SNOWBALL EFFECT

Qatar 2020 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

Place Vendôme is no ordinary mall: with 650 hotel rooms, a 6,000-sqm cinema with 18 screens, six slides, three toboggan runs, and an ice river opening in September 2020, it is looking to slide into Qatar's tourism infrastructure in time for the World Cup.

Sean Kelly
BIOGRAPHY

Sean Kelly is a real estate professional with over 27 years of experience in the industry. Prior to his current position, Kelly worked extensively for Majid Al Futaim (MAF) as vice president of master planning at MAF Properties and later as business development manager of MAF Retail. Before, he worked as the state design manager at Stockland and as an urban designer at Sunland Group in Australia. Kelly has developed a significant know-how in creating synergy between the various asset classes in mixed-use development. He recently undertook the Real Estate Management Program: Finance, Design, Leadership at Harvard Business School, completed his MBA in 2012, and holds a bachelor's in urban and regional planning.

What is your sense of the retail sector in Qatar?
The retail sector is going through some difficult times. First, there are too many malls. Many retailers have committed themselves to malls when they had a much rosier picture of the future. Now, they have too many stores and not enough customers. Inevitably, there will be consolidation. Another important thing to keep in mind: not all malls are created equal. Our classification is a super-regional mall; there are only three others in Qatar. A retailer is much more interested in locations in these spots because they are operated by larger regional retail operators. We are doing everything needed in order to prosper, and retailers need to make sure they are doing the same. They need to be focused on enhancing customer experience. The other issue is retailers have opened stores that are too large. Larger stores translate into larger needs to operate the store. There is a spectrum of prices that we charge, but we are always trying to offer real value and returns.

What is the scale and magnitude of the project?
We have built just over 1 million sqm. In terms of leasable space, we have 230,000sqm. There are a lot of common areas, including parking and other space. We have 250 rooms in the hotel, 150 serviced departments, and another 250 rooms at the luxury collection hotel, Palais Vendôme. Overall, we have 650 hotel rooms. We have a 6,000-sqm cinema with 1,900 seats and 18 screens. Our family entertainment center alone is 18,000sqm, including nine chalets. We expect this to become a venue for kids' parties. We will offer catering from our restaurants for the chalet parties. We have six slides, three toboggan runs, an ice river, caves, and igloos. As a landmark in Qatar, we anticipate it becoming a destination for the increasing tourist traffic into the country. We are currently on track to open in September 2020, and the project is 95% complete.

What potential will Qatar's upcoming international events, such as the World Cup, have for Place Vendôme?
We want to be part of the tourism infrastructure of our country. When tourists come, we want them to realize their retail therapy experience should be with us. Our location is excellent, and we can automatically be part of the tourism infrastructure. With a stadium only 3km away, we are working with all the stakeholders to make sure we are a prominent part of the event. Government authorities have told us they will need 50,000 nights between the end of October-December 2022. This is only for FIFA organizers, teams, sponsors, and associated individuals. One of our owners has given us the strategy of building momentum, which is exactly what we are doing. The hard infrastructure, like roads, bridges, tunnels, metros, and so on, are amazing. The soft infrastructure is excellent as well. It is well-connected for pedestrians, and it is by the sea and beautiful. The infrastructure is there; we just need to create the atmosphere. Our project will become a catalyst for this area. Once people fully understand that we are open and operating, more people will come. This will create a sea change, and people will understand what we can offer.

What are the upcoming steps for the project?
The next thing is the civil defense inspection, which we are putting all of our energy into. It will likely start at the end of December 2019 and take four or five months. Once we have gone through the passive inspection, we will move through the active inspection. If there is any feedback, we will need to make adjustments. We have the greatest respect for this process, because at the end of the day it is all about safety. Planning for the pre-opening will start in early 2020.