DUBAI — Shireen El Khatib has been named chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls. She will run the company’s portfolio of 26 malls across the UAE, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain and Lebanon, which collectively welcomed more than 100 million visitors in the first half of 2019.
Majid Al Futtaim have been pioneers in the retail-entertainment model, opening the first megamall, Mall of the Emirates, in Dubai 15 years ago, which featured the world’s largest indoor ski resort and snow park. Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls falls under the umbrella of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, which also has interests across retail, entertainment and mixed use real estate. Last year, the company reported $9.4 billion in revenue.
El Khatib, a 25-year veteran of the retail industry in the Middle East, is well-recognized for modernizing retail in the region. She previously held the role of ceo at Majid Al Futtaim’s fashion division for two years where she focused on developing customer-centric retail concepts and revamping the company’s portfolio of fashion and lifestyle brands. Prior to joining Majid Al Futtaim, El Khatib was the ceo of Al Tayer Insignia where she brought luxury department stores Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols to Dubai, the first international locations for both retailers.
Her appointment is a strong statement from the region’s most powerful mall operator, which faces new challenges as online shopping grows in the region. “Times are changing,” El Khatib said. “Malls have to start thinking like retailers and looking at things through a partnership lens.”
While the total occupancy of Majid Al Futtaim’s malls remained strong at 93 percent in the first half of this year, retailers in the region are rumbling about rent reductions as sales have slowed down. El Khatib is ready to tackle the challenges with a fresh perspective. “It’s a new era for shopping malls to stop thinking just as a landlord. We have to think like customers and put ourselves in their shoes.”
El Khatib will navigate a challenging market environment. The rapid growth of online shopping in the region has drastically changed the retail landscape. “We have changing consumer expectations. They are seeking experiences and inspiration, wanting to go out to discover and learn and feel enriched, as opposed to going out to buy a product, because a product can be bought online.”
El Khatib added that they need to keep innovating to keep customers interested. “We need to anticipate the future needs ahead of customers dictating them.” Dreamscape, a virtual reality park, is set to open at Mall of the Emirates next week. That will be the first ever outside of the U.S. and only third location in the world.
The company also is looking to Saudi next to fuel growth. “The market has recently opened up and has a lot to offer to operators.” Majid Al Futtaim will open Mall of Saudi in Riyadh in the next three to four years. It will be the first integrated shopping, entertainment and dining destination in the Kingdom. Like its sister, Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, the mall will have an indoor ski slope, world-class cinemas and new luxury brands.