After a challenging 2020, dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, retail and entertainment in Dubai are coming back “better and faster than everyone”, according to the CEO of retail giant Majid Al Futtaim (MAF).
Alain Bejjani believes this comeback will look different than the pre-pandemic retail concepts as consumers seek more digital and community-focused experiences.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Bejjani spoke about the changing retail trends and how MAF is adapting to them.
He also elaborated on why he is optimistic about the UAE economy in 2021 and what is in store for MAF in the year ahead.
Are you optimistic about 2021 going forward when it comes to the economy?
Well, I would say generally, yes. I think 2020 has been a story of the soft shaped W. We had a great start of the year, then we had the big dip, then we came back into activity in May and things continued to get better and better.
We had a very good July and August where the retail economy grew 2 percent in August compared to 2019. Then things got softer in September and October but came back in November and December.
So on average, speaking about the retail economy, 2020 has delivered a result that’s about 10 percent less than 2019, bearing in mind that there was almost no tourism contribution that year.
So I think that was good and better than expected in terms of the impact. 2021 is on the same recovery trajectory that we had in 2020 so I’m expecting that we’re going to continue in the same trend. In my personal opinion, by mid by June 2021 we should be back to almost normal.
I think a very important effort that’s being rolled out currently is the vaccine effort and the fact that as we speak, about 18 to 19 percent of UAE’s population has already been vaccinated. So it is not unreasonable to believe that somewhere between April and May, we should be at 80 percent of the population vaccinated, if not before and reach herd immunity.
The government has expertly handled the pandemic and this has reinforced the sense of belonging and safety for people. They handled the reality with vigilance while being as business-friendly as possible and I think everyone appreciates that and it had a positive impact.
Of course, we are talking about a positive impact in a very challenging year but it was not a situation where there was a disregard to livelihood: it was lives and livelihood in a balanced way.
We’ve seen today how Dubai is coming back and how, by the end of 2020, Dubai was the global tourism destination. We’re also seeing people coming back to the malls, cinemas, restaurants, etc.
All this actually gives me comfort that we’re going to come back, in my opinion, better and faster than anyone else.
What is your view on tech and digitalisation and their contribution to the economy?
I’ve always been a big proponent of the digital economy and one of the things that I like a lot is that we now have a minister for digital economy in the UAE.
By using better technologies, we’re going to become more and better connected. That is going to help us lead more fulfilling lives because we’re going to be able to take the clutter out and focus on what matters the most.
This is something that MAF is committed to and this is why we’ve been investing in growing our digital business as well as our physical business. One cannot think of the future today by segregating or separating digital from physical: they are one and I think the omnichannel experience is going to become more comprehensive and even more fulfilling.
What is in the pipeline for MAF in 2021?
Our first big bang of 2021 was the launch of THAT. At a time when people are not really investing much, we continue to believe that walking the talk is very important.
In the coming two to three months, we’re going to have a major opening of our latest shopping centre, City Centre Al Zahia, at the border between Dubai and Sharjah and that will be an important destination for the Northern Emirates.
We have Tilal Al Ghaf, which we launched during the pandemic that continues to do very well as the residential sector has been a very good one this year. We’ll have more phases that we’ll be launching this year.
We also have a lot of newnesses that are going to come on the Carrefour side, on our digital businesses as well as on the lifestyle. So quite a busy agenda and we’re very happy and eager about it.
Source: Arabian Business