Hayssam El-Masri, Founder and President of Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Development, explains the key determinants that made the UAE the business platform for the rest of the region, and the unique luxury and family-oriented approach featuring environmental preservation that characterizes the development of Sharjah Waterfront City.
What are, in your opinion, the main drivers of the winning bid to host Expo 2020, and what do you think can this global event represent for the UAE?
First of all let me start by saying that Vision 2021 aims to transform the UAE into one of the best countries in the world, and this is something I strongly believe in. This country is already perceived as a leader in many areas, and this vision will further cement this status and prove that the UAE is capable of achieving anything. The UAE is a very strong investment platform and global investors recognize the solid foundations and transparency of doing business in the country. These are the main factors why the UAE will host Expo 2020.
On the one hand, this global event will provide global exposure to whatever great has been achieved in this country. On the other, Expo 2020 will further reinforce the UAE as a global platform for business. It is going to create significant job opportunities and attract more and more decision-makers from all around the world.
The UAE can boast world-class infrastructure and Expo 2020 will be the perfect window to showcase this to the rest of the world, which I believe will boost GDP expansion beyond 2020. This is exactly what investors look at: what the market trends are today and what are the future prospects.
What would you say are the benefits here in the UAE for American investors willing to penetrate the whole MENASA region?
Investors look for figures, certain parameters, the sensitivity plan, and risk measurement, for instance. I think from this perspective, our indicators are all healthy. That’s why you will see that relationships with many countries around the world, the USA included, are growing. This is because the UAE is becoming a worldwide business hub.
The main factor behind our economic growth is that our leadership has focused on building a conducive ecosystem first. Therefore, a strong framework for all kinds of businesses has been created whereby investors have access to all information, data, and prospects to create a viable business strategy. So besides American investors, I am confident investors from all around the world will be increasingly interested in allocating part of their portfolios here in the UAE.
The UAE focuses on innovation. The first airport implementing an e-gate is Dubai, so if you need an e-economy, it’s Dubai. It’s the economic gate for the rest of the world.
Many global investors indeed see 2020 more as a target instead of a milestone, thereby thinking that there might be a cliff right after 2020. Do you think that all these ongoing real estate investments will be sustainable in the long run?
I’m very optimistic personally, so I don’t think there’s going to be any cliff. Again, I believe that the current level of infrastructure development we have in the UAE is crucial, as it provides the perfect framework for an economy to thrive in the long-term. Moreover, it gives the country the flexibility to adapt and attract new trends, new projects, and new businesses. On top of that, there’s a clear long-term vision and in fact the leadership is already working for plans beyond 2020.
If we look at the trends in the real estate market, everyone looks at Dubai but we actually see different trends. For example, CBRE affirms there has been a drop of 12% on an annual basis on the price of rents in Dubai. In contrast, in Abu Dhabi the rents have been going up approximately 10%, and 3% the last two months. What are the key trends in Sharjah versus the rest of the country?
The figures we have are really encouraging. The latest report we have clearly shows that the best yield on rent comes from Sharjah. It is true we cannot treat the UAE as a single market. Different emirates provide different opportunities. It’s a combination of specific characteristics of each emirate that makes the economy of this country so dynamic. The economic diversification the UAE has achieved goes hand in hand with the long-term vision of shaping a sustainable economy in the long term. Diversification is also crucial when it comes to exogenous macroeconomic shocks, as it makes it easier to react, adapt, and respond to crises.
Many government bodies throughout the country are focusing on investments in order to increase the potential of the coastline. However, the luxury segment of the real estate market is becoming more and more competitive. Is it enough to develop more luxury amenities in order to stay afloat in this segment? What is different about the Sharjah Waterfront City?
I believe that if you don’t build luxury, you cannot have a unique development. However, besides the quality of the development itself, the location is essential. What I also strongly believe is that creating something unique and luxurious does not necessarily mean to be unreachable. Sharjah Waterfront City is affordable.
We have affordable luxury, with 36 kilometers of coast where everyone can dream of having a piece of the beach on the doorstep. This is where we are different; the brand of Sharjah Waterfront City will be one of the most recognizable in the UAE and abroad. It’s a unique name.
The first phase will be handed over in 2018. The second in 2021. There are other phases for which we already have the plans, but at this stage it’s too early to discuss the details. We are focusing now on the first two and we are working in order to make sure to meet our deadlines.
When it comes to sustainability beyond business, would you say that environmental protection is being integrated within the master plan since day one?
Twenty years ago, integrating green solutions was not a cost-effective solution. Today, it is not only affordable but necessary. When we talk about Sharjah Waterfront City’s added value, I immediately think about the emphasis we put on being green. So, yes, the environmental aspect has been considered and integrated in all phases of our development.
A very important element to be highlighted is that Sharjah Waterfront City has been built with almost no infrastructural changes on the land itself. The nature of the land allowed us to integrate water without changing the shape of the land so the whole design of the project is still based on the natural shape of the land.
Moreover, we only utilized 40% of the total size of the project for development and the remaining 60% is entirely dedicated to landscaping, services, coastal views, and nature. So you really have the feeling of living by the beach with a waterfront view.
We had families in mind and in our plans. We combined the features of a permanent home with the comfort and feeling of serenity of your beach home. This is the core of our development program, and why we came up with a mix of residential, hospitality, and commercial with mega-commercial centers. It can serve not only Sharjah, but also Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.
You recently said: “When 160 nations choose the UAE to host Expo 2020, it is truly a resounding vote of confidence in this country, its emerging economy and its nation’s charismatic leadership that fosters entrepreneurship and preserves growth prospects.” What would be your piece of advice to entrepreneurs or investors looking for a place to start up a business or develop a new venture?
Any entrepreneur or businessmen usually looks for stability and long-term opportunities. Before you start up your business, you have to look at your exit strategy; that is the number one priority. Then, once you have clear in mind what you want to achieve, you should analyze what are the factors to be considered when you want to implement your ideas.
What the UAE offers, is the perfect ground to start implementing your answers. From the ease of doing business, fiscal benefits, political and economic stability, and vision of its leadership, the UAE represents a fertile ground where you can plant your seeds and grow. With its cosmopolitan society and openness to other cultures, the country is unique when it comes to understanding the needs of investors and entrepreneurs.