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Covid-19 crisis pushes drive-in cinemas in the UAE

May 17, 2020

Dubai, UAE

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the entertainment world, among other industries, including the spread of drive-in movie theatres that somewhat ensures social distancing while watching a movie.

The cinema halls have been shut down in March this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the UAE and GCC. This happened at a time when investors were pumping in more than US$3.54 billion investment in cinema screens across the Gulf to help the region’s cinema industry expand manifold following Saudi Arabia’s historic decision to open up the sector in 2018, nearly 35 years after cinemas were banned in the Kingdom.

The Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), had earlier announced plans to invest up to $2.7 billion (SR10 billion) in entertainment projects across Saudi Arabia by 2030 while Dubai-based developer Majid Al Futtaim, market leader in retail projects, shopping malls, operator of Carrefour hypermarket chain in the Middle East and owner of VOX Cinemas, stated it will invest US$540 million (Dh2 billion) in 600 screens across Saudi Arabia, after making an announcement of US$300 million in other GCC markets.

The Covid-19 outbreak will force investors to re-think their investment strategy if the current crisis lingers beyond a certain period – if social distancing becomes a permanent norm.

Box office revenue exceeded US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2017, according to a research by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC). However, the Covid-19 outbreak has forced the cinema operators and investors to rethink their strategy as social distancing is going to be the norm for not only months, but years to come.

Vox Cinemas, one of the largest operators of movie theatres in the Middle East, said, it is launching its newest concept set to put viewers in the driving seat. Vox Drive In, the latest attraction by holding group Majid Al Futtaim, will be launching at Mall of the Emirates on May 17.

The cinema will be located on the third level of the Mall of the Emirates car park, just next to Ski Dubai. The capacity of the cinema is limited to 75 cars, with a maximum of two people allowed in each vehicle. Staff will also ensure customers maintain social distancing guidelines. For now, in line with government restrictions, anyone between the ages of three and 12, or over the age of 60 will not be allowed to enter.

Sharjah-based property developer Arada is preparing to open a new drive-in cinema at Madar at Aljada, the recently opened family entertainment destination in Sharjah. With a scheduled opening date of Wednesday, 1 July, Movie Nights at Aljada will showcase a wide range of films throughout the summer period and beyond, in a fun and secure environment.

Screenings at Movie Nights at Aljada will take place on a daily basis from 8pm and will be free to enter on a first come, first served basis. Visitors to the permanent cinema, which has a capacity of 150 vehicles, will be allocated specific parking spaces, depending on the size of their car, and will be able to access the sound of the movie via FM radio. 

Visitors will also be able to order directly from Zad at Aljada, the new food district featuring 17 different types of cuisine located only a few steps away from the cinema, from the comfort of their car. Meals will then be delivered to cars in a contactless and safe manner.

The cinema is being launched in collaboration with Dubai-based Urban Entertainment, the company behind a number of outdoor cinemas in the UAE, and will strenuously adhere to all current and future guidelines with regard to safety and social distancing.

The full schedule of films will be uploaded onto the Aljada website a few days before the launch date, as well as Aljada’s Facebook and Instagram social media channels. Aljada’s drive-in cinema complements Sharjah’s long association with the movie industry, which began some 77 years ago with the opening of the UAE’s first ‘cinema’ at the old Mahatta air base in the centre of the city.

Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Arada, said: “Movie Nights at Aljada is a significant addition to the list of attractions on offer at Madar at Aljada, and it is also our way of thanking the Sharjah community for its strength and resilience during these exceptionally challenging times. We look forward to welcoming guests back to Aljada and providing them with a safe form of entertainment.”

Opened on 27 February by Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, Madar at Aljada is the first part of Sharjah’s largest megaproject to be completed. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the entertainment district contains the Aljada Discovery Centre, a children’s adventure playground, a skatepark, an indoor events space and an amphitheatre.

Boosted by the success of Zad and family-friendly weekend events, Madar at Aljada welcomed more than 60,000 visitors during March before the public health situation resulted in the closure of some parts of the site. In total, more than 100,000 people have now visited Madar at Aljada since launch.

Located in the fast growing Muwaileh district in the heart of New Sharjah, Aljada is a master-planned destination with a sales value of AED24 billion that is set to transform the future of the Emirate.  Construction on Aljada began in 2018 and the first homes are scheduled to be handed over to owners in the third quarter of this year.

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