TBY talks to Abdullah Al Abdooli, Managing Director of Al Marjan Island, on strategies for attracting foreign investment, boosting tourism, and getting luxury hotels to come to you.

Abdullah Al Abdooli
Abdullah Al Abdooli is Managing Director of Al Marjan Island, a master real estate developer in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. A seasoned architect, Al Abdooli is an authority within the RAK real estate sector, has spearheaded an aggressive expansion program for the Al Marjan Island development, and was instrumental in the acquisition of the real estate arm of RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA). He has an undergraduate degree from the American University of Sharjah and a master’s in regional and urban planning from Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi. He sits on the Board of the RAK Waste Water Authority, RAK Airport, and the Land Allocation Committee.

How would you describe Al Marjan Island's unique investment environment?

At the moment there is a diverse portfolio of hotels, hospitality, and leisure assets in Al Marjan. We have ambitious growth figures, one of those being 8,000 keys for the whole of Al Marjan. So far we have around 1,500 operational hotel rooms between three hotels; Hilton DoubleTree, Rixos Bab Al Nahr, and Al Marjan Island Resort and Spa, which is managed by Accor. That figure, by itself, is already impressive considering that we have been operational for only two years. An example of investor confidence is the Hilton DoubleTree. Only one year after its opening in January 2014, it decided to open another piece of land to develop an additional 240 hotel keys in order to reach 700, meaning a 44% increase in just one year. No international brand will undergo this expansion unless it is sure about the destination in which it is investing. International brands believe that they have to be early birds in the Al Marjan development before someone else catches it.

How are you attracting foreign investment to Al Marjan Island?

We are transparent in everything we do and say in order to enable investors to make sound decisions. We adopt this transparent strategy towards our potential investors so that they know exactly what the rate of return is. However, we also believe that we need to drive the market ourselves, and for this reason, we also develop our own products. This way, we can also lead by example. We have a good business model that can make investors trust us; they can visit our products and they can feel confident about Ras Al Khaimah as a whole. The strategy is simple; we create value for our existing investors and they demonstrate this generated revenue value to other potential investors. We believe that the strategy we are working with is the best and we are focusing more on roadshows in China, Russia, and Europe, so we seek investors from those areas to enhance the existing ones. Currently, on Al Marjan Island, we have different types of investors. We have investors from the UAE, the GCC, India, Pakistan, the UK, and the Czech Republic, amongst others.

How will Al Marjan Island complement the future of RAK's tourism industry?

In Ras Al Khaimah, we do not promote ourselves to an investor as a short-term cash flow generator, we promote ourselves as a long-term value creator. We invest in the full master plan of Ras Al Khaimah and not just on Al Marjan Island as a development, so that is why we are selling a business opportunity in the Emirate and not just Al Marjan Island. There is a strong direction from HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, to develop Ras Al Khaimah as the leading destination for authentic culture, tradition, and adventure. Ras Al Khaimah aims to attract around 2.5 to 2.9 million visitors by 2025 and, in order to do so, it needs around 15,000 hotel keys to be developed and 8,000 of them have to be in Al Marjan Island.

What are your prospects for the year ahead?

There is great potential to expand projects. Many eyes are focused on Al Marjan Island, not only from the UAE but from abroad, too. We noticed that there is demand from prestigious international hotel and hospitality brands in Al Marjan Island, and they are asking us to enhance the interaction with international stakeholders and investors in order to create partnerships with them. This way they can both benefit, whether it is as an international hotel brand or a foreign direct investor.