Fantastic FECs and Where to Find Them - September 2017

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Family entertainment centers are now a mainstay of retail operations in the Middle East

by Juliana Gilling

The family entertainment center (FEC) market in the Middle East is characterized by diversity, innovation, and rapid expansion, making it “one of the most competitive in the world,” says Kunal Harisinghani, head of marketing at Landmark Leisure. Here, Funworld provides an overview of the region’s players and how they carve out niches within a burgeoning hotbed for the attractions industry. 

MAF: Powered by Mall Partnerships

Majid Al Futtaim Leisure and Entertainment LLC (MAF) established its first Magic Planet FEC at the City Centre Deira shopping mall in Dubai in 1995. There are now 31 Magic Planet sites across eight markets in the Middle East. These attract approximately 4.5 million visitors annually. The 31st branch opened recently at the Abu Dhabi Marina Mall. 

“Choosing the right location, mall partner, and rides/games mix are crucial steps to successfully starting an FEC business in our region,” says Hagar Heshmat, senior marketing manager for Magic Planet at MAF. 

Magic Planet’s offerings are designed to appeal to an audience including families with children and teenagers. Bespoke rides and games are combined with attractions including bowling alleys, climbing walls, pool tables, soft-play areas, and trampoline parks. “We are continually working to enhance our guests’ experience by developing and adding new attractions,” says Heshmat. 

This commitment to renewing facilities is necessary to meet two market challenges: “enticing footfall and delivering a great experience within an acceptable price point,” according to Heshmat. MAF invested time upgrading Magic Planet’s rides and games mix, improving the brand’s perception among its audiences, and moving into new geographical markets such as East Africa. 

Magic Planet stores vary in size, with the largest being 8,000 square meters. “There are plans to open bigger sites in the near future,” says Heshmat. Magic Planet is aiming to be the “FEC of choice for guests and mall developers alike,” backed up by a well-trained crew.

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Landmark Group operates 45 FECs across the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries. (Credit: Landmark Group)

The Landmark Group: A Tailored Approach

The Landmark Group has been a leading light in retail in the Middle East since 1973. Having already established market-leading retail brands, the group set out to expand the shopping experience for the whole family. FECs provided it with a way to add entertainment value for families with young children in a safe, comfortable, indoor environment. 

Fun City was the first in a series of FEC brands from Landmark Group. Others include Fun Ville, Fun Works, and Fun Block. “We are very excited to be introducing two new brands—catering to a different age group—later in the year,” says Harisinghani. 

Landmark operates 45 FEC outlets in all six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries: UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In India, the group operates 20 locations under the Fun City brand.

All of the venues are filled with attractions aimed at families with children aged 10 and younger, but there are subtle differences. Fun City hosts a large number of big rides and kiddie rides, as well as a huge soft-play area (Play Zone) and a Fun ‘n’ Learn area for toddlers up to 4 years old. 

Fun Ville installations are usually midsize facilities with more emphasis on the play area and rides for younger children. Fun Works serves an older age group; besides the Play Zone and rides, there are interactive workshops (“My Works”), where children can learn while they play. Fun Block is an active play brand, featuring trampoline parks and climbing walls. Typically, the group’s FECs are around 2,300 square meters, with each attracting around 120,000 annual visitors. 

“We are very proud to have established a portfolio of FEC brands that caters to different segments of malls, from small community centers housing Fun Block, to midsize malls housing Fun City and Fun Ville, and regional malls hosting a Fun Works,” says Harisinghani. “We have built all our brands in-house; our very competent design and technical team helps us deliver world-class FEC experiences at unmatched value.”

Given the region’s weather for much of the year is not conducive to outdoor play, “malls are pretty much the center of the community,” explains Harisinghani. FECs in the Middle East and India play a vital role, functioning as “play avenues” to stimulate children’s physical, social, and cognitive development. 

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KidzMondo is new to the UAE, but has big plans for the region. (Credit: 

KidzMondo Doha)

New Kidz(Mondo) on the Block

KidzMondo Doha is one of the newest arrivals in the Middle East market. The kid-size edutainment city debuted at the Mall of Qatar in December 2016. 

KidzMondo is owned by Kidz Holding S.A.L., a company founded and chaired by Lebanese entrepreneur Ali Kazma. Kidz Holding awarded the franchise to open KidzMondo Doha to Aura Entertainment, a regional company specializing in developing international fashion and lifestyle brands in the GCC.

“Countless hours of painstaking research, development, and hard work led to the opening of KidzMondo Doha in Qatar, our third KidzMondo theme park following the first in Beirut and Istanbul in Turkey,” says Manal Ghosh Roachford, marketing manager at KidzMondo Doha. 

The development is part of an expansion plan to take the KidzMondo brand to cities worldwide. KidzMondo Abu Dhabi is opening soon, with further sites planned in Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Jordan, and Russia. A KidzMondo city in Melbourne, Australia, is also in the cards. 

