By Rory Jones
Hundreds of stores are due to open in the heart of Abu Dhabi this year as Al Wahda Mall prepares to unveil a huge extension in August, doubling the size of the shopping mall.
The expansion comes as developers announce major retail plans across the country and as an enormous amount of shopping space is forecast to be completed in the capital this year.
Al Wahda will open a further 256 shops and food and beverage outlets, including a cinema and health and fitness centre, to add to the 200 it already has.
“The extension is completed and we have started handing over shops to the tenants,” said Raja Abdulkhader, the director of Line Investment & Properties, part of Emke Group, the mall’s developer and the owner of LuLu Hypermarket. “We have already leased more than 80 per cent of stores.”
The retail, entertainment and leisure sector is an increasingly important source of recurring income for developers across the Emirates, with stores reporting burgeoning revenue as consumer spending increases and more tourists visit the country.
Dubai has been a major beneficiary of the Arab Spring, with more tourists from the GCC visiting the emirate, but Abu Dhabi has also reported a big increase in visitor numbers in the past year, which has helped buoy retail sales.
Tourist numbers in Dubai increased 10 per cent to 9.3 million last year compared with 2010, and Abu Dhabi had a record year, with 2.1 million visitors, up from 1.8 million in 2010.
A total of 260,000 square metres of retail space is expected to be completed this year in Abu Dhabi on top of 1.67 million sq metres currently available in the capital, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.
Builders are scheduled to hand over three malls: Paragon Bay Mall on Reem Island; Capital Mall in Mohammed Bin Zayed City; and Deerfields Townsquare in Al Bahia.
There are also new smaller developments such as Etihad Towers, Galleria at Sowwah Square and Emporium at Central Market also forecast to open.
“Abu Dhabi is still a pretty strong market that’s undersupplied with retail,” said Matthew Green, the head of consulting at the property consultancy CBRE.
“There is considerable supply coming on, which will lead to softening of rents, but the major malls and the ones that are established are likely to continue to do well,” said Mr Green. “It’s going to be difficult for the newer malls to come in and take consumers from those malls.”
Many analysts also remain sceptical about whether all the planned developments will open on time.
But Mr Abdulkhader said he was confident Al Wahda’s extension would open on time and that about 40 per cent of the brands would be new to Abu Dhabi, having already opened in Dubai and other GCC countries.
“We will declare the names of the brands a little later. But we are expecting [the mall] to be open in the third quarter, targeting August,” he said. “The extension has facilities that are currently missing. It has a cinema and one unique [point] is the largest health club in the UAE.”
Al Wahda Mall had more than 9.5 million visitors last year, up 15 per cent on 2010, and Mr Abdulkhader expects that figure to reach 20 million once the extension is complete.
“Retailers are satisfied with their representation in Dubai and Al Ain, but not with their representation in Abu Dhabi,” said Andrew Goodwin, the head of retail for the Middle East and North Africa at DTZ, a property specialist. “With Al Wahda, retailers recognise it’s somewhere they can do business.”
This year, Emke Group is also set to open RAK Mall in Ras Al Khaimah and Galleries Mall in Fujairah.