Mega-developer gives his picks for biggest growth opportunities in Abu Dhabi

Tourism and real estate are the biggest growth areas in Abu Dhabi, the chairman of one of the emirate’s largest property developers said Monday.

In tourism, we continue to see strong growth numbers. Last year, we grew a little over 10 percent and (this year) we expect to see double-digit growth,” Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Aldar Properties, told CNBC.

“We see strong visitor numbers from China, India and Saudi Arabia and continue to see strong growth from the U.K. and France.”

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi, Al Mubarak said that Abu Dhabi had growth opportunities for investors on two main fronts: tourism and real estate.

“Compounded with all the other national assets we have — the national museum, the Guggenheim, the theme parks, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi is coming, the malls we have — this is a fantastic destination and I see that continuing to grow,” he said.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) real estate developer Aldar Properties was founded in 2005 and is now among the largest developers in the emirate.

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates that make up the UAE, Aldar is responsible for many residential, commercial and cultural developments in the region. Prominent developments include its headquarters in the Al Raha Beach development, the Gate Towers in Shams Abu Dhabi on Al Reem Island, and Yas Island’s F1 racing circuit.

It’s not all been easy sailing for Aldar, however, with the company getting bailed out by the Abu Dhabi government to the tune of around $10 billion in 2011. Since then, the developer has partnered with another prominent developer, Emaar Properties, on a number of projects.

In March, it was announced that the developers would co-develop the Emaar Beach Front in Dubai — a residential artificial island — and Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, again a man-made island that has a branch of the Louvre art museum on it.

Somewhat surprisingly for a region known for its luxurious developments, Al Mubarak said that real estate growth opportunities were to be found in mid to low-income housing.

“In the past, there was a focus on very high net-worth individuals and I think that market has become very saturated. There is a need for this mid-market and low-income market housing,” he said. Aldar Properties has itself branched into affordable housing.

Asked what were the challenges faced by investors in Abu Dhabi, Al Mubarak said private sector investment needed to grow.

“I don’t really call it a challenge. The government will continue to invest in infrastructure, from schools to universities, hospitals to museums and as we’ve seen over the last few years, the oil price has not dictated any changes in that realm. But the private sector has to come in and fill the demand for what the government is going to bring to the table,” he said.

“And, in my view, there is still an undersupply in what the private sector can bring. Outdoor retail is still weak, community retail is still weak, I think you still have a weakness in the two and three-star sector hotels,” he said.

“There is still a lot of opportunities and if you see the track record for Abu Dhabi you can see a bright future in the next five to 10 years.”

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