Can you give us an update on where the Jabal Omar project currently stands?
Jabal Omar is in the holy city of Mecca and it is one of the largest developments in the Middle East. It has an area of 230,000sqm with a built up area of about 2 million sqm; we have 38 towers inside our project within which there are 24 international hotel brands with nine international operators. What makes JODC unique is that it gathers 24 brand hotels in one area, which makes it one of the largest concentrations of 5 star hotels in the world.
What other innovations are you bringing to Mecca?
Most of the areas in Mecca are congested. Therefore, the government has started urban planning to ease congestion. One of the areas that has urban planning is Jabal Omar. The other companies and developers are following the same concept. It also has state-of-the-art technology, especially in infrastructure. It has district cooling and grey water treatment, which is in line with green building regulations. Jabal Omar will have huge technical galleries running under the project. It is actually a mini-city. Through one of the projects, we have technical tunnels that accommodate the chilled water piping, electrical systems and the garbage collection. The garbage will be collected, pumped (under negative pressure) and collected in a station within the Jabal Omar development. We also have the grey water treatment because many people come here for Wudu and there is a huge wastage of water. The water is collected, treated, and pumped back to be used again.
How do you balance between creating ultra-modern developments and maintaining the traditions of the city at the same time?
The government of Saudi Arabia wants to increase the worshippers at the Haram Al Sharif, especially during Umrah and Hajj. Between 1.5 and 2 million people come for the Hajj, and about 5 million come for Umrah every year. The government wants to increase these numbers to 15 million. This number was announced during the presentation for Mecca development. In order to realize these numbers and this huge demand, we have to develop infrastructure such as railways, buses, airports, electricity, water supplies, and hotels. We are one of the hotel developers that will meet these demands moving forward.
In terms of investment opportunities for Mecca, how would you describe the current investment climate?
When we talk about Jabal Omar, we are talking about 15,000-20,000 employees that are needed for staffing purposes alone. Jabal Omar has three categories, namely hotels, apartments/villas, and commercial segments. The commercial segment is one of the largest in Mecca. We will also have a convention center that can accommodate up to 2,000 guests. We have already started an auction, and in 2014, we sold 20 villas. In 2015 so far, we have sold another 22 villas. This confirms a high level of interest.
What are the major challenges you face in this project?
Logistics is the number one challenge, and because of the proximity to the Haram we experience complications with the trucks entering the site. In addition, we have an issue with labor, because only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca. In addition, workers tend to pray at Haram because it is a unique opportunity for them, which means that there is a considerable amount of non-productive time.
What are some of the concrete goals and targets you hope to achieve during 2015?
We are looking to complete three hotels in time for Ramadan and the Hajj. The target of our company is to complete all hotels and the commercial section, which is still under development. We also have the remaining apartments and villas to be completed.