NICHE OF MIND

UAE 2018 | AJMAN | REVIEW

Despite the rapid trajectory of development in the UAE over the decades, Ajman has managed to remain deeply connected to its Emirati culture—with a leadership that has worked hard to improve living conditions and forge a diverse economy.

Ajman is a small but influential cog in the UAE, and while it, too, has transformed its skyline in recent years, it has retained a unique Emirati touch. The Emirate of Ajman is 259sqkm in size, with key points of interest being a historic fort, business district, residential areas, and a natural harbor home to one of the largest ship repairing companies in the world. The main engine of the economy, however, is the Ajman Free Zone (AFZ), which, established in 1988, led to massive industrial development in Ajman by attracting companies from far and wide with generous investment privileges.

The population of Ajman stood at 265,034 at end-2015, with expats making up over 80% of the overall figure. The Emirate's government is headed by Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ajman, with the Department of Economic Development-Ajman (DED-Ajman), headed by Director General Ali Eissa Alnuami, playing a key role in the formulation of economic development policy. He noted that the role Ajman plays complements the overall goals of the UAE, which itself is guided by UAE Vision 2021.

“The role that DED-Ajman plays has been outlined in detail in the Emirate's strategic objectives for 2017 to 2021," he told TBY, adding that, “our work is based on these priorities and also falls in line with the UAE's federal vision." He was keen to outline that Ajman “work[s] closely with other Emirates in order to provide potential and existing investors with a wide array of premium options, which includes lucrative benefits and advantages to be gained from investing in the UAE."

And while the AFZ has proven popular with investors, the Emirate's leadership does not intend to sit on its laurels, working hard to “improve the investor experience here in Ajman." In that respect, initiatives include efforts to enhance consumer rights for residents and prevent the promulgation of fraudulent goods into the market.
The authorities also recognize the need for Ajman to establish a niche if it is to thrive among the competitive Emirates, with SMEs a key target in that respect. In conversation with TBY, Alnuami highlighted Ajman's commitment to attracting SMEs, with “larger industries present in the country today… more suitable to operate across larger Emirates like Dubai."

Alongside SMEs, Ajman is also appealing to green companies in order to promote environmental friendliness and sustainability. And like the UAE at large, the fostering of a knowledge economy is high on the to-do list.
And, efforts to forge a unique path have begun to pay off. For someone returning to Ajman after years abroad, there would be more than a few new developments.

Towers have risen from the desert and come to dominate the skyline, while Ajman Corniche, opened only in the last few years, has transformed the waterfront, with rising living standards also drawing in international brands. And in recent years, the Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Bridge and the Al Nuaimiya Bridge were opened, easing congestion and providing better access to Sharjah and Dubai and the Northern Emirates, respectively.

One of the most significant developments still underway, however, is Ajman International Airport, being built in Ajman's Al Manama enclave. The UAE's eighth international airport, the project is expected to add much-needed capacity to the Northern Emirates. The USD571-million project is planned to handle 1 million passengers a year when complete in 2018.

Indeed, the airport is a key part of Ajman's Vision 2021, and is envisioned to link up with the Emirate's free zone to promote the idea of an integrated transport network across the country.

And while SMEs remain the focus according to DED-Ajman, the AFZ leadership is not limiting itself to any specific sector. “The way that our infrastructure is developing means that the Emirates in general are looking for tourism, healthcare, education, and so on," said HE Mahmood Khalil Al Hasemi, Director-General of AFZ, adding that, “we all hold the same mindset; that anyone who wants to come to the Emirates to invest is welcome."

There are certain areas that are of particular interest, however, with Al Hasemi telling TBY that, “when discussing strengthening our healthcare offering, we are thinking about developing more labs, for instance. The competition is high, which means that it is crucial to have the necessary infrastructure to facilitate and accommodate FDI."

Al Hasemi also agrees that the UAE needs to move away from oil and gas, and adds his voice to calls for Ajman to offer something different. “Different Emirates have different niches; for example, many companies went to Ras Al Khaimah because there was a lot of real estate activity going on there, which has now developed into a growing market for schools.

Likewise, people go to Dubai because of the potential for trade. We therefore have to try and differentiate our offering," he elaborates, before concluding that, “we want to encourage those to come who have long-term plans and good intentions. One sector we are emphasizing is food processing and this free zone, or any for that matter, needs to go the extra mile."

While most well known for hydrocarbons, the Emirates have, in recent years, begun to see tourism as a key source of revenue going forward. And while much of this means attracting locals, as well as visitors from the GCC and wider Middle East, the authorities are keen to capitalize on the UAE's status as a transit hub for a large chunk of the globe's air travelers, encouraging people to spend time in the country or, better still, make it their final destination.

In that respect, Ajman is ramping up its efforts to tempt more guests, led by its unique Arabian flavor and unspoiled Emirati culture. Hoping to attract more visitors going forward, the Ajman Tourism Development Department is making itself a presence at local, regional, and international trade and travel exhibitions, such as ITB Berlin, OTM Mumbai, ATM Dubai, and WTM London.

“With the majority of the travelers using the internet and mobile technology, we have utilized e-services through our mobile application and are active on social media in order for visitors and residents to be informed of activities and events in Ajman," Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Chairman of the Ajman Tourism Development Department, told TBY.

In 2015, the Emirate recorded 115,000 visitors from Europe. “With our diverse offerings, we can target a large number of visiting friends and relatives, travelers that are already visiting the UAE, and the middle-income families who are traveling to the UAE and looking for value for money and affordable options," he continued, again suggesting Ajman is looking to carve out a niche for itself in the larger UAE.

In the years to come, DED-Ajman hopes to maintain the Emirate's diverse economic offering, with extra focus placed on industry, tourism, transport and logistics, outsourcing, and media. But with one-third of the economy centered on manufacturing, construction representing approximately 15%, and wholesale, retail trade, and repairing services, real estate and business services, and transport, storage, and communication all representing between 5 and 10%, Ajman already has a solid egg-to-basket ratio and much to build on.