Dubai // The opening of the Metro in September is being heralded as a boost to business, but not everyone in the city is looking forward to it. Tenants of shopping malls that lie beyond walking distance of the new stations fear their customer base will shift to shopping centres with air-conditioned access to the 52km Red Line. In response, some are exploring alternatives that include introducing bus shuttle services from Metro stops to their facilities, retooling marketing efforts and focusing on neighbourhood residents.
"Indirectly, yes, it's going to affect us because people will just be taken off to places like the Mall of the Emirates," said Parvinder Singh, the manager of the Chill Out and Just Orient restaurants in Times Square Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. The shopping centre and its 49 shops rest almost directly between two Metro stops, too far to walk, as its track passes almost directly over the facility's car park.
"Every mall has its unique catch material, as I call it, that attracts customers," said Mr Singh. "But we have to find new avenues to attract customers, to tie up with hotels. "We have to directly approach them, but it's hard to do it during a financial squeeze." Pukar Khadka, an administrator at Times Square Centre, said the mall's two levels of shopping were typically visited by about 5,000 customers a day on weekdays and as many as 6,000 on weekends. Even so, he expected a negative fallout from the Metro. "There's definitely going to be an impact on the malls that don't have a Metro station," he said.
The mall was considering providing new transportation for customers, such as a shuttle bus to take in customers from a nearby stop, he added. "We are certainly thinking of having services for our customers, using the shuttle bus from Times Square Center," he said. "We're already getting quotations from different companies." In Mercato Mall on Jumeirah Beach Road, Syed Rayees, 28, an Indian who sells handmade garments at his shop, Kasham Emporium, said: "It will hurt the mall, for sure. We need to make more access for people to get here, access to Sheikh Zayed Road."
His revenues were a quarter of what they were a year ago, he estimated, describing tenants in the mall as entering a state of "survival mode". The mall is located along the Jumeirah Beach Road, kilometres from the nearest Metro stop, and the distance would probably exacerbate this trend. "The Metro is going to be so cheap; that's probably why a lot of people will take it," he said. "It's more convenient for customers if they have direct access to a mall."
However, Rana Jaser, Mercato's PR and corporate communications manager, played down the likely impact of the service. "The primary target market for Mercato is really the residents living in our catchment area, namely Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim, Al Sufouh and Sheikh Zayed Road areas and our objective since opening Mercato has always been to meet the day-to-day needs of these residents by providing convenience right on their doorstep," she said. "Furthermore, our shoppers generally fall in a higher-income bracket and enjoy private transportation, so for this reason we also receive many visitors from all over Dubai as well as other emirates."
Several tenants at Wafi mall, situated not far from the Metro's Green Line which is due to open in March, hoped more would be done by the mall's management in the interim. "We're suffering - there's no advertising, activities, nothing," said one employee at a boutique clothing store for women, who preferred to remain anonymous. "People will go to Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates. You don't feel there is an atmosphere to attract people here."