“KidzMondo Doha is a $25 million FEC project led by a highly qualified team of more than 115 educators,” says Ghosh Roachford. It provides a fun learning environment for children aged 2-14 years old. “We expect more than 150,000 children to visit our edutainment city per year,” says Ghosh Roachford. Nearly 800 children can enjoy the facility at any one time. 

KidzMondo Doha spans around 8,000 square meters. It replicates the real world, with its own currency, constitution, economy, and functioning infrastructure. “We made sure that our progressive edutainment concept was in perfect harmony with the country’s unique identity, deep-rooted values, and local culture,” says Ghosh Roachford. Customized products with a Qatari flavor were developed for the theme park. “The oil refinery activity is an example of the cultural adaptation we always seek to create wherever we travel with the KidzMondo concept,” she says.

“We designed the city’s 60 establishments in KidzMondo Doha in collaboration with leading brands that people can relate to,” adds Ghosh Roachford. These include Qatar Airways, Qatar International Islamic Bank, and telecommunications provider Ooredoo. The role-play activities contribute to the Qatar National Vision 2030 and its goal of building a knowledge-based society.

The KidzMondo team are devoted to developing “FECs that are innovative, purposeful, and profitable,” says Ghosh Roachford. 

Opportunities and Challenges

There’s no doubt FECs are becoming a must-have for shopping malls in the Middle East, but the growth comes with risks. “More malls are being added each year, and there is considerable stress on older malls to attract similar footfalls year on year. Being a product of convenience, FECs are subject to cannibalization between malls and, therefore, a loss in visitor numbers,” says Harisinghani. “To counter this, we are constantly reinventing our value offering, refreshing our asset, and ensuring that we provide best-in-market service that differentiates us from everyone else,” he says. 

It’s encouraging that operators are producing creative FEC concepts in a bid to stand out from the crowd. But while novel concepts are springing up across the FEC market in the Middle East, sometimes companies are trying too hard to be different. Experience has taught operators like the Landmark Group the importance of getting the basics right: “Five-year-olds get happy the same way they did years ago, and ensuring a high-quality, safe, consistent experience goes a long way to earning credibility,” says Harisinghani. “Service is one of the most critical factors for the success of an FEC.”

1709_FECS_HussainThe Inside Track with Global Village CEO Ahmad Hussain bin Essa

Global Village CEO Ahmad Hussain bin Essa is on the IAAPA Board of Directors and was a founding board member of the Middle East and North Africa Leisure & Attractions Council (MENALAC). Here, he shares his insights into how rising populations and tourism growth are fueling FEC expansion in the region, based on his experience running one of the most popular attractions in Dubai. 

Can you give us an overview of the FEC industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?

The leisure and entertainment industry is booming. There are currently more than 140 FECs in the MENA region, with an average of 40 FECs launching every year and many more in the pipeline. In addition to targeting resident populations, countries in the region are now focusing on providing the best family entertainment tourism experiences to the millions of tourists expected every year. 

Surveys show that the MENA region overall is home to more than 225 million residents, with forecasted growth of 6 percent by 2025. The region attracted more than 60 million tourists overall in 2015, a figure that is also expected to grow significantly by 2025.

Dubai alone received more than 16 million tourists in 2016. It is positioning itself as the number-one city in the world for family entertainment tourism and is working toward welcoming more than 20 million by 2020. 

Visits to FECs in the MENA region totaled 30 million for more than 140 outlets in 2015. That is projected to reach 126 million visits for more than 350 outlets by 2020. FECs in the MENA region can be categorized according to their experiences into entertainment, edutainment, gaming, and sports offerings. While entertainment and edutainment are leading the growth of FECs in the region, gaming and sports outlets are being introduced with distinct identities, differentiating them from existing concepts in the world.

How is the FEC business developing in the region?

FECs from the different categories are delivering unique and exceptional experiences to their visitors. Shopping malls are focusing on edutainment, for example, driven by increasing family tourism and a large young population in the region. Malls are setting up their own unique edutainment FECs with outstanding experiences and a wide variety of offerings. 

Classic gaming FEC outlets are disappearing in the region. The focus now is on delivering innovative, branded gaming experiences with highly popular IPs to drive high footfall. 

Entertainment FECs are delivering a comprehensive visitor experience that not only includes rides and games, but also unique dining and shopping experiences and shows, presented to the best international standards.

What does a typical FEC look like in the MENA region? 

Research shows that FECs are usually 2,500-7,500 square meters in size, with an average capacity of 50 visitors per square meter. Most operate out of shopping malls. They target the resident populations and tourists, attracting an average of 450,000 visitors annually.

What challenges do FECs face in the MENA region?

With the fast-evolving trends and standards in the industry, customers have diverse expectations. FECs are continuously looking to customize their experiences, fitting them to the needs of every individual. 

Constant innovation is required in a market where all players and outlets are searching for creative ways to add to their unique brands, ensuring sustainable growth. While most believe that rivalry exists between players in the MENA region, regional and international bodies such as IAAPA want to ensure healthy collaborations in the industry where all players work in harmony to achieve their market’s overall vision alongside their own.


Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the Europe, Middle East, Africa attractions industry for Funworld. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com