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Tue 19 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Star struck

Property companies are increasingly using celebrities as the 'face' of new projects. In an already booming real estate market Kim Latham finds out why developers are using celebrity endorsements to lure investors.

Property companies are increasingly using celebrities as the 'face' of new projects. In an already booming real estate market Kim Latham finds out why developers are using celebrity endorsements to lure investors.

Tiger Woods, Donald Trump, Karl Lagerfeld and Brad Pitt are just some celebrities said to be partnering with developers on projects in the UAE.

While some investors are happy to buy into the lifestyle of the rich and famous, others appear skeptical about what will happen once this star-studded marketing concept becomes the norm.

I'm confident that Tiger Woods Dubai is set to become one of the world's most sought after destinations. I think this community will be a genuine oasis for those lucky enough to live or stay within its spectacular grounds. - Tiger Woods.

"It's a risk, it's a risk. When you associate yourself with iconic figures you need to assess the longevity of the brand. Tiger Woods has created a legend in his lifetime. For this we see no risk but if you look at any other brand, if you settle for number two or three, that's when there is a risk," says Abdulla Al Gurg, Project Director of Tiger Woods Dubai.

Due for completion in September 2009, Tiger Woods Dubai, a 55 million sq ft development, appears to stand alone from the majority of other Dubailand projects being created by developer, Tatweer.

At a cost of US$1.1bn to build, this luxury resort is clearly aimed at high-end investors wanting sophisticated, extravagant surroundings in the privacy of their own backyard.

The cost of villas range from US$8.16mn-US$27.2m, (20% are already sold out) and the resort will provide a hotel and club facilities boasting a 3-star Michelin chef and of course one very unique 18-hole golf course is also on the cards.

While Tiger Woods Dubai is clearly named after the man himself, there does appear to be a difference to many other celebrity-focused developments. Unlike, oscar-winning actor Omar Sherif, who is purely an ‘ambassador' for Al Zorah's Ajman development for example, Mr Woods is a ‘partner' in the project and is said to have spent months in workshops in Dubai and the United States working on his first-ever golf course design.

According to Al Gurg, Woods spent many an hour being heavily involved in decisions for the Master Plan of the whole resort to ensure his personality shone through and also to compliment Tatweer's vision of a ‘destination rather than a typical real estate development.'

"It wasn't a branding mechanism it was a drive for excellence," states Al Gurg.Nevertheless, Tiger Woods is said to have been picked to spearhead this project even before the clear vision of the development was envisaged according to Al Gurg.

Perhaps in somewhat predictable fashion, having a celebrity such as Woods attached to an exclusive development is bound to attract a certain kind of client, one that inevitably is willing to subscribe or buy into the same portrayed lifestyle or values of the world-renowned golfer himself.

"Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities are onboard. Affluent Arabic families, business-owners, CEOs and key-decision makers are who we are targeting and who we have managed to attract. It's not just about buying into Tiger Woods Dubai but actually about belonging to this development," reveals Al Gurg.

My project with Nakheel will be one of the most impressive undertakings I have ever been part of. - Donald Trump.

While Al Gurg admits that companies need to be wise when choosing which celebrity to be associated with, he also insists that some celebrities are a sure bet.

"You have pure iconic figures like Donald Trump. If he loses his money or retires in the future...he's still Donald Trump. So there are a few assets you can bet on and a few that have a very short timeframe."

Trump International Hotel and Tower Dubai will be a luxury mixed-use development built on the Palm Jumeriah.

In partnership with Nakheel, this landmark property has already seen presales go for US$3,000 a sq ft since the public launch in late June.

The 62-storey, stainless steel and glass towers will be the tallest structure on the Palm Jumeriah and is expected to be completed in 2011.

The Tower's 399 freehold residential apartments and 378-room hotel will offer high-end luxury to those lucky enough to be able to afford it.

"I have created some of the world's most spectacular buildings and hotels, but my project with Nakheel will be one of the most impressive undertakings I have ever been a part of. Palm Jumeriah is on course to becoming one of the world's premier tourist destinations and the perfect location for my first venture in the Middle East..."says Donald Trump, CEO of the Trump Organization.

Unlike most celebrities, it appears that Trump can do no wrong when it comes to endorsing a product, even if it is his own.

From the world of Trump, to the world of fashion. ‘Isla Moda' or ‘Fashion Island' one of over 300 islands soon to be built on Nakheel's The World aims to attract the beautiful elite eager to spend time and money on the "ultimate private paradise of style."Launched by investment enterprise, Dubai Infinity Holdings - this is their first project - the company, set up in December last year, has recently selected fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (one of five designers) to design the interiors of up to 80 residences, including some signature limited edition homes, in what is being dubbed by the company as the "epitome of a niche and unconventional project".

