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Thu 2 Aug 2007 09:57 AM

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Sharjah: cultural oasis

Sharjah is booming. Arabian Business reports on why it has seen a 20% rise in GDP in 12 months.

With 27 museums, a growing reputation for art and a determination to hold onto traditional Arabic and Islamic values, Sharjah is the UAE's capital of culture but over the last few years it has been diversifying its interests and grown across several other sectors.

Spread out over 2590 sq km of land, after Abu Dhabi, Sharjah is the largest emirate in the UAE. Formerly a British protectorate, Sharjah was the site of a British base until 1971, when the British withdrew from the Persian Gulf and then joined the United Arab Emirates.

The emirate’s aviation base was voted best global airport 2005 by the Institute of Transport Management.

Oil has been produced in Sharjah since 1961, however it is its unknown gas reserves that have formed the base for its revenues over the last few decades. With a booming GDP of around US$11.4bn in 2006, compared to US$10bn in 2005, a rise of almost 20% and edging ever closer to overtaking the Kingdom of Bahrain's US$18bn, the emirate is undergoing the fastest growth spurt in its long history.

The emirate has a population of around 650,000 and rising. And with a growing number of people choosing to move across to the city from Dubai due to rising rental prices Sharjah can expect to see a lot more professionals residing within its borders in the future.

Unlike many of the other emirates the city has a duo of large, distinctive and traditional Arabic landmarks. Its two large covered souks reflect Islamic design with tourists flocking to get their hands on some of the best made and well priced local products in the Gulf. Known as the cultural capital of the UAE, Sharjah's principal exhibition point is its Expo Centre that holds a large majority of its shows and art fairs including the world renowned Sharjah Biennial. It is also well known for its annual book fair which brings together hundreds of publishers and thousands of titles from all over the world.

Despite Dubai catering for a large number of tourists and residents, the city's Sharjah International Airport (SIA) is well served and is host to Air Arabia, the region's first Low Cost Carrier (LCC). SIA is undergoing a dramatic US$100m expansion plan to allow it to cater for up to eight million passengers by the end of the year. The expansion is in line with the Sharjah government's plans to boost the emirate's global identity and economic development as well as the phenomenal growth of Air Arabia, increased cargo loads and other airlines using the airport.

The ambitious development has seen the space and facilities at the airport triple in size from a total area of 6000 square metres at the start of 2005 to 18,5000 sq m by the end of last year.

Director general for SIA and the Department of Civil Aviation, Dr Ghanem Al Hajri, describes the project as a "quantum leap". "The airport has been witnessing an increase in the number of passengers over the years and this expansion and redevelopment will be a means of providing them with added facilities and better levels of comfort and safety."

International recognition for the airport's hard-working efforts to serve its customers came in 2005 in the form of a major award when SIA was voted best global airport by the Institute of Transport Management. The emirate's aviation base was described as "unique in generating traffic" and "backed by heavy investment in infrastructure".

The new development will take the airport to a new dimension. It includes a new departure area increasing the passenger space from 300 to 1300 sq m as well as a new arrival area up from 90 sq m to 500. The check-in areas will also almost triple in size to 4000 sq m, while throughout the airport coffee shops and food courts will undergo a complete overhaul, increasing the area from 570m to 1750m with new seating included.

Meanwhile the number of check-in counters has doubled to 40 in addition to two VIP stations and an oversize counter. A state of the art baggage control system has been introduced to ensure the efficient and secure handling of passengers and their luggage.

Sharjah is well served by sea by Port Khalid and Khor Fakkan, a major east coast port. An offshore island of Sir Abu Nuáir belongs to Sharjah, while it also claims the island of Abu Musa which Iran also lays claim to. Sharjah also encompasses some important oasis areas, the most famous of which is Dhaid where a wide range of fruits and vegetables are cultivated on its rich and fertile soil. It has one Omani enclave, the Madha territory, where UAE enclave Nahwa also lies.

Sharjah is a sister city to Dubai and Ajman on both its borders. The three urban areas have now expanded to each others borders, while Sharjah is about 170km away from the UAE's capital city Abu Dhabi.

It is the only emirate in which the sale, possession and consumption of alcohol is banned. It also maintains the strictest decency laws in the UAE, introduced in 2001, with a conservative dress code required for both men and women.
Sharjah Islamic Bank

Sharjah Islamic Bank is one of the emirate's financial stars. It announced its first half 2007 results last week with net profit before distribution to depositors increasing by 58 million, or 45%, to reach US$51m compared to US$35m for the same period last year.

Net profits reached US$33m, compared to US$24.7m achieved in the same period last year, a 33% cash increase.

The bank's balance sheet has grown by 20% since December 2006 with total assets reaching US$2.4bn.

Net customer receivables reached US$1.47bn (19%) while customer deposits reached a similar figure, a 23% growth since December last year.

All ‘grey’ or dirty water, which comes from the hotel rooms, kitchens and restaurants is filtered through a five layer sand filter and then pumped into 13 giant tanks holding 14,000 gallons of water.

Mohamed Abdullah, CEO of Sharjah Islamic Bank said that the first half results for 2007 showed strong financial performance in "all aspects" of the bank's core businesses as well as in its subsidiaries.

"This is a reflection of the success of the efforts undertaken to execute our strategic objectives," he added.

