Emaar Entertainment, a subsidiary of Dubai-listed developer Emaar Properties, is ramping up its focus on the domestic market following a slump in international visitor traffic, its chief executive officer said. 

The entertainment sector, along with other industries, suffered at the onset of the pandemic last year, as businesses grounded to a halt while millions of customers stayed home.  

In Dubai, where international tourism receipts account for more than $21 billion as of 2018, the impact was very evident, as foot traffic at tourist landmarks, attractions and cinemas had plummeted. 

“The whole world came to a standstill. The whole world had closed [and] industries like entertainment, hospitality and air travel, unfortunately, have been the most hit,” Zeina Dagher, CEO of Emaar Entertainment, said at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) virtual summit on Monday. 

Emaar Entertainment is behind the Reel Cinemas chain that operate across the UAE. Its portfolio also includes indoor attractions such as Kidzania, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, Dubai Opera, ice rink and VR Park. The company has recently secured a licence to bring its Reel Cinemas brand to Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh. 

More than a year into the pandemic, things have improved, according to Dagher.

the pandemic hit], we focused mostly on tourists and which countries they’re coming from. Now, our bigger focus is the residents… on how we can reach them and attract [more domestic traffic],” Dagher said. 

Business strategy 

Emaar Entertainment’s strategy to capitalise on the domestic market includes creating value-for-money offerings to residents. Dagher noted that, unlike tourists, consumers in the UAE are price-conscious. 

“So, we have to relook at our ticketing strategy and find out how we can provide more value to our customers with the same ticket price. We create bundled offers, staycations or bundle attractions with hotel stays, shopping vouchers with attractions,” said Dagher. 

“Residents have become much more price-conscious, they’re always looking for promotions and bundles. In the past, tourists did not think about how much they pay for the ticket price. But now, we are in times where people are much more [budget-conscious].”

Return to normalcy 

Dagher is optimistic that, eventually, international tourist traffic will come back and provide the entertainment sector a much-needed boost.  

She noted that, even with some of the COVID-19 restrictions still in place in the UAE, it is clear that people are “hungry to come back” to normal life. 

“We are hoping that from now until end of the year, things will ease [further] and more people are vaccinated. Hopefully, [the economy] will continue to open up more.” 

(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria) 


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