Dubai: Malls and operators of ‘family entertainment centres’ (FEC) in the UAE are working on a new angle — how to get the other members of a family to come in and spend time and money at these facilities along with their kids. They intend to do so by making sure that the entertainment options available in the local mall space go through a complete makeover.
And the process of change gets repeated every three years or so.
“FECs are no longer about just rides for kids or a video games arcade — the transition to 5D interactive cinema has already taken place and more are on the way,” said Thej John Roy, regional sales and marketing manager at Saudi Arabia’s Al Hokair Group, which owns and operates the Sparky’s branded FEC in the region. It recently opened one at Al Ghurair City in Dubai.
“What this shift in entertainment options does is allow malls and FEC destinations to try and attract an older audience along with the core audience of children.
“So, instead of leaving the children at the FECs and going for their shopping or leisure interests, the parents too get to make full use of the entertainment attractions.”
Currently, FECs in the UAE pull in, on average, between 8-12 per cent of the visitor traffic that passes through a mall. The majority of these, obviously, are in the 4-14 year old demographic. By creating a more family-inclusive environment, FEC operators believe they can stretch the age band to their advantage. (In Saudi Arabia, FECs tend to have a higher percentage of visitors on average, strictly because malls there cannot offer options such as cinemas.)
Benefits for mall operators
For mall operators, there are benefits to be had from such a trend. “FECs that attract a higher percentage of “families” as opposed to just “children” do have a positive effect on overall mall footfall,” said Tim Jones, chief operating officer for Arabian Center and Lamcy Plaza. “This is because even families who have come to enjoy the diverse applications at the FEC, ultimately have come for other reasons to the mall. It is good management of the FECs along with good marketing that has drawn them there.
“A successful FEC needs to have enough attractions to draw customers on its own merit and fulfil their two-hour leisure experience at a competitive per capita investment value. For example, if a movie ticket plus popcorn and a beverage runs to Dh75, your FEC needs to keep its price for two hours of amusement in the Dh75 range to be competitive. FEC per capita usually runs between Dh50-100, depending also on the average household family income.”
While they keep an eye on keeping the cost factor in check, the other factor weighing on FECs is to make sure they are in sync with the times. The rule of the industry is that what might be a hot attraction today could start aging pretty quickly. More so, as attention spans of the main audience — children — tend to be quite short.
“It’s vital for FECs to keep coming in with new attractions or facility renewals every third or fourth year, and any failure will do so can prove detrimental” said Roy. “Within this timespan, they have to make sure they realise optimum yields from existing attractions.
“But it’s not true that the industry works on extremely thin margins — while individual rates may vary from Dh5 for a ride/video game, there are other attractions that can have a higher rate. Plus, FEC operators can also make better returns from targeting group visitors or playing host to parties or events.”
According to Jones, video games need to be “changed or rotated” at a minimum rate of one out of ten every month. As for “redemption games”, the rotation should attain a minimum rate of five per cent each month.
“Even the positioning of the games should be changed at least every two weeks, which very few top game operators put any degree of effort into,” said Jones. “Another method of delivering added value is to package your attractions into a deep-discount ride and attraction bracelet that permits a customer to go on all the rides and attractions as many times as they desire.
“Most FECs whose games ultimately don’t end up earning well and ultimately have to close down are those that don’t put nearly enough thought into their choice of games, the game layout or value to customer. Some children’s centres just add redemption games and let them sit in a room by themselves.
“Well-managed FECs are all about value. Marketing basics tell us everyone wants to think they got a bargain. The more attractions you have, the easier it is for you to deliver that perceived value.”