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Mon 14 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Boom towns

Despite the impact of the recession, the UAE AV integration industry is holding its own on the back of strong demand for products and services from major infrastructure developers. Aaron Greenwood speaks to the key stakeholders about how the industry is weathering the economic storm.

Boom towns
Ferrari World is one of the major highlights of the Yas Island development.
Boom towns
David Gray, Oasis Enterprises.
Boom towns
Dave McMahon, general manager of Almoe AV Systems.
Boom towns
Dubai’s multi-billion dollar Meydan development is set to open in January 2010.
Boom towns
An artist’s impression of Saadiyat Island’s Performing Arts Centre.
Boom towns
Dubailand.
Boom towns
The Al Raha Beach Marina.
Boom towns
The Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan Mosque pictured at dusk.

Despite the impact of the recession, the UAE AV integration industry is holding its own on the back of strong demand for products and services from major infrastructure developers. Aaron Greenwood speaks to the key stakeholders about how the industry is weathering the economic storm.

While the boom and subsequent bust of the UAE’s property development sector has attracted headlines worldwide, the sheer number of major infrastructure projects still being developed belies the actual impact of the recession on vertical markets, including the AV systems integration industry.

The UAE remains a lucrative market for major AV technology suppliers and their local systems integration partners, particularly the rival emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While international media attention has focused on Abu Dhabi’s rapid development in recent months, particularly the Yas Marina F1 circuit, Saadiyat Island and Al Reem Island projects, many high-profile projects in Dubai, such as Dubailand and the landmark Meydan racecourse, continue to be developed, which is ensuring sustained business for AV industry stakeholders.

Meydan

The imposing scale and ambition of Dubai’s Meydan City, which is set to host the world’s largest equestrian sporting venue when it is completed later this year, has not been diminished despite various construction delays that have pushed back its official opening by more than a year.

Still, the main racecourse venue’s rapid development has continued unabated, says Dave McMahon, the general manager of Meydan AV integrator Almoe AV Systems. Almoe is responsible for the design and integration of the audio distribution platform that will be installed in the main grandstand facility, which will seat 60,000, and the hotel complex located on the final straight of the racecourse.

McMahon says once completed, the venue will house “one of the largest CobraNet installations in the Middle East”.

“The project is moving so fast it’s more of a ‘build and design’ scenario rather than ‘design and build’ we’re facing,” he says.

“The pace of the development presents the biggest challenge. The integration timeframes become very compressed when you are dealing with a fast-tracked project like Meydan. By international standards, far more time is committed to the planning and development stages, but here, you are still planning for a number of scenarios while the execution is taking place.”

McMahon says Meydan is the “most interesting project we’re currently working on, from a technical viewpoint”.

“We’re installing a combination of single and multi-mode fibre throughout the hotel and the grandstand, which are interlinked,” he explains. “We’re installing Electro-Voice systems for the most part. It’s massive – we’re talking more than 5,000 ceiling speakers across the entire facility, all of which will be actively monitored. On race day, the network is designed to operate as one massive super system.”

McMahon describes Meydan as “a catalyst development for Dubai. It’s been relatively unaffected by the downturn which has impacted many other projects”.

Yas Island

Abu Dhabi’s $36 billion Yas Island development is one of the landmark mixed-use entertainment and hospitality projects not just in the UAE, but the entire Middle East.

Home to the UAE’s first Formula 1 racetrack, Ferrari World and Warner Bros theme parks, 20 hotels and a shopping mall, the
Aldar Properties

development is currently gearing up for the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, which will be staged on November 1.

Dubai-based Bond Communications is the primary AV integrator for the racetrack and Ferrari World. Among a multitude of undisclosed partners, Barco is supplying 14 large-scale LED display screens to the racetrack precinct; Oasis Enterprises is supplying lighting control technology to the theme park and other facilities, while VV & Sons’ subsidiary AVL Technology has delivered various AV-IT technologies.

With a multitude of commercial interests at stake, technical details of the project remain sketchy, with few sources willing to comment on the record about the development. However, inside sources suggest LED lighting will feature prominently throughout the main F1 and theme park facilities, adding impetus to Aldar’s claim the venue will be one of the ‘greenest’ in the Middle East, countering the environmental impact of the F1 circus itself.

“LED is the ‘green’ option, so we are obliged to use it wherever possible,” says Bond Communications senior project manager Phil Braithwaite. “Of course, the technology is moving ahead in leaps and bounds. In terms of internal lighting, we’re using them [LEDs] as floods, which wouldn’t have been possible with earlier iterations of the technology.”

Shining lights

The UAE’s top five planned hospitality AV projects

Saadiyat Island

The massive $28 billion development is being pitched as the future hub of Arabian arts and culture. Headline projects include the first Louvre Gallery outside Paris, a Guggenheim Museum, a performing arts centre, as well as 29 hotels, three marinas, 8,000 residential villas and more than 38,000 apartments.

Dubai Waterfront

While this landmark Dubai development has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, master developer Nakheel says work is continuing on the precinct, which was conceived to be twice the size of Hong Kong. It remains to be seen whether the developer’s bold vision will ever come to fruition.

Bawadi

One of the highlights of the Dubailand district, the “largest cluster of hotels in the world” will put the Las Vegas strip (sans gambling houses) to shame in the OTT stakes, if it’s ever built. A big ‘if’, but one that will pay serious dividends to hospitality AV integrators if the grandiose development ever sees the light of day.

Dubailand

The jewel in the crown of Dubai’s plans prior to the economic crash, the $70 billion development was to consist of 45 mega projects including concert venues, theatres, theme parks and hotels.


