What can be done to address the challenges facing Oman's real estate industry?
MOHAMMED AL ABRI The government should start regulating the market and issue licenses to real developers. Prices have been declining and considerable competition is pushing those prices even lower. For example, the land we bought has lost its value over time, but it will eventually go up. For example, we previously bought a mixed-use plot of land for USD12 million, and now it is hardly worth USD6 million. For this reason, we decided to shift our focus to integrated tourism complexes (ITC), with the aim of creating affordable, smart, and sustainable ITCs. The government does not spend on big projects because the private sector in Oman is small, and there are not many companies that can take on big projects. The government's only way forward is to sell assets and encourage investors and developers to invest more in the economy. Therefore, the government has to give some of its roles to the private sector in order for the private sector to drive the economy. We see this process as a potential avenue for growth in the future.
What were the major highlights of 2019, and how do they reflect the current status of the Omani economy?
TIM VALLANCEY In 2018, we expanded our main service area of commercial cleaning across the country and identified the catering business line, especially on the institutional side, as a potential area of expansion. That said, our expertise is in the camp/construction catering sector and this market has contracted with the decline in the number of construction projects. On the other hand, in the hard services or maintenance segment, we have witnessed almost 100% growth, and for 2020 we expect the same amount of growth, if not more. This segment of the market is maturing and while there are still a lot of small players out there, the clients' expectations are changing. These expectations help high-quality service providers like Oman International Group.
What is your definition of innovation? How are technology and digitalization impacting your business?
MAA Today's generation want a variety of different amenities. We need to do something different and new in order to attract buyers. We introduce different technologies to appeal to the youth and build environmentally sustainable buildings to attract environmental activists. This, for us, is innovation. Technology is available everywhere and to everyone. It is essential in this new day and age; this is why we are incorporating it in our projects. It appeals to customers because technology makes life convenient.
What role can technology play in your business model?
TV There are many building management technologies on the market, but clients still need to understand their costs and benefits. The attitude is still very much short term and focused on price, although the efficiency and cost of maintaining or managing a building can be reduced by incorporating standards and technology during the design phase. Technology needs to be incorporated during the early stages of building design and that possibly requires some regulation. With the emphasis now shifting toward efficiency and sustainability, the overall attitude toward technologies will certainly improve in the medium to long term.
How will the concept of community change in the future?
MAA Community is the place where you feel integrated. We are working on having many amenities within the community, such as offices in residential projects for residents to be closer to home, thus eliminating the need for residents to commute to work every day. Our goal is to make our residents' lives more convenient.
What are your priorities and expectations for 2020?
TV We started the year well and have won a number of new big contracts. The government's focus on enabling the private sector bodes well for us, and the policies being put in place encourage the development of the private sector. Our priority is to grow our revenue and maintain shareholder returns. We also place a high priority on in-country value and expect to see more Omanis coming into the business. We are also looking at different technologies to increase productivity.