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Kuwait’s tennis serve

Kuwait’s tennis serve

As Kuwait’s Tamdeem Group prepares to expand its 360 Mall, chairman Mohammad al Marzouq explains why the government should look beyond oil

A desolate plain of sand lying beyond a shopping mall car park outside Kuwait City seems an unlikely spot for Novak Djokovic to serve a match point. But in just four years, this fenced-off area at the country’s iconic 360 Mall is set to put Kuwait on the international tennis map when its giant, state-of-the-art new venue is finally completed.

Thanks to a staggering investment of KWD 100m (Dhs 1.21bn) by the Tamdeen Group, the Sheikh Jaber Al Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah International Tennis Complex will come alongside a major expansion of the existing mall. By 2019, the site will be transformed into a 122,000 square metre-complex combining retail, hospitality, entertainment and sport.

Yet with Kuwait’s economy mired by the fall in oil prices, it seems the Tamdeen Group’s heavily publicised announcement could not have come at a worse time. Recent figures showed the country’s budget deficit to be standing at KWD 1.094bn during the first five months of this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, a slump in the growth of retail spending between 2012 and 2014 has put Kuwait behind its Gulf Corporation Council retail rivals, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to consultancy firm A.T. Kearney.

However, for company chairman Mohammed Jassim Al Marzouq, the oil price dip underscores the need for Kuwait to diversify away from its public sector-driven and heavily-subsidised economy.

“The government has the biggest role in our economy; we think this is wrong,” he says. “Through the pressure of oil prices, we could get the government to give the private sector a better role and more involvement. This is why I am optimistic; I believe this will help make a healthier and more economically friendly environment.”

Upon its opening in 2019, the venue will possess combined stadium seating for more than 7,600 people across two main arenas, eight indoor courts with more than 500 seats and eight outdoor courts with 1,500 seats. It is hoped the ATP Champions Tour will form the stadium’s first major competition, followed by the preeminent Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association.

Keeping up with the GCC trend of mixing retail with hospitality, the 40,000 square metre expansion will include a 261-room hotel when it opens in 2020.

Discussions are already underway to bring some of the world’s top luxury brands to the new retail space. Bloomingdales will open its second operation after The Dubai Mall became the American department store’s first overseas host in its 138-year history, in 2010. Al Marzouq says there has been a waiting list since the 360 Mall first opened in 2009.

Upon completion, the new look 360 Mall will face heavy competition from GCC neighbours – in particular the UAE and Qatar. Both are well-established luxury retail hubs and can now boast of attracting the world’s top international tennis stars to their own tournaments. These include the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

However, Al Marzouq remains undaunted by the competition both in terms of retail and sport.

“Our objective is to complement and help with raising the bar of sport within the GCC,” he says. “Kuwait is in the middle of three big, populated, conservative countries. We are not here to compete; we are simply here to complement the Gulf.

“There are a lot of conservative communities surrounding here and we believe Kuwait could be a good hub for them to visit with the right opportunities. And with the 360 expansion, it will be a great opportunity to simply attract tourism.”

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