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Al Marjan Island, a 2.7-million-sq-m cluster of four manmade islands in Ras Al Khaimah, is seeing healthy investor interest as new projects are being announced. Last month developer Al Marjan Island (AMI) Company announced the completion of phase one of the Al Marjan Island Corniche project, which extends up to Al Hamra Village, creating a 3km pedestrian and cycling track along the waterfront. It is located on the southwestern edge of the island, and connects Al Marjan's entrance in the south with the proposed food and beverage boardwalk to the north.
Focus on islands
Czech diamond trading company Diamonds International Corporation also announced a Dh500-million hospitality project, adding to the three hotels operating on the island — Rixos Bab Al Bahr with 650 keys, Double Tree by Hilton with 485 keys and Marjan Island Resort and Spa, which has 300 hotel rooms and 200 hotel apartments. Another property, a 400-room Santorini hotel owned by the Bin Majid Hotel Group, is scheduled for completion mid next year.
The mixed-use island development, which extends 4.5km into the Arabian Gulf, also has residential, hospitality, retail and a few commercial components.
''It's a small city which will have villas, apartments, hotel rooms, beach resort and all that. That is the vision,'' says Abdullah Rashed Al Abdooli, Managing Director of AMI Company. ''It's already reclaimed. We are focusing on islands one and two, which are almost sold. Three and four will follow. We're building the public amenities on our own.''
Many of the new projects being announced on the islands are geared towards the hospitality market, in line with the emirate's aggressive tourism drive.
''In addition, we have Bab Al Bahr residential apartments and 650 residential apartments by Al Hamra Real Estate,'' says Al Abdooli. ''We have a residential project by Pacific as well, with around 1,300 apartments. On island two, we have seven projects under design review right now and we're expecting some others in future. We have a target to finish all construction activities by 2022, but it's finishing earlier.''
Al Abdooli says investors are coming from different countries, attracted by the unique proposition of the project and Ras Al Khaimah's business potential. ''We offer a unique business opportunity,'' he says. ''Al Marjan Island is a place where you can invest your money and share your vision with the government. It's a destination for everyone, not just for the tourists, but also for residents of RAK, for the residents of the UAE and for investors and businessmen from around the world.''
The project has been showcased in various road shows and real estate events, including last month's Cityscape Global in Dubai. ''We have already done a road show in Russia and we're going to GCC countries. We have on our agenda Kuwait and Jeddah. In India, we are going to Mumbai.''
The current mix of investors represents the geographical regions that the emirate is focusing on. ''Among our investors at the moment are Indians, Russians and GCC investors from Kuwait, Oman and the UAE,'' says Abdooli. ''When speaking about the UAE, it is not just businesses from RAK and from Sharjah, but the government as well. Indians are participating heavily, and are 30-40 per cent of our investors.''
RAK is investing in projects that will establish the emirate as a tourism and investment destination. Under the leadership of His Highness Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate is taking huge steps towards economic diversification, with a number of major developments announced in the past few years. Following the announcement of Sharjah's Air Arabia as the official airline of RAK last year, Qatar Airways announced in May new flights to RAK starting October 1. With Air Arabia serving routes that include Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Cairo in Egypt, Muscat in Oman, Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar in Pakistan, Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh and Kathmandu in Nepal, tourism is expected to benefit substantially.
''We work as a team to present the best value to the investor,'' says Al Abdooli. ''If we have an investor right now who would like to buy, he can open right now a free zone company. The whole process can start [immediately]. We have a collaborative approach between all entities to present a message that we are all here to welcome you as an investor.''
Tourism will be another important catalyst for real estate development, as the emirate aims for around one million tourists by 2018. In September Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA) announced plans to attract 60,000 tourists on chartered flights from Europe over the holiday season, after joining hands with German tour operator Sun Express and Poland's Itaka Travel Agency.
Furthermore, Al Abdooli says the emirate gets traffic from all over UAE. ''We're 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport, 25 minutes from Sharjah Airport and 15 minutes from RAK airport. We are benefitting from all three airports, not just one.''
Just as interdepartmental cooperation is helping boost tourism, an inter-emirate strategy is working in RAK's favour as well. RAK TDA has been working with Sharjah Tourism, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Abu Dhabi Tourism Development Authority to create complementing tour packages for stopovers in the emirate. The same strategy is being adopted in the real estate sector.
''We've a collaborative approach,'' says Al Abdooli. ''It's about people who believe in the emirate and who believe in the vision of the UAE. There is growth in real estate ahead of the World Expo 2020. All cities are working together to share the ambitious vision of the UAE to 2021.''
Although the UAE real estate market has witnessed a slowdown recently, Al Abdooli says the emirate will push forward with its plan. ''It's a correction, not a collapse,'' he says, noting that the trend is indicative of a healthier market.
''There are no more flippers or speculators in the market, but investors looking to invest in a business that can show a return on investment for the long term,'' he says. ''The quantity may not be big, but quality of investors is much better now. Serious people are coming. This is not what we noticed in earlier years.
''Banks, financial entities, those are the ones coming to us right now. That is what we want to have. We don't want to end up with defaulters.''
Source: Shalini Seth, Special to Property Weekly