THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Benoy Kurien, General Manager of Al Hamra Real Estate Development, on high-end commuting, growth strategies, and harnessing lifestyle-directed commercial expansion.

Benoy Kurien
BIOGRAPHY
In his role as General Manager, Benoy Kurien is responsible for managing the complete real estate development portfolio of the Al Hamra Group, including the AED2 billion gated community, Al Hamra Village. Kurien, who has a BA in commerce, economics, taxation, and accounting from the St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bangalore, earned his stripes working in various positions of seniority at Manar Mall from July 1998 to January 2011. Since then, Kurien has been in his position at Al Hamra Real Estate Development for five years, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience in lease management, accounting, marketing, and facilities management.

Why did Al Hamra Real Estate decide to focus on the high-end segment?

The Al Hamra group was established to help develop the residential and hospitality offering in Ras Al Khaimah. Through Al Hamra Village, which is today a flagship project not only in Ras Al Khaimah but in all of the northern Emirates, the real estate arm of Al Hamra Group quickly established itself as a premium lifestyle developer. We saw a need for quality homes and in a natural and serene setting that would offer value to investors and homeowners and developed a community that offered all those at an exceptional value. We have who people from other Emirates that have chosen to live here and commute to other Emirates.

What is the state of your flagship project and what projects do you have in the pipeline?

Al Hamra Village itself is over 77 million sqft in size, it is set along the shores of the Arabian Gulf, and is anchored by a championship golf course, state-of-the-art marina, several hotels, a shopping mall, more than 1,100 villas, and nearly 2,500 apartments already completed and delivered. The latest project within the community is Bayti, a selection of town homes with three or four bedrooms plus a limited selection of large, six-bedroom villas. We have started handing these over to our investors and new residents are moving into their new homes. We have plans for an international school, which is in the tendering stage. We currently have more than 91% of our land bank in Al Hamra Village fully developed.

What is Al Hamra Real Estate's growth strategy?

We have a strong hotel portfolio and we have two flagship shopping malls in the Emirate, Manar Mall and Al Hamra Mall. We are solidifying Manar Mall's position as the number-one mall in the Northern Emirates by undertaking a major expansion and doubling its size. Al Hamra Mall will also be looking at further expansion as it becomes more and more popular with shoppers, tourists, and retailers alike. Finally, we have some of the best hotels in the northern Emirates. Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Hilton Al Hamra, and the Ritz Carlton are all a part of Al Hamra's portfolio. We will look at expanding our hotel offering in line with the tourism growth plans of Ras Al Khaimah.

What is your outlook for RAK's real estate sector?

Clearly we are bullish on the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and that is where we will continue developing further products. Every report that we look at with regards to our GDP growth and tourism gives us confidence that we will have steady growth. In Ras Al Khaimah we do not go through the big peaks and troughs like some primary markets here; it has always been steady. Our rents are continuing to go up and this year we have seen rental values increase between 5 and 8% and that is low for us; usually it is around 15% or so. One of the drivers of this is the lifestyle offered here. For example, even today for the price of a one-bedroom apartment in a nice place in Dubai you can buy a three-bedroom villa on the golf course, so it is a choice of lifestyle.

What are your prospects for the year ahead?

We are continuously looking for new opportunities. In a real estate project a new announcement or a new project cannot happen spontaneously. We make sure that we go through all the details before we make such announcements. That is one of the reasons we do not go out and make announcements on projects of thousands of units; we control the supply of what we are putting out in the market, therefore we are able to complete what we have announced on time and on budget and that is the reputation we have built for ourselves so far.