LIFESTYLE CHOICE

Ras Al Khaimah | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Benoy Kurien, General Manager of Al Hamra, on the changing demographics of homeowners in the Emirate, the growing importance of sustainable construction, and further developing tourism infrastructure.

Benoy Kurien
BIOGRAPHY
Benoy Kurien is the General Manager of Al Hamra, which has net assets worth over AED3 billion. Kurien has a degree in commerce, economics, taxation, and accounting from the St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bangalore. He earned his stripes in a number of positions at Manor Mall from July 1998 to January 2011, when he took the helm at Al Hamra. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in lease management, accountancy, development, and facilities management.

What is the profile of people investing or buying homes in Ras Al Khaimah?

In our case, Al Hamra Village is currently host to 99 different nationalities. One of the trends we see is the growing number of Emirati buyers. That profile has been steadily on the rise, regardless of whether they are purchasing it as a primary home, a weekend home, or a holiday home. We have seen many UAE nationals moving into new areas and making it their primary homes. Young people and young to middle-aged families in particular are more open to living in a community alongside other nationalities. Perceptions and mindsets of the past are changing. The leadership of the Emirate is visionary, modern, and progressive, and that has flowed down to the people. Even in hotels, our weekend occupancy mostly comprises Emiratis. Nonetheless, overall the market is shifting from weekend stays to homestays. It has fallen slightly in the last year because of market conditions. However, when I took over in 2011, we had occupancy rates of around 35-40%, while today occupancy rates are over 70%. There are also many people living here and working in Dubai because they made a lifestyle choice.

In what ways is environmental protection working its way into the local construction sector?

Environmental protection is becoming more important. The challenge for developers is to incorporate sustainability elements without affecting cost. However, it can be done via small simple measures. For example, we decided to apply for LEED Platinum certification. To reach Platinum status, one needs a waste management system, which is more challenging to achieve and developers will not make any money. At the same time, we wanted to demonstrate our commitment. Whatever we can incorporate into the design, material, or equipment, we endeavor to include. Solar street lights are in fact cheaper than regular streetlights if they are installed right at the beginning. Many consultants are already incorporating such innovations into their new designs. The final product ends up being more sustainable than five years ago, though I cannot definitively say there is a conscious effort to make sure they are more sustainable. Where we will face a great deal of resistance from developers is when it starts to affect their pockets, especially in terms of residential. On commercial buildings and hotels, it is easier to do these things. However, because the residential market is extremely price-driven, it is difficult.

How sustainable is the development of the hospitality and retail sectors in Ras Al Khaimah and why?

There is a large scope of development in the hospitality sector. Firstly, the Dubai airport, the busiest airport in the world, is only 45 minutes away. There are people who do not want to visit a concrete jungle and want a different experience. Ras Al Khaimah also has the added attention and focus of the tourism authority, which is not only focused on attracting tourists, but also on developing tourism infrastructure so that tourists have more things to do. Our greatest strength is our natural beauty and culture. We have an old town and a market, as well as the beach, desert, and mountains. We can develop enough tourism infrastructure to attract more than just tourists who want to sit on the beach. We want to attract millennials, Middle Eastern tourists, and families. We are building camping destinations and zip lines, and developing the old town so people can wander and see how people lived hundreds of years ago. We are restoring abandoned villages and allowing tourists to come to this part of the world to see how societies lived in this region. There is an undersupply in terms of experiences. We have five malls in Ras Al Khaimah and we are adding one more, though some are doing exceptionally better than others. That has to do with the shopper experience. Once we offer the experiences, shoppers will come.