Sharjah Islamic Bank ratings have recently been upgraded by Capital Intelligence to BBB+ for foreign currency long-term ratings and A2 for the short-term ratings, from BBB and A3 respectively, with a stable outlook.

Air Arabia

The region's first and largest low-cost carrier Air Arabia began trading its shares on the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) at the beginning of last month - a real breakthrough for one of the UAE's major success stories.

Ownership of Air Arabia's shares is available to UAE and GCC nationals up to 100%, while foreigners are allowed to own company shares at a maximum of 49%.

The listing, under the trading symbol ‘Air Arabia', will appear on DFM screens, trading systems and publications. The company has issued 4.66 billion shares, with each share valued at a par value AED 1. The company's authorised capital is AED4.66 bn (US$1.27bn).

The listing of ordinary shares of Air Arabia was finalised and approved by the DFM in collaboration with the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority.

Air Arabia is the 52nd company to list its shares on the DFM and the fourth within the transportation sector, said DFM chairman Essa Kazim.

"We are proud to see the first listing of an airline on our bourse, which is an indication of the successes of our efforts to widen investment options across sectors for a vast spectrum of investor segments," he added.

The Sharjah-based airline provides high frequency services on short and medium-haul routes within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and the Indian subcontinent.

"DFM is a leading stock market and we are pleased with our listing," said Air Arabia CEO Adel Ali. "Based on both the individual success of Air Arabia and the growing demand for commercial and leisure travel in the region, we are planning to expand the company's current operating fleet, enter new markets and continue our growth strategy," he added. Air Arabia's net profit for the three months ending March 31, 2007, stood at US$11.8m. For the same period, the company posted a turnover of US$68.6m. The airline served 580,000 passengers during the same period.
Radisson SAS

Sharjah recently completed the first two phases of the Radisson SAS Resort's major renovation programme. The 25-year old property has been given a major facelift throughout its public areas. A highlight of these refurbishments is ‘The Café' at the Falls signature restaurant that is set in an indoor tropical forest with a waterfall, river, gazebo, free flying birds and turtles as well as a Koi fishpond.

An exciting new addition to the resort's room choices is the Cabana Collection by the pool and the Chillout Café, a 24/7 lobby eatery where guests can relax and dine around the clock.

Tall palm trees and wicker furniture have been placed in the hotel's fully refurbished atrium lobby and adjoining business centre, reflecting the resort's beach excellent location.

Exclusive to the property is the new Bay Club fitness, spa and beach facilities which boast two gyms and two saunas and offers a ladies-only section and luxurious massage treatment rooms.

Four newly designed swimming pools, including two for children and two for adults, are also located next to the private beach and bay.

The meetings and events team combines professional business and meeting support with a new vision of value and style to make seminars, weddings or any special occasion a guaranteed success. The recently refurbished collection of meeting venues offers two ballrooms with private covered parking, two Majlis, a large selection of various sized themed meeting and boardrooms, several outdoor venue choices and superior outdoor catering services. All the property's meeting rooms come completed with complimentary hi-speed broadband wireless internet access for delegates and guests.

Focusing on the symbol of Arabian hospitality, The Dallah Room offers a first-class ambience for a Majlis, meeting The Green Team also collects water from the earth via a well system that collects 25,000 gallons a day, enough for all of the beach area and gazebo gardens room or reception area for a wedding. The nautically themed ‘Sails on the Waterfront' can seat up to 100 people with views of the private bay and beachfront.

The Rezidor SAS Responsible Business (RB) programme strives for economic growth, environmental improvements and social responsibility. For many years, environmental responsibility has been an important part of Radisson's broader commitment to sustainable development. In 2001, this commitment was expanded and placed within the scope of a programme entitled Responsible Business. Radisson is dedicated to three main areas:

Taking responsibility for the health and safety of employees and guests; respecting social and ethical issues in the company, as well as in the community; and reducing the company's negative impact and carbon footprint on the environment.

The RB program is structured around seven key stakeholders, each having a unique relationship with the company and with different expectations regarding its social and environmental performance. These stakeholders are employees, guests, investors, suppliers, government, community and the environment. The RB program is now in its sixth year, and is a well-established part of the Radisson SAS Resort, Sharjah operation.

The hotel has also undertaken a huge water recycling programme.

All ‘grey' or dirty water, which comes from the hotel rooms, public areas, kitchens and restaurants is filtered through a five layer sand filter and then pumped into 13 giant tanks holding 14,000 gallons of water.

In a day, the hotel's ‘Green Team' uses these tanks twice, or 28,000 gallons.

Additionally, a smaller sewage treatment plant has been installed which gathers all waste and grey water from the beach area, its restaurants and bathrooms, which is then treated naturally and recycled into its parking area and nursery.

But the hotel didn't stop there. Another large pit was constructed to collect all the rainwater run off the hotel's drains and the backwash from the pool and surrounding area, which is then sent through to recycling tanks before hitting the gardens.

Airport facilities

Mosque

Sharjah Travel Agency

Telephones:Local calls within Sharjah are free.

Restaurants:there are several outlets selling Asian, Western and local food. Tea, coffee and snacks are available 24 hours a day.

Duty free shopping

Postal service

Banks and exchange centers

Medical facilities:a clinic is available at the airport's main dome for passengers requiring medical assistance.

Special services to passengers:staff are on call 24 hours a day to provide passengers with information on visas, passports and transit passes.

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