Until last year, Emaar’s huge investment portfolio primarily centred on the UAE. It had the $20,000 million Burj Dubai development, which includes the centrepiece tower verging on 800 metres. Across Dubai, it had satisfied property-hungry residents by delivering about 13,000 residential units in projects such as the Arabian Ranches and Greens. It was ramping up development at Dubai Marina, a project that once completed will add more than 100 towers to the emirate’s skyline. And it had ventured into neighbouring Umm al-Qaiwain, where it teamed up with regional investors to develop a $3,000 million marina development.
Two more mega Dubai developments are in the pipeline. But these days, the real focus is overseas, where total investments are expected to exceed $40,000 million. ‘Eighty per cent of our projects will be outside the UAE within two years,’ says Alabbar.
At its February annual general meeting (AGM), Emaar outlined its new strategy to its shareholders. Vision 2010 aims to make the developer a global player not only in real estate, but across a variety of other sectors, including hospitality, education, retail and healthcare. In recent months, it has announced plans to invest $10,000 million in education and healthcare across the Middle East and Asia. It will expand its retail business through the construction of 100 malls across the region and Indian subcontinent at a cost of about $4,000 million. A further $3,000 million will go into creating a chain of 10 Giorgio Armani-branded hotels across the world. Yet real estate will remain its core business. Asia, the US and Europe have all been targeted as areas of interest. ‘Some major announcements on these plans are coming up,’ says Emirault.
Emaar’s regional expansion ambitions are more concrete. Emirault, who previously oversaw the Burj development, has been speeding up international development, something the chairman deemed to be moving too slowly. Their motivation is clear. The federation’s real estate market is increasingly saturated, while costs in the Gulf are escalating. Emaar believes the potential returns from its international expansion will outweigh the risks.
Since his appointment, Emirault has delivered some impressive headline figures. Saudi Arabia makes up its largest commitment to date, with Emaar’s share of investment in the $27,000 million King Abdullah Economic City standing at about $10,000 million. The project, which involves the creation of a new city the size of Dubai, is likely to be the first of several mega projects Emaar will develop in the kingdom. The objective is to tap into the requirements of the country’s youthful population – 60 per cent of the kingdom’s 21 million residents are aged under 20. ‘The kingdom is a phenomenal opportunity for us,’ says Emirault. ‘Saudi Arabia wants to have the malls, entertainment centres and residential elements that they see in Dubai and with the government opening up and the high oil price, they can do this.’
Emaar has also turned to areas where the investment and political climate is riskier. Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Pakistan all present challenges for a company that is less than 10 years old. In Jordan and Pakistan, for example, the developer presented its proposals for both countries in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks. In Syria, where Emaar is committed to building the estimated $500 million Eighth Gate and has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the estimated $4,000 million D