Although it can seem at times as if the retail sector talks about nothing but millennials, very little has been written about this group of consumers in the Middle East.

Whether the difference is double, triple or even greater, Gulf-based Arab millennials spend significantly more than those in the West. They benefit from, amongst other things, very low taxes, high government subsidisation and public policy that typically favours locals. Relatively short study and working hours mean that they have plenty of time to enjoy retail, F&B and leisure, which is in plentiful supply in the region’s malls and mixed-use developments.

Through our extensive work in the Middle East we have identified three main factors that sets this group apart from their Western counterparts:

Non-alcohol F&B
As in the West, millennials use F&B as a key leisure activity. A key differentiator comes in the lack of alcohol consumption, which puts a greater emphasis on food and soft drinks. The region’s youth spends long periods socialising with friends and enjoying coffee, smoothies, juices and various hot and cold beverages, whilst desserts are a particularly popular way of whiling away the evenings. Paper Fig, in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s lesser-known emirates, is an engaging dessert concept with a focus on local craftsmanship and customisable products, and is a fine example of how well-executed and targeted F&B propositions can cater for time- and cash-rich Arab millennials.

Air-conditioned entertainment
With sky-high temperatures in the region forcing people indoors for at least the summer period, suitable entertainment options are essential. The Gulf’s major cities typically provide a strong selection of large-scale leisure attractions, such as the ski slope in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, but the region’s millennials are often looking for something more contemporary, bespoke and, well…  cool. Like their contemporaries across the world, they are highly tech-savvy, and concepts like Doha’s soon-to-open Virtuocity are tapping into this. Riding on the growing trend of e-gaming, it will provide visitors with the latest multi-sensory experiences, as well as retro machines to feed desires for nostalgia and escape rooms for engagement and socialising.

Authentic leisure
Many of the Gulf’s major cities could lay claim to being the least organic on earth and the region’s millennials are aware of this. They cherish their national and regional identities and, while they enjoy the benefits of modern development, their quest for authenticity is perhaps more difficult than in the West, with its mature cities and abundance of ‘history’. Alserkal Avenue, in Dubai, is a multi-purpose arts destination that eschews the clinical skyscraper-led image that many have of the emirate, in favour of industrial-chic, local design concepts and a trendy backstreet location. While tourists and expats are welcomed, it provides local millennials with a real alternative to the chrome and glass of much of the city.

Operators are already tapping into the great commercial potential provided by Arab millennials. However, by their very nature, this consumer group is always on the look-out for new and innovative concepts, and there is ample opportunity for new entrants to offer well-targeted and locally-relevant propositions.

Patrick Cox