|On the Road with Paola G. Lunghini|
|Editor-in-Chief, Economia Immobiliare and Editor-in-Chief Europe Real Estate - Italy |
Dubai's "Cityscape", 16-18 October 2007
Sun, Sea and Shopping (and perhaps Sustainability)
|Until few days ago, when I read about Cityscape, the October meeting in Dubai, described as the world's biggest real estate trade fair, I used to think: “Yeah, right...”|
And then I went there for the first time, and now I must admit that it is all true.
First of all, the fair grounds extension is said to be 70,000 square meters, 15,000 more than it had in 2006. I do not know if they really are 70,000, but the Dubai International Exhibition Centre, where the event takes place, is immense. Imagine two never-ending, extremely elegant halls all covered in marble, leading to the conference rooms, opening up onto numerous foyers packed with huge display boards, and joining all facilities (business center, restaurants, shops, prayer rooms, etc.).
The two halls are connected by an enormously long maxi-hall (I do not know how else to describe it) that contains eight sub-pavilions, all of which are interconnected.
This absurd, and actually bit messy, space hosts most of the exhibiting stands, over 500, accommodating more than a thousand exhibitors. Nearly 80% of the exhibitors come from Dubai itself, the other United Arab Emirates (particularly Abu Dhabi) and the Arab region in general. There were, however, many other international developers from more "unusual" countries, such as Australia, Singapore, the USA...
|The local developers had the best representation of all exhibitors, although there were also numerous service providers, almost all foreign: companies specialized in engineering, architecture, as well as information and material technology. And, of course, the ever-present British chartered surveyors and American networks.|
The real estate exhibition was accompanied by many conference sessions, hosting hundreds of speakers, including the renowned Tom Barrack, founder and patron of Colony Capital, and the star architect Zaha Hadid. Fair visitors numbered close to 45,000 people from 120 countries, a 28% increase to that of 2006 and twice as many as in 2005. (Cityscape was established in 2002, when there were fewer than a thousand participants.)
Over 800 accredited journalists attended the event, including numerous colleagues and friends of the international press. And 45,000 visitors could be a too humble estimate: there were, in fact, probably 50,000.
|Visiting Cityscape means covering miles and miles on foot every day in a huge crowd. Though the spaces are generous and well air-conditioned, we are still at the Tropic of Cancer, with sunshine all year round, an outside temperature of 35 degrees Celsius and 70% humidity. You end up with a headache. |
It is really quite exhausting, weather aside – more so than EXPO REAL, MIPIM or even Expo Italia Real Estate. And, unlike the exhibitions hosted in our dear old Europe, very few of the rooms were "equipped" with food and refreshments (not even little snacks) – dates at the most were available.
And there was not a drop of beer or sparkling wine to be found anywhere, of course.
You have to judge for yourself if you prefer it to Cannes or Munich, at least from this point of view.
| | Titanic and highly imaginative projects
You can't but admire the abundance of the scale models, very often splendidly executed, sometimes enormous and always glittering. They reflect the astonishing development, from an architectonical point of view as well, that this part of the world has experienced in the real estate industry. Within ten years they have gone from having virtually nothing to being the most extraordinary "navel" of the world.
I visited almost all the stands and lingered at many of them. At Cityscape mainly residential objects are on display - in towers or villas - in Dubai or Egypt. But the offer ranges from office spaces and shopping centers to leisure facilities and hotels.
We may be familiar with many of the larger holdings but, alongside Emaar
, Al Fajer
, etc., I also found a number of names that are also destined to become famous in Europe: Aldar
, Aquaba, Quatari Diar, Saraya, Tameer
It is impossible to estimate how many deals were made during the Expo. It surely surpassed the volume of those made in 2006, which amounted to about 160 billion dollars.
It is, however, difficult to understand the real "weight" (i.e. turnover) of these development companies since they are so intertwined with the local authorities and powers and are in fact, quite often, real government holdings: I did not see a single company brochure or statement, or even a scrap of a balance sheet or quarterly report.
It is also very difficult to get a precise grasp on pricing (the answer is almost always, "It depends,") because very little written information is available. "What do you need a leaflet for?", they asked me at one of the stands: "We just sold that tower over there (presented in a rendering on a plasma screen), just an hour after the exposition's opening."...
|A market that was born only yesterday |
Suffice it then to know that building properties, especially apartments, can be freely purchased by foreigners even without local partners and that the freehold, with duly registry, was already introduced in 2003.
This was the year Dubai's boom began, a boom that, in spite of many "Dubai sceptics", has no end in sight. Experts maintain that 70,000 residences will be completed in 2007, 40,000 will be finished by 2008, and over 70,000 more by 2009, to meet the estimated need in 2012 for approximately 500,000 units: Dubai's population increased by a double-digit figure last year. Not including the "permanent" tourists and their second homes, Dubai now boasts 1.4 million residents, plus another couple of million medium and high level temporary workers with their respective incomes.
It is difficult to believe that at the end of the 1960s only 60,000 people lived in the Emirate, a figure that had reached 250,000 by the end of the 1970s.
|And here comes the best part |
In 2006, around eight million tourists arrived at Dubai’s International airport, which is an expanding shopping centre. In fact, another multi-runway airport is being built. The planned system, together with the one in near-by Abu Dhabi, is to accommodate the astronomical figure of 70 million passengers a year by 2020.
