TBY talks to Ziad El Chaar, Managing Director of DAMAC Properties, on the luxury retail market, working with brands, and the impact of Expo 2020.

Ziad El Chaar
Ziad El Chaar graduated with a degree in Biology in 1990 and received his MBA in 1998 from the American University of Beirut. From 1993 to 2005 he worked for Fattal Holding, and was General Manager in Syria between 1997 and 2001. From 2001 to 2005, he was Group Executive Director and remained on the board until 2008. He joined DAMAC Properties in 2005 as Vice-President of International Sales and became Managing Director in 2011.

What are your strategies for geographical expansion?

We are mainly engaged in the Middle East market. Our hometown and the seat of our business will always be Dubai. We have additional projects in Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Riyadh, Amman, and Doha, and any expansion in the Middle East will mainly be in those cities. We established a company in 2013 in Baghdad, and are probing the market as we know that it is ultimately destined to be one of the largest real estate markets in the Middle East.

DAMAC was planning to call some investors to Dubai from different countries. Why are you interested in doing this?

Dubai is one of the best areas for second homes, vacation homes, weekend homes, and recreation homes; places that you visit for businesses and relaxation. And many people who have set up business here take an apartment or house, because they visit this city four or five times per year. People from Saudi Arabia are often here on vacation for the weekend, as are many people from India. Dubai is an aspirational destination for so many neighboring cities, offering convenience and opulence, but also safety and security in stark contrast to many regional countries. In addition to this, in 2013 Dubai had 10 million tourists, with 69 million transit passengers arriving at the airport. The target is to convert some of the latter travelers into tourist arrivals. There are many conscious steps that the government is taking to make sure that Dubai remains competitive. If you have an apartment here, for example, but don't frequently use it, you can give it to a hotel company that will rent it for you on an overnight basis as part of its business, which in turn increases the current 80,000 hospitality units in the market. This is why we ventured very heavily into the luxury hotel apartments sector. We now have, in Dubai, over 8,000 hotel apartments under development. And the unique model that we started with hotel apartments is that you buy a hotel apartment from us, and on completion put that unit into the rental pool if you so choose, and we will remove all the stress and manage the property on your behalf.

AKOYA by DAMAC is one of DAMAC's flagship projects currently. What are your expectations for this specific project?

AKOYA by DAMAC is fast becoming one of the most desirable golf course communities anywhere, with a 4.3 million square foot private park, swimming pools, landscaped gardens, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium included in each of the developments. The 42 million square foot master development is just 10 minutes from Sheikh Zayed Road, set around the Trump International Golf Club, Dubai—the first Trump course to be operated and managed by the Trump Organization in the Middle East and Asia. The community was recently named as the “Best International Golf Development" in the world at the International Property Awards.

What will Expo 2020 bring to the real estate and hospitality sector?

Expo 2020 is essentially a sentiment booster. We need to be ready for the six-month Expo from a logistics perspective but, once again, it is not a major booster for real estate on its own. The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) estimates that tourism growth alone necessitates a rise from today's 85,000 room keys to around 145,000 keys by 2020, even without the Expo. The Expo itself will only require an additional 15,000 rooms, which is a modest rise.