Fashion & Beauty, OPINION, Trending - July 6, 2024

Community, Sustainability, and the Shopping Experience: An Interview with Duaij Al Rumaihi Mall Director, City Centre Bahrain


Managing a mall that sees millions of visitors all year round is no small task. Behind every item you purchase, every order of food, and every game played is a team working relentlessly to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. City Centre Bahrain is one of the busiest malls in Bahrain with new brands, activities, and experiences making for a never-dull visit. We got curious and found out what goes on behind the scenes.

For over a quarter-century, Duaij Al Rumaihi has been immersed in the world of retail, shaping the way people shop across the region. His journey has spanned every facet, from real estate to mall management. In this exclusive interview with the Mall Director of City Centre Bahrain, we found out more about the brands and experiences to come, how the mall is leading sustainability and community initiatives, and what’s in store.

How would you benchmark your success at City Centre Bahrain?

One of the most tangible indicators of our success is footfall. We have the highest footfall of any shopping destination in the Kingdom, with an impressive average of 14 million visitors annually, demonstrating our strong appeal as a destination of choice for both residents and tourists.

Another key benchmark is our contribution to Bahrain’s economy. Our mall attracts a significant portion of the country’s tourists, supporting local businesses, creating numerous employment opportunities and being a hub for a diverse range of brands – local, regional, and international.

EL&N London Opens at City Centre Bahrain

Our success is deeply intertwined with our role within the local community. By prioritising the Bahrainisation of our workforce, we ensure that our management team reflects the local talent pool, fostering a sense of ownership and belonging among our employees.

Sustainability is another cornerstone of our success. Recently, we were awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. This recognition signifies the highest achievement in sustainable building practices within the globally recognised LEED green building rating system, also the most widely used one. We scored an impressive 84 points, the highest level that surpasses the Certified, Silver and Gold levels. It was awarded for Operations and Maintenance of Existing Buildings, and brought the total number of LEED-certified Majid Al Futtaim malls in the region to 20, proving our commitment to implementing major sustainability projects and initiatives.

What measures are you taking to promote more homegrown brands and creators at City Centre Bahrain?

At City Centre Bahrain, we recognise the immense value that homegrown brands bring to our community, and we have implemented several initiatives to support and promote these local businesses.

One of our key strategies is the introduction of pop-up concepts within the mall, offering a platform for emerging local brands to showcase their products in a high-traffic retail environment without the long-term commitment of a traditional lease. This has resulted in success stories such as Amina Gallery, Romeo’s Coffee, Humble Bubble Tea, and Nomad Urban Eatery, which started as pop-ups and have now become permanent fixtures at City Centre Bahrain.

This year, we also welcomed new homegrown brands like Gold Label Burgers, known for its premium burgers in an American-style diner, and ALKEM – the first Integrated Medical Center in the mall – to our portfolio.

We’ve established impactful partnerships – like our collaboration with Hope Ventures through the Beban programme – designed to support Bahraini entrepreneurs by offering them a robust platform for growth and visibility within our mall.

We are also excited about our collaboration with Time Out Market Bahrain, showcasing the best local and homegrown food and beverage brands in a marketplace setting, which is set to open soon.

Our Launchpad X initiative, a programme by Majid Al Futtaim remains a significant opportunity for regional brands to scale. Launchpad X aims to connect leading startups from the MENA region with global market opportunities. We encourage local businesses to apply for the next round, leveraging the regional advantage that comes with operating under the Majid Al Futtaim umbrella.

Tell us a little about the sustainability initiatives at City Centre Bahrain. What impact are you aiming to make through them?

Our efforts are aligned with the broader sustainability goals of Majid Al Futtaim, which aim to reduce environmental impact and promote sustainable practices across all our assets.

One of our proudest achievements is the prestigious LEED Platinum certification, reflecting our environmentally friendly operations. City Centre Bahrain is among several Majid Al Futtaim assets that have achieved this status, highlighting our leadership in sustainability within the region.

We’ve also installed solar panels on our car park roofs and the mall itself. With over 450 parking spots shaded by these panels, we are able to produce substantial amounts of clean energy. Energy efficiency is complemented by our waste management, including comprehensive recycling programs that have significantly reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills and have saved considerable amounts of electricity. Our goal is to contribute further to Bahrain’s national target of cutting emissions by 30% by 2035 through energy efficiency and decarbonisation.

Our other initiatives expand beyond the environmental remit into the social. The Fit City Program is aimed at encouraging healthy lifestyles among our visitors. The “Be a Light” campaign, a cornerstone of our community reach and CSR, raised over BD10,000 in 2023, to support thousands of Bahraini orphans during Ramadan. In 2024, we continued this campaign in partnership with the Royal Humanitarian Foundation (RHF), to serve the visually impaired through treating eye ailments. For every customer who took part in our interactive installation replicating the daily experience of the visually impaired, City Centre Bahrain donated to the Royal Humanitarian Foundation for medical treatment.