By 2012 the number of tourists is expected to double, meaning that at least 100 new four and five star hotels (today the official rate of hotel occupancy is between 85 and 90%, depending on the month, but with the low average of two and a half night stays, which they are trying to increase with all possible attractions).
Grand Hyatt Dubai
But don't forget that hotels here are "monsters," with hundreds of rooms and dozens of facilities. Just one example is the "Grand Hyatt," category "unrestrained luxury:" just a few minutes from the airport, it boasts 670 rooms, 14 restaurants and three swimming pools. A double room costs 400 euros a night, not much if you consider hotel rates in Milan, Rome or Venice.
Among the hotels under construction we must mention Giorgio Armani's, which is being erected in the by-now notorious Burj Dubai
: the multifunctional tower will stand nearly 600 meters high and is already visible in the skyline, despite some possible delays in construction; and Palazzo Versace, rising up near the Creek, the small river around which the city originated. The village of pearl fishers and of direct merchants - those who traded with the nearby British ruled territories - that was transformed into a "tax free zone" at the beginning of the 19th century once stood here in fact. A tradition started then that, though rationalized and up-dated (now it is not only free zone, but also financial district and the future seat of the new Trade Exchange), is still going on today.
|The role of construction|
Today Dubai is nothing but a 12-lane highway, several kilometres long, that starts at the airport and heads towards Abu Dhabi, branching onto other freeways that lead to the warm blue sea and its celebrated white sanded beaches situated across from Iran, and to other development centres in the middle of what used to be the desert.
At the beginning of your trip you will find a few testimonies to the country’s past heritage, now protected under conservation laws. And then you will dive into forests of skyscrapers and the most incredible architectural attractions, 30, 40, 50 stories high – endless. In other words, the CBD.
At the end you reach Dubai Marina, where dozens of towers contend for a tiny piece of sea view, structures that, until three or four years ago, did not even exist.
Flanked on the left by the sheikhs' palaces, which are immersed in a precious continuous strip of green completely lacking anywhere else in town, the highway then comes to Dubai's major landmark, the Burj Al Arab. The tower was built in 2000 and immediately became one of the most famous hotels in the world - a seven-star "sail" almost 300 meters high, around which shopping temples sprang up. These are shopping centres with 300 shops, where you can find all the brands in the world, all luxury products, everything money can buy, if spent abundantly enough.
And then there are golf courses (seven, if I counted correctly, with as many currently in the pipeline), sport accommodations (all imaginable sports are represented here and with state of the art facilities) and the local Disneyland for all the numerous children. There is also a lively night-life...
There are no railroads, but the city’s first subway system, the Dubai Metro project, is under construction and is to be completed by 2009. 70 kilometres of tracks, 49 stations, and a building trust that includes the Italian firm Rizzani De Eccher.
|The role of the dynasty|
How could all this come about, aside from the well-known geo-political and economic motivations and explanations (oil dollars, gas, trading, but within a context of immense tolerance and absolute peace, on the outskirts of the world's biggest powder keg)? The answer is Al Maktoum, the dynasty that has governed Dubai since the beginning of the 19th century. Among its members is Sheikh Zayed, the "architect" who created the UAE in 1971. Another is His Highness the Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emirate's ruler since 2006 and the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE.
"Sheikh Mo", as both ex-pats and subjects lovingly call him, is a man of average height and pleasant looks, with a pitch black beard, a noble nose and flaming eyes. My description is fairly precise because the Sheikh passed by me three times within half an hour on October 17th while we were both visiting the fair.
Well, to be more precise: I was visiting the fair grounds on my own, while he was seeing it standing in the middle of a cohort of at least fifty dignitaries and body guards, all dressed in white (he dresses in traditional garb, which is called dishdasha, or kandhura - I could not manage to understand the difference - which is gold-yellow in colour and accurately embroiled). Normal people like me were "brushed aside" from the Emir's path. But since he did pass me three times, the typical curiosity of my profession drove me to learn more.
Sheikh Mo has not only held political positions for quite some time (he was Crown Prince in 1995 and head of the Dubai's foreign policy office during the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973), he is, above all, a business man and he administrates the Emirate as if he were the CEO of a holding. He is an (autarchic) decision maker and his projects become law. He is the one who pulls the strings, but he is enlightened.
The country thanks him both its real estate development and the creation of the Emirates airline.
Educated in England - of course - he learned the art of war in the British Army.
He is a pilot and a poet.
His hobbies include falconry and horse riding (the latter he transformed into a business with one of the most famous stables in the world) – they say he has seven hundred horses.
He drives his cars himself – at the exhibition he came in a black Mercedes SUV, GL class, and not in the traditional white ceremonial Mercedes (his cars are marked with the license plate Dubai 1).
He is concerned about environmental issues: the countries of the UAE are starting to have their say on this subject (and not only in the many conferences at Cityscape). His charisma is legendary and he loves being over-exposed in the media and is widely loved.
Some years ago he declared that "Dubai does not need investors, it's the investors who need Dubai." Maybe he was right.
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