually saw 22 million visitors turn up, amidst all the disruptions and limits set on visitor traffic. In November last, there was one day when the traffic hit 135,000 and quite close to the highest ever attained in January 2020 of 140,000 visitors plus.

Some of the UAE’s biggest destinations are gradually getting their numbers back, offsetting worries that post-pandemic, shoppers will stick with online options or have their dining requirements met through deliveries.

But all industry sources are on the same page when saying it will be a gradual road to recovery. “Consumer confidence has increased significantly as a result of a growing desire to connect with the physical environment,” said Robinson. “Overall, the retail sector has been both resilient and agile in response to changes in consumer behaviour.

“Our sector has also adapted - and in some cases innovated - in the face of the widespread social and economic challenges brought on by COVID-19. Our own experience at The Galleria Al Maryah Island in 2020 is evidence of these trends.”

  • The Galleria Al Maryah Island opened in its original avatar in 2013.
  • It was a joint venture between Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure and Gulf Related, itself an alliance between Gulf Capital and Related Companies.
  • The expansion of the mall was completed in September 2019. This added more than 270 new brands, including 70 dining options.
  • 68 stores opened in 2020, including the first-to-Abu Dhabi brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Books Kinokuniya. The first ever Kendall + Kylie store also opened.
  • So far this year, 15 stores have launched at the mall, including a Rolex boutique.

Family matters

This year, the mall will create three additional entertainment destination after recently converting an area close to the Level 2 food court into a family entertainment area (Mirage Amusements). Back in September 2019, the mall introduced rooftop parks that “cater specifically to leisure, family and sporting pursuits”.

“Research has shown that while Abu Dhabi residents engage with digital retail experiences, they still have a strong affiliation with physical retail and leisure destinations,” said Robinson. “The Galleria has always been an experiential destination for the community. Our market is heavily driven by the importance of the family unit - and we have focused more intently on curating experiences for the whole family.

“We strongly believe that mixed-use destinations that provide exceptional experiences across retail, dining and entertainment will continue to play an important role in the community.”

And for those lasting memories…

The expansion area that was unveiled in September 2019. Despite all the disruptions and distractions of 2020, the mall saw 22 million visitors turn up. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive


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