Malls of the UAE: The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence is at the heart of Dubai’s tourism offer

Our monthly mallology series heads to The Beach and finds that its strength is also its greatest challenge: it is outdoors in a country where, for obvious reasons, so much is indoors.

The Beach Mall has 42 food and beverage outlets ranging from Eggspectation, a casual breakfast and lunch hang out, to Busaba Eathai, a concept brought from London. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Our monthly mall-ology series heads to The Beach and finds that its strength is also its greatest challenge – it is outdoors in a country where, for obvious reasons, so much is indoors.

A shopkeeper speaks

"It's the opposite of Game Of Thrones – summer is coming. We have been really busy since November, [and ] I hope the busy months balance the hotter times."

Emad

What are the selling points?

The Beach is a 320,000 square foot strip mall that sits between the 40 high-rise towers of Jumeirah Beach Residence, the hotels, and the actual beach that entices tourists to flock to the area. It has 42 food and beverage outlets ranging from Eggspectation, a casual breakfast and lunch hang out, to Busaba Eathai, a concept brought from London by the man who launched Hakkasan and Wagamama onto these shores. It caters to most people’s pockets.

There are also 28 premium retail outlets that will address many a tourist’s holiday whim, including sunglasses, underwear and health and beauty.

While food and beverage would seem to be the main focus for the mall it has learnt from its more established cousins that a mall now needs to cater to the old, young, energetic, idle, male and female, and offer attractions that cross age and gender.

To that end The Beach offers an al fresco gym experience similar to that of Venice Beach near Los Angeles. There is a running track and exercise machines sporadically cast along the strip. If people want to be seen working out, and many do it would seem, The Beach has given them the perfect opportunity to do so. For those who would prefer to sweat in privacy there is an indoor gym available. There is also an array of funfair side show attractions, where you may usually expect to win a gold fish, that sits rather incongruously among the mall’s developer Meraas’ beautifully cloistered walkways.

The Beach also has an outdoor screen measuring 20 x 10 square metres at La Playa cafe showing any sport that matters, and this draws a big local presence when the Uefa Champions League is shown.

It also offers free factor-30 sunscreen, showers and bathrooms and for a fee you can hire shaded cabana sun loungers.

The Beach was opened in stages but has been more or less complete for 18 months now.

Tracking footfall

I was there on a Tuesday afternoon when it was on the slow side of moderately busy. However, I also drove there at 8pm on a Thursday evening and regretted it.

The concentration of towers, hotels, restaurants (not just at The Beach), cafes and bars means the very narrow streets of Dubai Marina that lead to The Beach become log jammed very quickly and there is little chance to escape if you are in a car. There are 1,200 underground parking bays available but these fill up, as I found, very quickly. I suppose one could park in Dubai Media City and take the tram in.

The retailers and F&B outlets I spoke to were happy with the sales performance. However, all were wary of the effect the summer may have on footfall. A strip mall offers little protection from the UAE summer heat and, regardless of the attractions, air conditioning is the most important facet of a mall from May to September here.

The Outlook

Ramadan begins this month and is traditionally a quiet month for many F&B outlets. However, according to the retailers on The Beach, only about 10 per cent of business is with the domestic market – their bread and butter is the tourist trade.

As hotels in Dubai run at above 80 per cent occupancy through most of the year that makes sense. However, occupancy drops to between 55 per cent and 70 per cent during the summer months, according to TRI Consulting. That means many of the mall’s natural customers disappear and those who are in town will likely be looking for malls that offer a controlled environment.

Many of The Beach’s attractions shut at the end of April, such as the market place – a collection of small stalls selling locally made produce – and the funfair with dodgems and bumper cars. While there is a 10-screen Roxy Cinemas and a covered adventure gaming space called The Void, this is still a very seasonal mall. Although the summer does still see some hardy souls head to the beach for more traditional beachside fun.

“Meraas has created a beautiful strip mall that could sit anywhere in the world,” said Matt Green, the head of research and consultancy at CBRE. “However, it can’t battle the seasonality of its location and clientele. The retailers will have to balance the books in a way that sees the cooler months as a premium target.

“The Beach will also be a draw for those who want to see the world’s largest observation wheel, Ain Dubai, which is nearing completion on Bluewaters Island that sits adjacent to the mall. The Beach will be in the heart of Dubai’s tourism offering, so if its retailers get the offer right regardless of the summer they should do well.”

Any hidden gems?

While it’s hard to hide something in a strip mall, the design of the colonnades and the angles of the buildings have created a pleasant series of corners, bends and nooks. Seven Sands is a licensed Emirati restaurant. It has a huge balcony directly overlooking what will be the world’s largest Ferris wheel and is a favourite for shisha smokers. It serves funky Emirati cuisine that goes beyond the typical kebbe and muttabal that most expats have tried. Try jisheed, local shark cooked with turmeric, bezar and preserved lime, or thereed, a Bedouin stew cooked with potatoes, pumpkin, marrow and tomatoes.

This isn’t the reason I chose Seven Sands but as a lowly paid journo the “two main courses for the price of one” anytime you choose to visit make it a true hidden gem. A Dh70 dinner for two.

In conclusion

The Beach is the space that many old-timers in Dubai had called for – somewhere that enhances the free amenity of the beach with utilities and outlets that add to one’s experience. Amenities that make use of the area’s natural gifts, such as the “Splash pad”, a kids play area in the water, allow a short trip to become a day-long visit. And that is good for visitors and businesses.

ascott@thenational.ae

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