The Mall of Qatar is gigantic. Why did you build it on such a large scale?
There are already several shopping centers in our country, but they are considerably smaller. Something of this size is exactly what we need in Qatar. The trade sector in our country is meager; customers are hungry for new things. Plus there are other major projects at this level already in the pipeline. Fortunately, our mall will be the first one to open. And our location is included in the zone of the national master plan. In addition, we are confident that many customers will be attracted to us from neighboring countries and that we can contend among international malls.
The mall has a central building with a 28-meter high glass dome, a glittering façade which could also illuminate the surrounding area. How important is spectacular architecture today for a shopping mall?
Very important. We have to create a sense of comfort. It is no longer merely about shopping, it is about creating experiences. The design and the atmosphere account for part of the success because they have an indirect influence on how long consumers stay in the mall and how much money they spend. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Do customers enjoy their visit to the mall or are they just waiting for it to be over so they can get outside into the open air again?
The secret to keeping customers in the mall is relatively simple: You need to have a bright and friendly ambiance. This can only be achieved by using high ceilings, natural daylight and white corridors. It should not be dark anywhere. Plus there should be large areas full of greenery and areas with water: At many points it looks just like you are in the middle of nature.
Qatar has an extremely dry climate. Do you want these green landscapes to serve as attractions and to create a contrast?
Yes, landscapes like that cannot be found in our country. The lush greenery and many pools of water and fountains suggest that you are in a different world.
How long do Qatari customers stay at shopping malls?
The average stay for our country is one hour. Our goal is to extend this to three.
There are many entertainment areas in the mall including cinemas, play areas for children, event stages, a panoramic 360° theater... Which activities and diversions offered at the mall are key?
That depends a little on the size of the mall and the underlying conditions. Generally speaking, food and beverages represent an important segment today. If you had asked me this question five years ago, I would have said: at the most, that segment is worth five percent of overall sales revenue. At the Mall of Qatar we have now increased the segment to 20 percent. This shows how important eating and drinking have become as an attraction at malls.
What aspects of food and beverage are crucial?
Coffee shops in the concourses are essential so people can relax and sit down. We've also planned a large number of casual dining restaurants. When it comes to food, it is important to be able to offer a wide variety of options from all over the world: We have American, Arabic, Italian, French, Chinese and Japanese cuisine available at the mall so all expectations are met.
What is the second most important area?
Our focus is offering attractions for families – this means for children of all ages. For toddlers, we have a babysitting concept imported from the US: Parents can either watch their children while they play or leave their children with trained nannies so they can go shopping in peace. At KidzMondo we have created a kind of city. There, children can try out professions and give “work” a go: They can try out being a pilot or doctor and earn something if they successfully complete their tasks. The money they make can then be spent on other attractions such as video games. It is about integrating knowledge and education in the context of games. At another area, Xtremeland, there are interactive games: The children always have to move. Here, too, they are rewarded for really making an effort.
And there are movie theaters, too?
Yes. And here children have their own movie screen where they can watch movies in their own atmosphere. We have a total of 19 cinemas plus the Laser Imax with the largest screen in the world.
What about fashion?
Fashion accounts for the largest part of the mall. What we have on offer goes from brands more affordable than Zara, all the way to designer brands. We place a strong focus on international brands. These are found mostly at flagship stores.
Do you also have a few multibrand stores? They are on the upswing just now.
Yes. We have a branch of the British Debenhams department store and Salam, a local multibrand store which is well known in our country. Plus there is a multibrand store from Italy which runs one shop for women and another shop for men’s fashion. Plus there is an outlet of Hamleys toy shop and a Carrefour supermarket.
How much leeway do tenants have in the design of their stores?
They are free to do what they want, but are subject to a review. This is how it works: The brands come to us with a building plan and the materials they want to use. We check it and issue an approval. After all, we want the mall to project a consistent image to the public.
Today, shop fittings need to be changed more frequently than they used to be. Are you prepared for constant store redesigns and how will that be managed?
We have a special dedicated team for helping tenants. They, in turn, work closely with a consultancy which specializes in store interiors. These two teams provide the criteria for architectural and technical guidelines.
And what about pop-up store areas?
We have a presentation stage in the middle of the mall. There will be shows held there but the area can also be used for product launches. The stage can be set up for several presentations a day. We handle events in cooperation with the Berlin-based Premium Projects agency.
Qatar will be hosting major sporting events: The World Championships in Athletics in 2019 and the World Cup in Men's Football in 2022. What expectations do you have for these events?
It goes without saying that the shopping mall will benefit from these events, especially because we are only 500 meters away from the one of the stadiums and share the same metro station with the sports facilities. But the mall will be there far ahead of these dates and must also remain viable afterwards.
How many visitors do you anticipate for the first year?
20 million visitors. That is already a sizeable figure.
With Saudi Arabia and Bahrain nearby, how many of the 20 million visitors will come from within Qatar, how many from neighboring countries and how many from other countries?
I believe we must first prove that our mall is able to extend a welcome to the world in practical terms. The regional market, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is important. But we are also focused on the international market. We are well prepared for this segment thanks to luxury designer brands, a hotel, spa, and fitness center, all right at the mall.
In Europe large malls are encountering more and more difficulty. Historic city centers with boutique shops are becoming more important. What about in your country?
Here that is highly dependent on the weather. For six months of the year the weather is so hot we can hardly step outdoors. Shopping malls are a good solution for this kind of heat. In addition, we do not have a culture of strolling along streets as is practiced in Europe or North America. People from Qatar like going to malls. It really is true that we consider shopping centers to be the future of shopping.