The Dubai-based Abjar Hotels, Clubs, Resorts has hit the expansion trail. In response to the growing attraction of the UAE as a holiday and business destination, the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Almulla Group is pushing ahead with an ambitious Dh 800 million investment programme involving the expansion of two existing facilities and the construction of two new beach resorts during the next five years.
'The demand will be there,' Khalaf Almulla, vice president of properties at Abjar Hotels, Clubs, Resorts, confidently predicts.
Because of the improvement in tourism and the efforts of the Dubai Commerce & Tourism Promotion Board, the occupancy rates in our existing hotels have soared in recent years. And with Dubai's growing annual calendar of events and its continuing infrastructure developments, there will be a need for more quality accommodation.' Since 1988, the Dubai hotel market has experienced unprecedented construction activity. Fuelled by a 10-15 per cent annual increase in visitors, the number of rooms available doubled between 1988-1994 to 10,400. Similar growth is envisaged over the coming five years, with Abjar playing a central role.
At the heart of the company's investment programme is the upgrading and expansion of two of its existing hotels in Dubai city centre. The Ramada, located in Bur Dubai.
will have a 350-bed extension, involving tbe construction of a new block on an adjacent plot of land. The recently-completed designs also call for an extensive refurbishment of the 168 rooms in the old building. At the Sheraton Dubai on the Deira side of the creek, a 250-room tower block will be built on the site currently occupied by the service area and tennis courts. Already under way is a refurbishment programme of the existing 255-room block.
In tandem with the city hotel programme. the developer is pressing ahead with its first beach resort project in Jumeirah. The five-star facility will comprise 150 rooms, restaurants and leisure facilities and draw heavily on rhe Moorish architecture found in north Africa and the Mediterranean. 'The Jumeirah hotel project will cater primarily for tourists,' Almulla explains. 'But it will also serve our three city centre hotels. Today there is a marketing need to provide beach facilities to our customers.' The Jumeirah complex will be complemented by Abjar's first venture outside Dubai, a 110-room, four-star beach resort in Fujairah. Again, Abjar has made a conscious effort to incorporate Islamic architecture into the project's design. With the facility having access to lO-kilometres of unspoiled beach, the company is planning to develop the area into a major centre for watersports and diving on the east coast.
Abjar is in the privileged position of being able to draw on the resources and experience of other members of the Almulla Group as it embarks on its expansion programme. Its sister company Abjar Hotels International already operates the Ramada and Royal Abjar hotels and will manage the two beach front facilities.
Another group subsidiary, Al-Mulla Construction Company, is one of the most experienced hotel contractors in the local market. It will carry out all the building work associated with the developments. ' 'By using the in-house contractor, it assures us that we get the quality we want,' Almulla says. 'It doesn't necessarily work out any cheaper in the construction costs, but since the quality is the key, there is less chance of operational difficulties at a later stage.' The recent spate of hotel and beach resort projects has led some to warn that Dubai and the UAE is nearing saturation point for accommodation. At Abjar, such fears are considered unfounded.
Indeed, such is the company's confidence about future demand prospects that it has already approved a second phase development of the Jumeirab beach project involving the construction of a 400-room tower block. 'If you take Hong Kong and Singapore, they are both smaller than Dubai,' Almulla argues. 'They also have more hotels than here. Yet it is still difficult to get a room. In Dubai, there is space in the market.'