Gulf developers are, as a breed, typically full of big ideas, big ambitions and even bigger claims. They want to sell fast, build quickly and move on to the next record-breaking venture as soon as possible. It’s an adrenaline-filled industry.
Sheikh Hamood Bin Sultan Al Hosni is, refreshingly, quite different. Making his appearance in a portacabin in the dusty hills outside Muscat, he arrives with no entourage or grand entrance and is wearing a branded t-shirt, construction boots and casual clothes. He’s all ready for a hands-on tour of the site to check out the latest developments on the project.
Hard hat balanced in one hand, he jokes with his colleagues as a photographer encourages them to give bigger smiles and try not to be blinded by the sun. Framing the scene is Oman’s biggest asset: its natural beauty and jaw-dropping landscape.
It’s a scene that’s tough to imagine ever taking place in Dubai or Doha or any of the other fast-paced Gulf markets. But that’s what is great about Oman: they seem genuinely uninterested in the ‘build ‘em high and sell ‘em fast’ attitude that is commonplace in other parts of the market.
While Sheikh Hamood may not be declaring an ambition to build the world’s tallest building, stage the world’s biggest events or quadruple the country’s tourist footfall in record time, his naturally laid-back demeanour shouldn’t distract from the fact that a lot is riding on the success of the government-backed master development he has been given the task of masterminding.
“Our project will be the first one since 2007 to be launched,” he says. “I believe the success of this project will encourage other investment and other integrated tourism complexes [ITCs] which are on hold.”
The project in question is Saraya Bandar Jissah, a new $600m complex offering 400 residential homes and two five-star beachfront hotels, as well as recreational and community facilities. The 2.2 million sq m coastal site is located on a beautiful secluded beach surrounded by the Hajjar mountains just east of Muscat.
Originally conceived in 2005 by the Ministry of Tourism, it is a joint venture between Oman’s tourism development and investment arm, Omran, and Saraya Oman, a subsidiary of UAE-based developer Saraya Holdings.
“As you know, the government is promoting the tourism sector and it contributes positively to the area and the GDP of the country,” Sheikh Hamood, the chief executive of the developer, says. “This is one of the sites they approached Saraya to develop as a project.
“I joined the company in mid-2008 and then we started developing the design and getting approvals from the governments,” he continues. Set up in 2005, Omran had planned to develop nearly a dozen large-scale, five-star resort projects along the Omani coastline, with a combined value of around $10bn. In the midst of the downturn, many of these were mothballed and progress on others slowed down to an even slower pace. With the market now seeing a resurgence and developer confidence in full swing again, Omran is back at the drawing board and looking to invest in the country’s future.
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