Can you tell us about the highlights for ORIS in 2019 and your growth expectations for 2020?
Omnivest is one of the biggest investment companies in the region, and its operations revolve around its six strategic platforms. These include banking, insurance, leasing, real estate, investment banking, and financial investments. ORIS is the real estate investment and development arm of Ominvest. We have grown steadly since our inception; starting out with a capital of OMR1 million in 2016, we are now at OMR15 million, continually building our brand and cementing our place in the industry. The key factor behind our success has been quality at the right price. It is what assisted us in the construction of the iconic Omnivest Business Center. When we started the business center in 2015, there was an surplus of office space, yet nothing to the standard we knew our target tenant would be looking for; thus we went forward with our project and are now at 90% occupation, with some of the largest names in the country as tenants as well as various VIPs. Our aim is to recreate the same results in all our other projects. We see that there is still a demand for high-quality projects and our focus is to tap into that demand. As for the future, we are currently working on major development projects that are collectively worth more than OMR100 million.
Can you tell us about the short-term trends shaping the local construction market?
The real estate sector has been impacted by the current economic climate; however, despite this uncertainty, the real estate market has been registering healthy growth. There were and are concerns about the impact of the ban on visas and other regulations put in place; however, the implementation of the national tourism strategy will drive growth in real estate. In the current scenario, the best approach is a conservative one. For example, one of our projects includes six buildings that we had planned to tender for at the same time, but due to new trends we have decided to phase it over a longer period. Another noticeable trend currently is that developers and landowners are bringing in multiple partners to reduce the overall risk. An important point to broach is the emergence of COVID-19; we can already see the impact globally across different sectors, including real estate. We have seen the effect of China's closure on our ongoing construction and in the coming few months we will see significant delay in project completion due to precautionary measures and slow movement of freight due to lockdowns. However, we need to keep moving forward. If there is no growth in the sector, it will adversely affect the economy. So there needs to be some development to support our country. Additionally, we will see the impact of COVID-19 on end users. Their demands and tastes will shift. So, as developers, we need to think about how we can address these changes through innovation.
Is the government moving in the right direction to assist the construction sector?
The only area where we have seen real development is Duqm. The government provided land and support to private-sector players, and we are now seeing development. Several free zones are also being developed, but other than that the progress has been slow. Simply put, the government needs to be more flexible and reflect the mentality of the private sector.
What role can digitalization and new technologies play?
Ideally, there should be a single portal for all approvals. I believe it is crucial to streamline bureaucratic processes. People in Oman have started talking about sustainable building techniques and LEED design principles. These require approval from regulators, and although getting approvals for new technologies and methods will slow things down slightly, we should not back down because sustainability is the way forward.