In an exclusive interview, Simon Van de Velde reveals the strategic journey to 100% leasing and what lies ahead for Qatar's most dominant trading destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment
As Doha Festival City (DHFC) marks a significant milestone, becoming the first fully-leased mall in Qatar and the third in the GCC, we sit down with Simon Van de Velde, Chief Asset Management Officer & Group Director at Al Futtaim Real Estate, to delve deeper into what this achievement means for DHFC and the strategic manoeuvres that led to this success.
DHFC has just celebrated its 500th lease, signifying it's now 100% leased. How significant is this achievement for DHFC and the broader retail sector in Qatar?
Simon: Achieving 100% occupancy is a landmark moment for us at Al-Futtaim Real Estate and a sign of our long-term stability and commitment to excellence. This milestone secures our status as a leading destination and contributes significantly to positioning Qatar as a top retail hub globally. It also reflects our role in fostering a sustainable retail environment and our contribution to the national economy through continuous engagement with international brands and investors.
With over 600 tenancies including 111 kiosks, how does DHFC maintain its status as the premier shopping destination in Qatar?
Our leadership in the retail market is maintained through continuous innovation and diversity in our tenant mix, which includes high-end brands and popular outlets. We introduce new brands and experiences while prioritising inclusivity and support for local entrepreneurs to ensure a dynamic and inclusive shopping experience. This strategy keeps us at the forefront of the retail landscape and helps in consistently enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction.
DHFC is soon to become home to exclusive stores like Gold Apple, Alo Yoga, and the only Tesla showroom within a mall in Doha. How do these exclusives contribute to the mall's allure?
These high-profile exclusive stores such as Gold Apple and Tesla are pivotal in reinforcing DHFC’s position as a cutting-edge shopping destination. They add to our unique offerings but also attract international tourists, boosting Qatar’s reputation as a luxury and technology-forward shopping destination. This strategy aligns with our broader goals of economic diversification and sustainable growth.

This year, DHFC celebrated its 7th anniversary along with Eid, including a first-time PJ Masks activation in Qatar.
How important are such activations for the mall?
Our anniversary and Eid celebrations, featuring events like the PJ Masks activation, are essential as we continue to deliver on our brand promise "It's My Place, My Choice." These endeavours enable us to remain at the heart of the community as we bring diverse and inclusive events that cater to all age groups and interests. Unique experiences as well as our CSR initiatives and the family-friendly environment we present in The Village, have helped us in becoming a community-centric destination. We have succeeded in attracting families looking to spend quality time and in earning their trust and loyalty. We aim to create a versatile and inclusive space where our visitors can come together and create lasting fond memories.
Can you elaborate on the importance of the tenant mix in attracting and retaining shoppers?
Al-Futtaim never loses sight of its commitment of becoming the ideal partner for global brands. We strive to attract regional and international brands by providing an unparalleled environment for partners and working with them to provide the finest shopping experience for customers. Our tenant mix, featuring over 500 stores including stores like the only IKEA and Tesla, is vital for catering to diverse customer needs. This mix supports our strategy of being the ‘Place of Choice’ for shopping, dining, and entertainment, guaranteeing that every visit to DHFC is memorable and enjoyable. By continually evolving our offerings, we maintain high visitor engagement and satisfaction levels, which are crucial for sustaining footfall and shopper loyalty.
With the announcement coinciding with DHFC's 7th anniversary, how do you reflect on the journey so far?
Reflecting on our journey since opening our doors, DHFC has consistently been at the forefront of the retail and leisure market. From being one of the first to introduce innovations such as the region’s first dedicated gaming hub, VIRTUOCITY, and Qatar's first indoor snow park, Snow Dunes, to our recent advancements like the Virtual Mall and the Festival Magazine, we have continually led the way.

These initiatives show our commitment to blending physical and digital shopping experiences, significantly enhancing consumer convenience and engagement. As we celebrate our 7th anniversary, these achievements highlight our role as market leaders and innovators in the retail sector.

Our journey has not just been about growth but about setting benchmarks and evolving with the needs of our visitors, embodying our message of "It's My Place, My Choice." This approach has ensured our sustained popularity and leadership in providing exceptional experiences that resonate with a diverse customer base.
Facing various industry challenges and trends in recent years, how has DHFC adapted to remain competitive?
DHFC has adeptly navigated industry challenges by pioneering numerous strategic initiatives that underline our adaptability and commitment to excellence. Our collaboration with Qatar Islamic Bank and MasterCard to introduce an innovative Gift Card programme exemplifies our push towards digital transformation and enhancing customer convenience. Additionally, the launch of our Virtual Mall has set a new standard in digital shopping experiences, merging the convenience of online browsing with the immersive feel of in-person shopping.

Our efforts extend beyond digital innovation; we are deeply committed to environmental sustainability. Initiatives such as our advanced waste management systems and energy-efficient building reflect our dedication to corporate social responsibility and aligning our operations with broader community values.

As a leader in entertainment, we continue to introduce unique and exclusive experiences, such as Qatar's first indoor snow park, or The Village. The exclusive stores and entertainment options enhance our mall’s allure and position DHFC as a premier destination, maintaining our competitive edge in a rapidly evolving market. These comprehensive efforts ensure that we remain at the forefront of the retail and entertainment sectors, continually attracting a diverse array of visitors and maintaining a strong market presence.
Looking forward, what future plans can we expect from DHFC?
DHFC continues to be a flagship mall within Al-Futtaim Real Estate’s portfolio. Moving forward, we are committed to further innovating our service offerings and infrastructure. Plans include expanding our digital services through platforms like our Virtual Mall, increasing our sustainability initiatives, and enhancing the overall customer experience with new retail and dining choices. Our aim is to continue providing a top-tier shopping environment while being a responsible corporate citizen in Qatar’s retail sector.