Al Raha Beach

Currently in development is the $18.5 billion Al Raha Beach Complex, another mixed-use hospitality development involving reclaimed land on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. Once finished it will have 50 high-rise buildings housing hotels, venues, and other entertainment facilities.

Recession riders

Given the company’s extensive involvement in major Abu Dhabi projects, Bond has fared well despite the economic downturn, Braithwaite says.

“Our business has actually increased in the past 12 months, but there has been a trend towards Abu Dhabi, rather than Dubai,” he explains. “But certainly for us there has been no decline [in overall business].

Oasis Enterprises’ newly appointed Architainment manager, David Gray, says he has been pleasantly surprised by the number of commercial opportunities still available in the UAE since arriving in July.

“In addition to Yas Island, we’re supplying the control systems for the LED panels located on Abu Dhabi’s new Saadiyat Bridge, which is quite a large project. We are also involved in several theatrical fit-outs in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “The business that is financed and has momentum in this region will continue on despite the recession. However, there seems to be a dearth in that respect, particularly in Dubai. Equally, the opportunities that used to be commonplace in Dubai are now cropping up not only in Abu Dhabi but other parts of the GCC.”

However, AVL Technology technical manager Milad Abboud says the company has been impacted by the recession “to a certain extent”.

“Many projects have been put on hold or cancelled,” he says.

Abboud doubted the industry would recover in the immediate term post-Ramadan.

“It won’t happen like magic. The recession has to end first, which it hasn’t,” he says. “We are still working on the same number of proposals, however the AV market itself has slowed to the point whereby we aren’t receiving as many confirmed orders as we were 12 months ago.”

In a similar vein, Almoe’s McMahon argues that due to the nature of the business, systems integrators have yet to feel the full impact of the recession.

“Many of the projects we’re working on at the moment were conceived and commenced construction prior to the recession,” he says. “As a result, we envisage fewer opportunities moving forward because a lot of the major projects have now been shelved.”

In light of this trend, McMahon says the company has found success pursuing smaller projects across the region.

“Our response has been to diversify, taking on smaller jobs,” he says. “We’re very active in the videoconferencing sector, which has proven something of a cushion for us during the downturn.

“There’s still a great deal of uncertainty in the market. We’ve found the business is still out there but clients are more cautious than they were 12 months ago and it’s proving harder to close deals than it may have been previously.”

Similarly, Braithwaite says he has seen a major shift in the attitude of UAE-based hospitality operators to AV technology investments in recent months.

“Hoteliers have tightened their belts in regards to acquiring new AV technologies,” he says.

“We often receive queries from clients about the cost of HD equipment for example. I fully appreciate that HD tech is often two to three times more expensive than its SD equivalent, but long-term, it’s a future-proofed investment. Most clients who go with the cheaper option acknowledge they’ll have to replace it down the line. However, money is difficult to come by at the moment.”

McMahon believes the industry is “being collectively squeezed in terms of margins”.

“Clients are using the downturn to their advantage, perhaps excessively so in some cases,” he says. “We spend more time now evaluating the commercial terms of an agreement. In effect, we end up financing some of these projects, whereas previously, the client would cover development costs. That’s where we face greater commercial risk these days.”

Yet, despite increased economic pressure, McMahon says Almoe has grown its business over the past 12 months.

“We’ve been actively recruiting and we’re still doing solid business,” he says. “It [the UAE] is still an exciting market. As long as capital investment remains and oil prices stay high the prospects here are strong.”

Completed project

Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque showcases LED technologies

LED lighting features prominently on Abu Dhabi’s landmark Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, which was completed in 2008. Martin Professional supplied a series of luminaires to architectural lighting design firm Speirs and Major Associates (SaMA), which were designed to mimic the effect of moonlight on the mosque’s exterior. The result is stunning and unique.

“The approach we took was to link the external lighting concept to the lunar cycle, which is what sets the Islamic calendar,” says SaMA Director Keith Bradshaw. “The building mimics the appearance of the moon.”

The lighting installation comprises more than 400 Martin Exterior 1200 projectors, nearly 500 Exterior 200 luminaires, 248 Inground 200 uplights and 56 Exterior 600s.

The IP65- and IP67-rated fixtures are designed to operate in extreme heat.

“Most often when we do performance specifications for jobs in the desert we talk about operation for an hour at a temperature of plus 45 degrees,” explains Bradshaw. “You have to show that there is no degradation on the components of the fixture at that temperature.”

Working with SaMA, Martin developed the required specification for the project, taking into account experiences gained from two initial Exterior 1200 projects.

“The Grand Mosque project became the reason to take the idea forward,” comments Jesper Lauridsen, design & application manager at Martin. “Working closely with SaMA to understand what they required, we translated their idea and vision into an actual lighting solution, ensuring that the product could do the job.”

The Exterior 1200s project images of clouds across the mosque’s surface at variable speeds in an animation that clears across the building from west to east from the direction of Mecca.

“A cloud is a non-linear thing and when you come up with this simple idea it sounds great,” Bradshaw says. “But to actually make it look like a cloud and get the scale correct, was really tough. We’re basically lighting every surface with multiple projections into the big domed areas, and the layering of the cloud texture is fantastic. It’s a standard gobo effect, but when we use it layered up it looks exactly as we wanted.

“One thing we noticed, when you’re close to the building the sense of animation is quicker than when you’re a few kilometres away. The scale of the animation speed changes. It was quite incredible to be part of [the project],” he adds.

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