We also worked closely with the Royal Humanitarian Foundation and Al Mosawi Specialist Center to select three candidates and sponsor their eye surgeries and visited multiple labour camps where over 300 on-site eye screenings were conducted using Optica’s mobile van to conduct complementary on-site eye screening and testing.

“Be A Light” not only demonstrates our commitment to uplifting the lives of the Bahraini community, but the campaign has become both an umbrella and a pillar of City Centre Bahrain’s Ramadan CSR initiatives, showcasing our dedication to making a tangible difference with positive change to our community.

In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing Mall Management today?

Managing a shopping mall in today’s dynamic environment presents a unique blend of opportunities and challenges, in my experience.

The opportunities that shape our approach to mall management are headlined by Bahrain’s strategic position as a key hub within the region offers tremendous potential to attract new brands and businesses. Our location allows us to serve as a gateway to the GCC market, providing brands with a prime entry point to a diverse and affluent customer base.

Additionally, the government’s progressive vision to attract new tourism markets significantly bolsters our prospects. Tourism sector initiatives bring in a steady influx of visitors, which in turn drives footfall and boosts sales for our retail partners.

This vision requires not only robust government policies to facilitate seamless business operations for local, regional, and international enterprises but also healthy infrastructure with high standards of safety, health and operation excellence. We have stepped up our game here by earning three prestigious health, safety, and operational guideline certificates: the ISO 45001:2018 Certification, the Health Promoter Mall award by the Ministry of Health, and a Gold Certificate from the World Disability Union for our inclusive facilities like parking spaces and several accessibility features for people of determination.

On the flip side, the mall management landscape is not without its challenges. One of the most pressing issues is navigating macro and microeconomic fluctuations. Regional conflicts, economic downturns, and global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly impacted consumer behaviour and retail dynamics. For instance, the pandemic accelerated the shift towards e-commerce, pushing traditional retailers to innovate and adapt to remain competitive, making the mall experience an all-around blend of convenience, entertainment, and lifestyle.

Another challenge lies in keeping pace with fast-changing trends and customer preferences, especially in the retail and food and beverage sectors, which means continuous investment in technology, infrastructure,  innovative offerings and elevating the customer experience.

Managing one of the busiest malls on the island – what does a day at work look like for you?

My day typically starts with a review of our strategy plans and assessing the timely implementation of ongoing projects. Strategic planning is crucial as it sets the roadmap for achieving our goals. I regularly review our activities and initiatives to make sure they contribute to our broader objectives.

A key part of our mission is to “create great moments for everyone every day.” This involves continuously improving the customer experience through various initiatives, such as introducing new retail concepts, enhancing mall amenities, and hosting engaging events.

It also means consistently working on enhancing the customer experience through hands-on work. I often walk through the mall, observing interactions and gathering feedback from visitors. This first-hand experience helps us identify areas for improvement and innovate ways to make each visit memorable and enjoyable.

Brunch & Cake Opens at City Centre Bahrain

Managing and maintaining strong relationships with our clients and tenants is another vital part of my day. Regular communication with tenants ensures that their needs and concerns are addressed promptly and that they are supported and valued through a collaborative environment.

Day-to-day asset management and overseeing mall operations are also a significant focus. This involves coordinating with the operations team to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Building and developing our team is another crucial aspect of my role. Investing in the skills and capabilities of our staff through regular training and development not only improves our service delivery but also prepares the next generation of retail leaders in the Kingdom.

Every day at City Centre Bahrain is dynamic and filled with diverse responsibilities. My role requires a balance between strategic planning and hands-on management to enable the smooth operation of the mall while ensuring that everything we do aligns with the visions of both Majid Al Futtaim and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Finally, can you tell us a little about some of the upcoming brands and outlets you’re excited to see opening at City Centre Bahrain this year?

One of the most exciting aspects of our job is curating a dynamic mix of retail and dining experiences that keep City Centre Bahrain at the forefront of regional shopping destinations.

Our mall has always played a pivotal role as a first-to-market destination for many regional and international brands. This year is no exception as we’re in the process of remerchandising our retail and F&B zones to align with the latest trends and enhance customer journey experiences. For instance, we’re developing a dedicated Sports & Lifestyle precinct that will cater to the growing demand for activewear and fitness-related products.

In terms of infrastructure enhancements, we have just fully renovated and enhanced six out of our seven-car park levels. The final car park level is set to be completed within the first quarter of 2025.

We’re also focusing on the uplift of City Walk, which will significantly enhance our F&B landscape. By introducing new first-to-market concepts and experiential dining brands, we’re offering unique culinary experiences to our visitors. Two recent additions that we’re particularly excited about are Brunch & Cake and EL&N, with both brands known for their innovative menus and Instagrammable interiors. Several of our major tenants are undergoing renovations to launch their latest concepts and store designs.

Another major highlight is the upcoming Time Out Market, the well-known concept that puts a curated selection of the best local chefs and restaurateurs under one roof, offering a diverse range of cuisines and gourmet options in a communal setting.

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