"Everything from the environment, the products, and the services we will give our clientele will not be found anywhere else in the world.

"It's a great step in the direction of becoming a global fashion hub which has the support of fashion icons," says Sonal Vara, Senior Communications Manager at Dubai Infinity Holdings.

No doubt, fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, known throughout the world for his unique design talents and collaborations with high-end fashion labels such as Chanel and Fendi, will further boost interest in an island set to become the world's first fashion-dedicated destination.

Isla Moda, a mixed-use development will boast a 250-room fashion hotel, serviced apartments, a fashion resort and haute couture residential villas. The flamboyant island will feature fashion shows and product launches with the aim of attracting the fashion worlds crème de la crème.

Many would agree that plenty of Dubai's newly-launched developments would certainly attract global investors even without celebrities fronting spectacular marketing campaigns.

Nevertheless, superstars ensure numerous publicity opportunities and the arousal of public interest for the various companies involved. However, many executives of Dubai's developments appear reluctant to acknowledge their chosen celebrity is ‘endorsing' its projects.

"We are beyond conventional celebrity endorsement. We do not believe in this, instead we have chosen to target the source and the inspiration behind the brands, such as creators like Karl Lagerfeld who breaks conventional barriers. This is our mantra," emphasises Vara.

This then perhaps begs the question of why companies are choosing to use celebrities in their marketing strategies in the first place.

While the benefits of putting a famous name or face to a product has its obvious benefits to a company, there is surely also an advantage in not having actual endorsement. One could argue that this may lie in both parties having a quiet back-out clause if anything goes wrong.

Please welcome Mr Brad Pitt, due to design an environmentally-friendly hotel and leisure project by Dubai-based developer Zabeel Properties.

Pitt, along with a team of architects from Los Angeles-based firm Graft will be a design consultant on what is said to include an 800-room, five star hotel and resort, the location of which is yet to be announced.

"Our master plan and design concept will be world-leading and we're delighted to be collaborating with Brad Pitt and the team at Graft, which is recognized for its innovative building design. This project will display our uncompromising focus and commitment for developing high quality and environmentally-sustainable real estate in the region," said Robert Norton, CEO of Zabeel Properties.The company's other projects to date include the US$571.7 million Tiara Residence and Tiara Hotel on Dubai's Palm Jumeriah, the Porto Dubai manmade island and the Tiara United Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road.

Palazzo Versace Dubai, owned by Donatella Versace is a US$762m, 1.4 million sq ft designer resort and is part of Dubai Properties Master Development, Culture Village lying on the edge of Dubai Creek.

Within six months developers Emirates Sunland sold around 80% of its condominiums worth a total of US$435m.

Catering to a wealthy clientele with a love of attention to detail and innovative design, investors in this upmarket, boutique development had a choice of over 169 private residences and 213 hotel suites all furnished with Versace Home Collection products.

Unlike counterparts who have chosen to use their famous face on property products, the interior style of this hotel is blatantly Versace and Donatella is nowhere to be seen on company material.

According to a recent report it might not be too long until Hilton heiress Paris Hilton arrives on our doorstep to open her own hotel too.

Most celebrity-fronted developments here appear to have one thing in common.

Whichever celebrity is chosen as the face of the project one overriding factor appears to be that companies want to add ‘value' to up-and-coming projects.

With so much competition in Dubai and neighbouring emirates, developers, who have already moved away from standard construction and architectural norms, are now reaching for the stars and setting the benchmarks even higher for their competition.

As for investors, time will tell if the real estate industry has ticked all the right iconic boxes or lost consumer confidence through its promise of a better lifestyle.

"There is a tacky way of doing it and a clever way of doing it...Dubai has a driving real estate boom right now. Regardless of name association, there is solid ground for it to be actually based on. People will see beyond the branding," says Al Gurg.


ACI:Michael Schumacher Business Avenue; Boris Becker Business Tower; Niki Lauda Twin Towers

Tatweer:Tiger Woods Dubai

Donald Trump & Nakheel:Trump Towers

Zabeel Properties:Yet to be named (Brad Pitt)

DubaiInfinity Holdings:Isla Moda (Karl Lagerfeld)

Emirates Sunland Group:Palazzo Versace Dubai (Donatella Versace)

Al Zorah:  In cooperation with Solidere Management services & the Ajman Government (Omar Sherif).