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Building an Emirate

Talal Al Dhiyebi

Cityscape magazine spoke to Talal Al Dhiyebi, Chief Development Officer at Abu Dhabi-based Aldar Properties, which is behind some of the emirate’s most iconic developments including the Formula 1 facilities on Yas Island. Aldar Properties is one of the largest developers in the Middle East and North Africa region, with over USD 12 billion of assets.

April 2015

Generally speaking, how would you describe the state of the Abu Dhabi real estate market today as opposed to 12 months ago?

Real estate plays a central part in the Abu Dhabi Government’s diversification and growth strategy which is focused on areas where the emirate has competitive advantages and can play a strong regional role. These include energy-intensive industry, investment and financial services, trade and logistics, tourism and leisure, and healthcare. The Government is investing heavily in hard and soft infrastructure to encourage economic diversification and socio-economic development.

The Abu Dhabi real estate market is young, but has matured greatly in the past few years. We now have the right elements of regulation in place covering mortgages, rental index and title deeds to ensure further development of the regulatory framework. This will help stabilise the market and support its sustainable growth with measured, market-driven development, and more balanced supply and demand.

Aldar has seen leasing and sales activity pick up in the last year as there have been no significant project launches in the last couple of years, and the market is now absorbing current supply.

The Aldar portfolio spans a wide range of properties across different asset classes, from residential to office, retail and hospitality. Where do you see your particular strengths and in which sectors are you planning significant development in the near future?

In order to continue to play a role in Abu Dhabi’s long-term strategy and support the development of its economy, we are focused on building communities and destinations that meet the lifestyle demands of residents, businesses and visitors.

Our business strategy is focused on growing stable and predictable cash flows from our asset base and monetising our land bank. We are today in an excellent position to assess the market and build market-driven developments that add real value to our shareholders.

Our portfolio is today increasingly well-balanced as we develop our asset management portfolio and diversify our business. Our residential assets remain an important part of our portfolio and we will continue to deliver high-quality, premium residential properties to market.

Out of the projects in your current development pipeline, which ones can we expect to enter the market in 2015?

Our focus for 2015 is on further development and enhancement of our key Shams, Yas and Al Raha destinations and asset optimisation of our recurring revenue assets, to ensure we get the best performance from these assets.

Construction has started at Ansam and is expected to begin in the coming days at Al Hadeel with completion scheduled for 2017. We also launched the first phase of plot sales at Al Nareel in December 2014 with further phases to come in Q2 2015.

The recently opened Yas Mall is the UAE’s second largest shopping destination. How would you rate the performance of the mall since its opening last November? How would you describe the strength of Abu Dhabi’s retail sector on both a regional and global scale?

Yas Mall is fully leased and feedback has been very positive from retailers. We have seen strong visitor numbers over the course of the past five months which is testament to the strength of the Abu Dhabi market.

Retail is an area of strong growth in the UAE which is world-renowned for its unique design, concepts, convenience and all-encompassing lifestyle experience offering. Abu Dhabi is today a global hub, attracting people from all across the world. Retailers here are demanding a more sophisticated environment to operate and consumers are expecting a lifestyle experience beyond shopping. Yas Mall brings an ultra-modern retail offer to Abu Dhabi and forms part of the wider Yas Island destination.

Apart from Cleveland Clinic, do you have any other future plans with regards to developing the emirate’s social infrastructure?

As a key player in the Abu Dhabi market, we recognise the importance of developing the emirate’s social infrastructure to ensure its sustainable future.

Aldar Academies is a good example of our contribution in this area. The six schools in Abu Dhabi and one in Al Ain have performed well with student numbers growing by 12 percent year-on-year to a total of 4,800 of students for the start of the 2014/ 2015 academic year.

Looking forward, we will continue to increase our involvement in areas related to education, healthcare and culture as part of our efforts to support the growth and diversification of the UAE.

What is your outlook for the performance of Abu Dhabi’s real estate sector for the remainder of the year?

Abu Dhabi is fast growing into one of the world’s leading cities. The Government’s diversification strategy has boosted growth in non-oil sectors which is creating significant real demand for high quality residential, retail and commercial property, and we expect this trend to continue in the long term.

Having matured over the past couple years, Abu Dhabi is an important market for local and international property investment and, as the emirate develops, we are seeing an increased focus on quality with demand for modern residential developments, such as the iconic Gate Towers, which offers residents luxury living standards and commercial, entertainment and public facilities.

On the retail side, there is increasing demand for new retail concepts from both residents and tourists in Abu Dhabi, as shown by the success of our flagship retail asset Yas Mall. The mall is fully leased and performing well, and has strengthened Yas Island’s image as a world-class destination.

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