LEBANON - Tourism
CEO, Selim Ramia & Co Grand Cinemas
Salim Ramia started his career in 1966 working for the record industry in Lebanon before moving to Dubai from 1975 to 1979 to work in the cinema and film distribution sector. In 1980 he formed a distribution company in Lebanon with a partner, but returned to Dubai in 1986 and in 1989, created a partnership to form Gulf Film. He continued distributing movies until 1992, when the partners opened their first cinema in Dubai, AlNasr, under Salim Ramia Gulf Film. In 2000, he created Grand Cinemas, which had more than 106 screens. He was voted two times, in 2008 and 2009, the most powerful man in the entertainment business in the Middle East. In 2007 Salim Ramia returned again to Lebanon to launch his Grand Cinemas brand, having 32 screens at five locations. In 2011, he decided to sell Gulf Film and moved back to Lebanon, but continued his success story in Jordan and Kuwait where he opened his Grand Cinema chain.
In April 1989, I decided to partner with an Iranian friend living in Dubai and we decided to operate a new company under the name of 2001 Film at that time, then after two years I decided to change the name to Gulf Film. We continued growing the business in film distribution, though it was mainly for the GCC area—UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman plus a few movies for the whole Middle East—until 1992, when we decided to venture into the cinema business. We leased one cinema in Dubai, which was part of the Al Nasr Club, and named it Al Nasr Cinema. We fully refurbished it, and opened it in September 1992 with a movie called Unforgiven featuring Clint Eastwood. The movie won four Oscars, but we lost all our money because no one wanted to see a Western. We continued losing from September to December 1992, until we got the movie The Bodyguard. At that time, Star TV was playing Whitney Houston’s songs all day long, which helped us to promote the movie. People really came in great numbers. Going to the cinema in UAE and Dubai in 1992 was not a familiar thing for people; they had the mentality that cinemas in the UAE were for the laboring classes. Patrons came and enjoyed the experience, which later on became a habit and a must for them to do on the weekend. In 1994, we opened Galleria Cinema in the old Hyatt Regency Hotel with two screens, and later we moved to Abu Dhabi with another two screens. We started putting screens in Sharjah, but it was not a big business until 2000, when we opened our first multiplex in Abu Dhabi at the Al Mariah Mall with nine screens, and added a standalone project in Dubai with 12 screens. Then, we continued growing in the UAE until 2005 when we acquired Century Cinemas in the UAE and Jordan. Then we took over another company called Al Massa Cinemas. Within one year, our screen numbers jumped from 60 to 96.
The last project I opened was at the Festival Centre in Dubai. The number of screens continued growing, whereby we became the leader in the whole of the Middle East in terms of screen numbers, plus controlling the distribution of movies across the Middle East. In the meantime, in 2005-2006, I was contacted by people from the ABC Mall in Beirut, and they wanted me to lease their cinemas. We were ahead of all our other rivals in the region since we were the first to introduce digital systems and 3D as well as IMAX to the Middle East. We took over the cinemas at ABC Mall in Achrafieh, and at the same time in 2005-2006 we entered Jordan with Amman’s first 10-screen multiplex.
I was not welcomed by my competitors, but I believe in competition; it’s healthy, it improves both the industry and client service quality. Some people think we had done enough in Dubai, so why should we come to Lebanon? I’m Lebanese, so of course I am interested in the market here. We started here with seven screens and expanded. We now have 32 screens under our Grand Cinemas brand, and I hope our next project will be at the ABC Verdun Mall, which is set for completion in 2018.
Grand Cinemas had 45% of the market before the other players came to Beirut, each with their own huge multiplexes of 14 and 15 screens. However, we are still maintaining our lead and presently have around 33% of the market. And if you compare the number of seats we have with the number of seats of our competitors, we are filling more than 30% while they cannot do more than 24%, which means we are still the number one operator in Lebanon.
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