After a challenging 2017, retailers across the Middle East have expressed their confidence in the region's retail sector, and are re-focusing their efforts on providing shoppers with unique and memorable experiences.
Fahimuddin Sharfuddin, CEO of Cityland Group, noted that shopping is a lifestyle activity, and is very much a part of the UAE culture.
"People love to go out and spend the day with their friends and family, and shop in the same place," he said. "It is true that the retail industry is suffering a bit in the current times, but the confidence is always there. The market is stressed and the sentiment is out, but Dubai is a market that always attracts confidence. The city will continue to maintain its position as a market leader. I believe that developers need to bring something new to shoppers with an added element of entertainment; this is because competition is on the rise due to omni-channel experiences in the retail landscape."
He added: "What is needed in the market to bring up more supply to the sector is that the developer needs to bring something innovative and unique to attract visitors. Cityland Mall is going to be the destination which Dubai needs, and proves to be popular because it brings in a brand new experience and unique proposition."
Reports reveal that the UAE has just under two million square metres of space currently under construction, and that the retail sector remains buoyant with approximately one million square of gross leasable area set to be handed over between 2017 and 2019.
Dubai will see an additional 717,000sqm of retail trade by the 2018, followed by Abu Dhabi which is set to increase retail spaces by 467,000sqm.
According to Dubai Tourism, a total of 11.58 million international overnight visitors arrived in Dubai during the first nine months of 2017, reflecting a 7.5 per cent increase over the same period last year. Statistics show that international visitors to Dubai spent $28.50 billion over the past year.
Mohammad Alawi, chairman of the shopping malls committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, pointed to a returning confidence in the retail sector right now.
"Retail will continue to remain a very good investment portfolio, and provide rewarding returns across all channels," he said. "The only thing that might be changing in the sector is the nature of the format. Retailers might experience both their highs and lows, but that is the normal nature of the cycle in any economy. Even after the introduction of VAT, I am confident that the sector will continue to show its resilience. We estimate a growth of roughly six per cent next year."
Raid bin Abdullah Al Araimi, vice-chairman of Al Raid Group, said that Oman's retail markets have remained an attractive proposition for local and international brands despite the economic challenges. The country boasts an impressive economic and political stability in the Middle East, he said.
"With growing consumer demands for retail, F&B and entertainment, the demand for better facilities and better environment is high. Consumers look forward to new shopping malls to keep up with the worldwide trends, thus there is an interest from local and international brands to set up their businesses in Oman."
Citing a CBRE report for July 2016, Al Araimi noted that Muscat was the only city in the Mena region to find a place among the top 25 cities when it comes to global shopping centre development. "This sends a bright and strong message regarding the excellent future for this business in Oman," Al Araimi said.
ABC Group CEO Frank-Matthias Kuntermannil said that the retail industry has seen quite a few difficult days lately in the Middle East region, including Lebanon. But he also revealed that there are currently several mall development projects under review or construction in various areas of Lebanon, which all points to a confidence among developers to launch new malls and retail projects.