Devyani Bhaskar said she was terrified the first time she was strapped into the Sidewinder, an amusement park wheel that twists thrill seekers in the air and upside down.
But by her fifth try, the 17-year-old West Delhi resident was grinning. It was her first visit to the new Adventure Island amusement park in the northwest Delhi neighbourhood of Rohini. She went shopping a couple weeks earlier at Metro Walk, a new mall built next to the amusement park.
“It’s not all about movies,” Bhaskar said, referring to what she expects from a mall these day. “You need something else for entertainment.” Mall developers across the country concur.
India’s new malls are not only larger than the retail complexes of the past, they offer more than shops and restaurants. Entertainment—often more expensive to set up and less lucrative for mall owners than retail—is included in malls to draw customers in and keep them spending. The newer malls, in addition to multiplexes, have video-game arcades, bowling alleys, children’s play areas and carnival rides. Some malls are even toying with the idea of bungee jumping, said Vivek Kaul, head, Retail & Leisure Advisory for Jones Lang LaSalle India.
Entertainment tenants pay Rs45-80 per sq.ft depending on how much space they occupy, Kaul said. By comparison, retailers pay from Rs150-350, he said. But mall owners are willing to live with that difference because of customers such as Bhaskar.
“You need to give a choice to customers,” Kaul said. “Now 95% of developments across India have cinemas. How do you differentiate yourself?”
India is following the path of the West, where generations of suburban teenagers have spent entire days at the mall, said Vivek Dahiya, director of DTZ India. “It happens in malls across the world,” Dahiya said. “It’s happening now in India because of the larger mall formats that are coming in.”
The youth market in India is relatively untapped. India “has a huge youth population and entertainment is one of the key drivers of growth in any mall,” said Sonal Chopra, chief executive officer, Timezone Entertainment India, which has opened six arcades since launching in malls across India two years ago.
“Strong entertainment needs to be in a mall to encourage loyalty to the mall.”
Timezone has video games, prize-vending games, and children’s rides.
Another entertainment-activity oriented firm, Galaxy Entertainment Corp. Ltd, operates 13 so-called family-entertainment centres in malls. The centres have bowling alleys, bumper cars, video games, pool tables, football machines and trampoline jumping.
Entertainment centres feed off mall traffic. Stand-alone bowling alleys and other entertainment centres, which opened in the years before India’s mall boom, were largely unsuccessful because they couldn’t attract enough customers on their own, Dahiya said. Stand-alone bowling alleys, for example, only work in countries were people are dedicated to the sport, he added.
“We are an essential part to market the mall,” said Sanjay Seksaria, director of Galaxy Entertainment. “We don’t really draw footfalls but we increase consumption and increase the time spent in the mall.”
Some mall owners admit that the utility of entertainment centres sometimes transcends that. For some customers who frequent malls, entertainment centres, amusement parks and cinemas are the main attraction.
In the case of Unitech Ltd’s Adventure Island and the larger parks planned in Noida and Chandigarh, the retailers are not the primary draw, said Sanjay Chandra, managing director of Unitech Ltd.
The company expects to handle about two million people a year at Adventure Island and six million at the 145-acre Noida park, which is expected to open in about a month next to Unitech’s new million-square-foot mall. In addition to the rides, visitors to the park will see stunt, magic and fireworks shows.
“It’s the other revenues that get enhanced by having the amusement park,” Chandra said. “What we’re seeing is the disposable incomes in India are finally going up and people want to spend more family time.”
Multiplex theatres are import anchors for malls, but they’re subject to the ups and downs of the movie business, mall owners say.
“We’ve realized that content is king and there are cycles that the film industry goes through,” said Manoj Motta, general manager of leasing and business development for Inorbit Malls India Pvt. Ltd. “If there are great movies then the multiplexes are adding true value, which is bringing foot traffic to the mall. If the content is poor… then they’re not really attracting their fair share of customers.”