‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’

‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’
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Mohamed Al-Hashemi, country head of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures KSA.
‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’
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‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’
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Updated 07 September 2020

‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’

‘Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides’
  • Mohamed Al-Hashemi, country head of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures KSA, speaks about VOX Cinema’s commitment to Kingdom

DUBAI: In late 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year ban on cinemas as part of a wave of reforms. The government said it expected to open more than 300 cinemas by 2030, building an industry that would contribute more than SR90 billion ($24 billion) to the economy. At the time, Majid Al-Futtaim’s VOX Cinemas announced it would be investing $533 million to open 600 theaters in the next five years.

We caught up with Mohamed Al-Hashemi, country head of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures KSA, to learn more about VOX Cinema’s commitment to and progress in the Kingdom.

Majid Al-Futtaim intends to invest up to SR20 billion over the next 10 years in developing the Saudi retail and entertainment sectors. Can you tell us more about the SR2 billion allocated to building the VOX Cinemas brand in the Kingdom?

At Majid Al-Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment and Cinemas, we’re very committed to bringing our world-class entertainment experience to Saudi Arabia, and are on track to deliver on our ambitious plans to build 600 cinema screens across the Kingdom as part of a SR2 billion investment. We recently surpassed 100 screens in Saudi Arabia with the opening of VOX Cinemas Sahara Mall, Riyadh, in June.

And with the opening of Tabuk Park, we now have a total of 112 screens across 10 movie theaters in four cities. This makes VOX Cinemas the largest exhibitor by screen count, admissions and market share, and the largest independent distributor in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has a burgeoning entertainment sector, and we look forward to leveraging the growth opportunities that Vision 2030 presents across our portfolio of brands.

What are your upcoming locations in Saudi Arabia?

Following Tabuk, we’ll continue to expand our footprint in new cities with the opening of leisure, entertainment and cinema experiences in Hail at the end of the year and Jubail at the start of 2021. These openings underpin our commitment to make our innovative and unrivaled cinema offerings accessible to everyone, even in remote cinemas, support job creation and deliver on our ambitious expansion plans across the Kingdom.

We’ll also be opening a new multiplex in Jeddah at the end of 2020, which marks our second cinema in Jeddah after Red Sea Mall. We’re dedicated to providing our guests across all of Saudi Arabia with our unique and customer-focused cinematic experiences, complemented by our world-class leisure and entertainment concepts such as Yalla! Bowling and Magic Planet.

What was the impact of COVID-19 and how did you handle it?

We remain fundamentally confident about the future and resilience of the cinema industry and our entertainment experiences due to the social nature of human beings. Since we reopened, audience numbers have been steadily increasing week on week. Now more than ever, people need the escapism that cinema provides and to be entertained.

Our guests are keen to reconnect with family and friends in a safe out-of-home environment, and we’re confident that bookings will continue on an upward trajectory, particularly with new content coming soon.

We spent the time during the temporary closures relentlessly planning and preparing for reopening, and put in place an all-encompassing sanitization and physical distancing plan to ensure a comfortable experience for guests and employees.

We also conducted extensive guest research to identify the top safety measures that would make guests feel most comfortable about returning, and used this intel to proactively reimagine the guest experience across all our entertainment experiences, including VOX Cinemas.

We also activated a redeployment program designed to provide leisure, entertainment and cinema employees who had been affected by the temporary closures with an opportunity to retrain within the Majid Al-Futtaim ecosystem.

Staff were reskilled and assigned new roles in Carrefour’s business on a temporary basis to ensure that they continued to learn and explore new experiences during the closures. The redeployed staff helped Carrefour cater to the increased customer demand in both online and physical stores, and ensure that customers continued to receive excellent customer service and have access to essential items.

How has the increase in streaming services affected the cinema business?

At VOX Cinemas, we strongly believe that films are meant to be watched on the big screen, and are committed to providing our guests with an immersive and unrivaled experience that can’t be replicated at home. In fact, there have been a lot of studies internationally that have revealed that streaming actually encourages people to attend the cinema more often.

Going to the movies is a vital part of social life and, now more than ever, guests want the collective and exhilarating experience of watching a movie in a cinema auditorium. They also come to VOX Cinemas because they know they can expect state-of-the-art cinemas with best-in-class technology and innovative F&B (food and beverage) concepts.

We’re steadfast in our commitment to the cinematic experience, and fundamentally confident about the future and resilience of the industry. We’ll soon be announcing our upcoming slate of back-to-back releases and tentpoles such as “Tenet,” which is expected to reignite the regional box office.