THE RESILIENCE DIVIDEND

Jordan 2019 | AQABA | INTERVIEW

Undeterred by a slew of economic challenges, Ayla has kept its growth trajectory and purpose alive by investing in IT, sustainability, and world-class recreation facilities.

Sahl Dudin
BIOGRAPHY
Sahl Dudin is the Managing Director of Ayla and a member of the Board of Directors of all its 26 affiliated companies. Dudin has over 32 years of experience in the development of mega projects, leading a number of high net-worth projects in the hospitality and tourism sectors. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jordan Tourism Board and a member of the Board of Trustees of Injaz. He is also a member of the Executive Board of EDAMA, the Marine Sciences Station, and Run Jordan, the Jordanian Marathon Association. Dudin holds two bachelor's degrees in mechanical and civil engineering from the University of Hartford in the US.

Ayla was established in 2003 and has completed Phase I of its pioneering mixed-use development. What are the latest updates regarding Phase II?

I have seen the project develop and grow despite the economic challenges. Ayla started construction in end-2008 at the outset of the worst economic downturn in recent history. However, the owner of Ayla and the Saudi group Arab Supply and Trading Corporation (Astra Group) had a long-term vision. Astra Group knew that it is better to plow ahead in difficult times, completing the difficult groundwork and the basic infrastructure. We completed the project infrastructure in 2012 at a cost of around USD400 million. Then, we went ahead with the development of residential, entertainment, and sports facilities, along with our main project, the Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort. This is our main hotel, and it is fully operational. Later in 2019, we will open the adjoining commercial and retail area, the Marina Village. We have also completed a second residential project and a few beach clubs. Our total expenditure so far has exceeded USD1 billion. This has been funded by our paid-up capital of around USD600 million and by selling our products, such as homes and offices. Once complete, Ayla will have around 1,500 hotel rooms, 2,000 residential units, and numerous recreation and entertainment facilities. A signature golf course by Greg Norman is in place and has already hosted international tournaments. Notably, lagoons have added 17km of shoreline to Aqaba. The entire project spans over 430ha, including around 75ha of lagoons and 120ha for the golf course. We are perhaps the first project that uses triple play technology to provide full fiber connectivity to every single apartment and shop. Notably, we held a World Cup Wakeboarding event in 2018, and 2019 will be our fourth year in a row hosting the West Asia International Triathlon. In April 2019, we held the world's first golf mixed open with around 170 participants from 26 countries. We have also hosted the annual Adventure and Tourism Conference, where around 150 tour operators discussed promoting adventure tourism activities in Jordan.

What is Ayla's role in promoting sustainability?

Ayla has been a pioneer in leveraging renewable energy. We have two solar power plants inside the project with a total capacity of 6MW. To maintain a healthy environment, we need to pump around 1 million cbm of water a day, which requires a huge amount of energy that we have been covering 100% from solar energy since 2015. That alone saves us around USD1 million a year. Likewise, our golf course is one of the top-three courses in the world when it comes to sustainability. We utilize solar power for pumping and desalinating water, sub-surface irrigation, and low-water-use plants for the landscaped areas and treated effluent from Aqaba's wastewater treatment company. Reliance on renewable energy is the way forward for the country, Aqaba, and Ayla. We have plans to expand our renewable energy reliance to the maximum, and we will continue to employ water conservation, reuse, and wastewater recycling methods.

How does Ayla contribute to Aqaba's economic development?

When it started, Ayla Oasis Development Company employed three or four people, and now it's 300 strong, 97% of whom are Jordanians. The hotel itself creates an additional 300 job opportunities, and by the time the project is completed we hope to create 3,000 job opportunities. We concentrate significantly on training and have our own training academy to help students learn about various aspects of business. We are complementing the efforts made by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and the Jordan Tourism Board by creating assets that accelerate tourism.