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UAE’s indoor entertainment smashes it out of the park

Founded in Dubai five years ago, The Smash Room allows customers to demolish a range of devices It is set to expand beyond the UAE The Smash Room
Founded in Dubai five years ago, The Smash Room allows customers to demolish a range of devices. It is set to expand beyond the UAE
  • Smash Room Dubai set to expand
  • Indoor entertainment to reach $1.7bn by 2027
  • High disposable income key growth driver

Have you ever looked at your smartphone, laptop, or even that dreaded printer, with utter rage and felt the urge to crush it into tiny little pieces?

You’re not alone – and the UAE’s The Smash Room offers just that service. It is now planning to break into the Indian and Saudi Arabian markets, as it aims to capitalise on the increasing popularity of indoor entertainment in the region.

Founded in Dubai five years ago, the company has recently expanded into Abu Dhabi. It allows customers to do their worst and demolish a range of devices, including washing machines, guitars, televisions and computers.

“We’ve all been brought up where we’ve been scolded if we broke something and you had to keep your feelings in,” says Ibrahim Abudyak, CEO of The Smash Room. “Then there’s this place that tells you to unleash the inner beast in you.”

Through partnerships with local recyclers, up to 20,000 pieces of electronic equipment can be smashed at the Dubai venue alone each year.

The Smash Room, which is set to launch a mobile smash room in Dubai, has witnessed year-on-year growth of 33 percent.

“People here have a very stressful lifestyle and you’re always looking for something fun to do,” says Abudyak.

The Mena family and indoor entertainment centres market was valued at $618.65 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $1.7 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 13.3 percent from 2020 to 2027, according to Allied Market Research.

Prison break

Prison Island in the Middle East, which has exclusive rights to the GCC and Egypt from the Swedish-based Prison Island, is another player aiming to break into other regional markets.

With 26 specially designed rooms in Abu Dhabi and 25 in Sharjah, Prison Island is described as a “high-octane voyage” or “indoor adventure” and an “immersive riddled concourse, where you become the protagonist of your own thrilling journey”.

The company is in the process of building a third venue in Riyadh with 35 rooms.

“Saudi Arabia is developing rapidly and they’re focused very much on entertainment. They want to move away from the oil and this is a perfect opportunity for us to launch our first Saudi branch,” says Ayman Abdelrhman, managing partner at Prison Island.

A second branch in the kingdom is also in the offing, in Jeddah. 

CEO Marwan Shazali revealed plans for the wider GCC including Oman and Qatar, as well as a potential venue in Cairo.

Floor, Adult, Male Prison Island Prison Island in Sharjah has 25 rooms and is described as a 'high-octane voyage' concrete room red stripes graffiti prison guardPrison Island
Prison Island in Sharjah has 25 rooms and is described as a ‘high-octane voyage’

“From the beginning we’ve always had bold plans. We have an agreement with the Prison Island team in Sweden that we will take the brand throughout the region,” he said.

This year the disposable income per household in the UAE is forecast to reach $251,000, according to Statista. This a key driver for the continued growth of the leisure and entertainment sector, says Sandeep Ganediwalla, partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants, Middle East and Africa.

“They’re not sitting in Egypt or India, where there might be slightly more concerns about disposable income. The real estate is booming here, a lot of international people have come; tourism is booming with people coming from all over the world,” he says.

It is no surprise that indoor entertainment offerings are popular with residents during the summer months, where the searing temperatures make visiting outdoor attractions virtually impossible.

Year-round popularity

Paul Hamilton, general manager for Adrenark Adventure, the largest indoor adventure park in the Middle East, and the Al Qana complex in Abu Dhabi, says the combination of residents and tourists have kept the waterfront destination busy all year round.

“There is a little bit of a shift [in the winter]. Domestic comes on heavy and then backs off and comes back on heavy. Tourists tend to come and fill the void,” he says.

The venue, which includes the National Aquarium and Pixel Gaming, is also a favourite for school visits.

“The aquarium hosts 60,000 school kids a year and the other two [Pixel Gaming and Adrenark Adventure] have only just kicked in but they’re going to do similar numbers,” adds Hamilton.

Ganediwalla says that while the outdoor entertainment sector – theme parks, water parks and desert safaris – will continue to experience early double-digit growth, the indoor equivalent is primed to witness an exponential rise.

“The indoor market is very small. But just in Dubai, I couldn’t think of anything six or seven years ago and now I know there are at least 15 or 20 [venues] and I’ve not even gone to the malls,” he says.

Fuelled by the rise of e-commerce, shopping malls across the region have been transformed into entertainment destinations.

Dubai-based Times Square Centre has become a haven for indoor attractions, including Adventure Zone by Adventure HQ, Studiyo Lab, Back to Games and hobby destination Otaku ME.

“I cannot compete with Mall of the Emirates and Oasis Centre where I’m in between because these are massive malls,” says Nancy Ozbek, general manager of the mall division at Times Square Centre, who took up the position five years ago when occupancy levels were around 60 percent.

“Our strategy was it is not a shopping centre, it’s a family experiential centre.”

With a gross leasable area of 250,000sq ft, the centre now boasts a mix of 80 percent experiential – supporting healthy lifestyle, education, entertainment, community and sustainability – and 20 percent retail businesses.

“Families want a one-stop centre that they can all enjoy,” says Ozbek.

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