With pyramids, pharaohs and a recent revolution, Egypt is known for many things - but skiing is not one of them. That is set to change.
The developer behind some of Dubai's biggest shopping malls and Ski Dubai plans to open Ski Egypt in three years.
The move comes as Majid Al Futtaim seeks opportunities to launch its leisure attractions globally, a senior executive said yesterday.
The indoor ski slope will be part of the company's 4.4 billion Egyptian pound (Dh2.71bn) Mall of Egypt project, which is scheduled to open in 2014. "It's going to be more of a snow park, but there's going to be a slope element," said Arnaud Palu, the chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim Leisure. It is provisionally called Ski Egypt, he said.
The design has not been finalised, but it will not be as big as the 400-metre slope in Dubai, nor would it have a black run, he said.
The company has two malls already operating in Egypt and is "very actively" looking at other opportunities in the country.
"Egypt is definitely one of the biggest markets we are going after."
One of its malls in Egypt, the Maadi City Centre mall in Cairo, suffered severe damage during the uprisings. It "was seriously impacted and remained entirely closed for two months after being damaged on January 29", Jones Lang LaSalle said in a report this month. "The damage, including structural damage from the fire and stolen merchandise, was estimated at around US$34 million [Dh124.8m]." The mall reopened in March.
The company's malls in Dubai include Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre.
Majid Al Futtaim currently owns and operates its attractions, which include indoor skydiving at its Playnation entertainment venue at Dubai's Mirdif City Centre. But the plan is to branch out the leisure division as a global operator, Mr Palu said. This would mean the company, based in Dubai, would not have to fund the development of projects, but would manage the attractions.
It has already been approached to operate a snow park in Pune in India, as well as Magic Planet amusement centre in Nigeria, and there are opportunities in the US, he said.
The company is also studying opportunities to develop malls in Azerbaijan and Georgia. There are also plans to launch its malls in Jordan and Lebanon, but plans for development in Syria have been put on hold because of uprisings there, said Mr Palu. Majid Al Futtaim's mall in Lebanon was expected to open next year and would have an "outdoor entertainment" feature, he said.
"Unlike the GCC, quality shopping centres in Egypt and the Levant are fairly limited," Jones Lang LaSalle said. "Although current political uncertainties may have implications on project deliveries in Egypt, significant opportunities for further retail development or expansion remain.
"Older malls that lack 'pull' factors such as entertainment and food and beverage options will ultimately suffer and some may be converted to non-retail uses," according to the consultancy.
"It's an international trend," said Mr Palu. "Dubai is very much symptomatic of a global trend of people that want something more. A retail mix is just one part of the equation and it's definitely not enough."
Mr Palu said visitor numbers at Ski Dubai were up about 5 per cent this year compared with the same time last year. Annually, the indoor ski slope attracts about 800,000 visitors.
There are plans to add new attractions to Ski Dubai this year, Mr Palu said. "It's contributing quite effectively to the bottom line of Mall of the Emirates," he said, declining to provide figures.
Majid Al Futtaim is Carrefour's joint venture partner for the Middle East region and this plays a part in determining where the developer expands, he added.
"We pay close attention to what our colleagues in Carrefour do. Anywhere that Carrefour goes, we tend to look closely at what they do."