x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No such thing as too much for cinemas

Cinema chains in the UAE hope to double their screen count through overseas expansion amid 'saturation' in the Dubai market.

Despite rising box-office admissions, the saturation of the Dubai market has prompted several of the big cinema chains to seek growth outside the Emirates. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Despite rising box-office admissions, the saturation of the Dubai market has prompted several of the big cinema chains to seek growth outside the Emirates. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Cinema operators in the UAE have aggressive plans for overseas expansion, with two chains planning to double the number of screens they operate in the next three to four years.

Despite rising box-office admissions, the saturation of the Dubai market has prompted several of the big cinema chains to seek growth outside the Emirates.

Reel Cinemas, which is owned and managed by Emaar Retail, a unit of the Dubai property developer, plans to double its screen count over the next three years.

It operates 28 screens across two sites, The Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina Mall.

"In three years time I think we would expect to double that," said Gordon Kirk, the general manager of Reel Cinemas.

Cinema launches in the Gulf are largely driven by mall openings. After the frenetic pace of development in Dubai's retail space in recent years, many cinema chains now feel compelled to look elsewhere for growth.

"Dubai is a very good market, but it's approaching saturation point," said Mr Kirk. Reel Cinemas was considering launches in Egypt, Syria and Turkey, he said, adding it would also look for opportunities outside Emaar malls. "Most of them would be within malls, but not necessarily Emaar malls," Mr Kirk said. "We have four opportunities we are looking at but nothing has been decided."

VOX Cinemas, which was formerly known as CineStar Cinemas, also plans to double its screen count over the next few years. The chain is owned by the mall developer Majid Al Futtaim, which is developing its third mall in Egypt, as well as studying the retail markets of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Jordan and Lebanon.

Cameron Mitchell, the chief executive of VOX Cinemas, told The National last month the company was looking for expansion outside the UAE.

VOX would open a cinema in Beirut next year, and was looking at opportunities in North Africa, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, Mr Mitchell said. "We envisage in the next three to four years we'll double our screen count," he added.

Grand Cinemas, which is based in the UAE and also has screens in Lebanon and Jordan, is also looking overseas for growth.

"We'll be opening cinemas in Syria, and we'll be opening before the end of the year in Kuwait," said Andy Fordham, the brand marketing manager at Grand Cinemas. Plans to open in Qatar are "further down the track", he added.

The Cinemacity chain, which has its headquarters in Lebanon and has cinemas in Beirut, the UAE, Syria and Jordan, is also expanding.

Samer Debsi, the general manager, said Cinemacity was launching a new "state-of-the-art" cinema in Beirut, adding sites in Syria and considering the Abu Dhabi market.

"We have a few undisclosed projects we are working on," said Mr Debsi. "We have a great plan of expansion."

Shivani Pandya, the managing director of the Dubai International Film Festival, said part of the success of the cinema industry in the UAE was because of the relatively low price of tickets, which typically start at Dh30 (US$8.16).

"All of the cinemas are quite busy," said Ms Pandya. "Everyone says it's recession-proof. It's comparatively a cheaper form of entertainment."

bflanagan@thenational.ae