By Tamara Walid
The race is on for Khalid Al Malik. Tamara Walid meets the Tatweer CEO to talk tourists, theme parks, and Tiger Woods.
As Sheikh Mohammed says ‘if you fall, stand up, don't just sit on the ground and wait for someone else to help you, because no one will'," says Khalid Al Malik, CEO of giant UAE developer Tatweer. Al Malik quickly proceeds to dismiss the challenges posed by Dubai's strategic plan, which targets a number of 15 million tourists by 2015 as well as increasing the UAE's GDP to US$108bn or a growth of 11.2% per year.
What if 2015 arrives and this goal is not met? One can't help but wonder what the future of the company's multi-billion projects will be. Malik, however, answers: "Nothing," adding "We need to continue and if we don't achieve the target it doesn't mean the target won't be achieved. There will be a time issue and that's a challenge. Our challenge is to meet our target at the given time so if we don't achieve it we have to move on, and become a lot more aggressive."
He again cites the words of Dubai's ruler saying: "I refer to the book of His Highness, like a horse if you fall down you have another race to go to. We are very optimistic so let's go, try again and get there."
Tatweer has three main divisions focusing on the real estate industry and knowledge; healthcare and energy; leisure and entertainment, which also includes hospitality. Al Malik believes most of the company's projects contribute to the 2015 plan, especially when it comes to attracting the targeted number of tourists.
"This is evident whether when it comes to attracting healthcare tourism or leisure and entertainment, which consists of Dubailand, Global Village, Tiger Woods Dubai, and Universal Studios. All these attract family tourism and manufacturing attracts business, as you can see in Dubai Industrial City," says Al Malik.
Tatweer hopes to attract tourists by offering premium health and wellness services in the region at Dubai Healthcare City. So far, the facility has managed to attract some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world, according to Al Malik.
"This is how we contribute and that's our mandate, to sustain and develop this growth in Dubai by adding the right projects and companies or services to its portfolio so we can contribute to the achievement of the vision of His Highness. We re-engineer our core businesses in the industries we go to so they become a bit different and customised for Dubai," he suggests confidently.
One of the company's latest contributions to the future plan is the International Design Forum (IDF), launched by its Moutamarat division. Al Malik strongly believes that through Moutamarat the company is meeting another component stressed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed in his strategic plan; that of knowledge. "It's a very important component and we have a product called IDF which is focusing on design and how it is important. We have launched many books throughout this event and brought in the best designers. So knowledge is how we are contributing in one area of the vision," he says.
Whether big or small, Tatweer launches an average of three to four projects a year. In order to attract people from neighbouring countries or from around the world, Al Malik stresses it is important to continue launching new initiatives.
"If you don't produce projects of the type we do you will come to an end. I think we are blessed with this kind of opportunity and we have the resource whether financial or other to move on. It is our job to create projects that provide opportunities for the others so we will continue and we'll have more projects," he says.
Personally, Al Malik has one favourite project, although he takes equal interest in all others. The closest to his heart, he says, is Dubai Healthcare City (DHC) and that is nothing to do with its design or structure but because the project is "about us in this part of the world".
"We are in dire need of good quality healthcare. Real estate, leisure, entertainment and energy are called for economics and financials but this is more about people, their health, future and having a better life. I like to see it accomplished as a project in terms of having both clusters: the medical and the wellness," he says.
Through DHC, AL Malik hopes to raise the standard of healthcare in the Arab world. After examining the region and finding huge gaps and growing issues surrounding the healthcare industry the project was launched. The existing problems, Al Malik explains, are due to obvious reasons such as the lack of standard and quality healthcare, lack of liability and accountability, which are very important in healthcare.
"Without them you will see what you already witness probably in many of our Arab countries," he says, adding: "What we have done is filled that gap by attracting the best institution in healthcare which is Harvard Medical International (HMI) out of Boston which joined us in a joint venture to help develop this cluster."
This was followed by establishing the right policies and systems and getting the best clinics, hospitals and operators to join. "And they are all here today or at least most of the ones we wanted. They've come because they found the right platform here in Dubai," he says.
HMI will be the body monitoring the medical facility through the centre for quality and planning. The company is also involved in the quality management of the city so if there's a clinic owner or someone who would like to move to DHC, explains Al Malik, the first thing they get is a set of guidelines on operating and running a clinic in the facility. Getting big names in the healthcare industry to join DHC might have been difficult, but attracting people from all over the world to come to Dubai and experience Tatweer's different projects is still a challenge.
"We need to advertise; not the whole world understands Dubai yet, they still need to know the brand and you have to promote it to let them know what they can do here whether it's tourism, healthcare or industry, manufacturing, the services industry or finance. Look at the industries we are creating, we need to promote all that," says Al Malik.
He adds that sport is another industry Dubai is focusing on whether it's horse racing, rugby, basketball or tennis.
"Dubai is known today in the world not because of Dubai but how we market it, brand it and execute that marketing plan. This has to continue and focus on the message of the so that we don't have a problem and attract the wrong tourism," he adds.
One of Tatweer's recently launched projects is the US$2.17bn Universal City Dubailand, which aims to attract 3 million visitors in its first year and 5 million in three years' time. The project is another product of the vision to turn Dubai into a tourism hub.
"When Dubailand was launched as a destination for leisure and entertainment and tourism we had identified all the components. Now, we have different projects within Dubailand whether sport-related, family, entertainment or hospitality, so Dubailand is the best destination to attract tourism," says Al Malik adding: "Through Dubailand we're trying to attract family tourism. The Universal City project is only one of those and there are many others like Tiger Woods Dubai and Global Village."
With Al Ahli Group's US$1bn theme park also on the way, Al Malik believes it is necessary to have even more options as the parks will only complement each other. "You need at least five big theme parks. You don't want to attract a family to stay here for a day or two; we want them to stay for at least five days or six days, but how can you do that?" he says.
Al Malik sees Florida as an example because when people visit they have the option to go to Sea World, Warners, Universal Studios, Bush Garden or Disney. This, he says, is what keeps families in that destination for more than a few days.
"It's important that we have that in Dubai so we can bring people again. If the first year you come to see Universal the next you will come to see something else. So yes, we will have more of those, some we will develop and some others will develop," he says.
Another tourist attraction that is expected to lure shopping-hungry visitors to Dubai is the company's project Al Bawadi, which will feature the world's largest shopping mall. Shopping venues are increasing throughout the emirate, which poses a possibility of over-saturation. Al Malik, however, strongly dismisses such a notion saying: "It's becoming crazy: every time we say it's too big for Dubai, it ends up being too small for Dubai. Look today at Mall of the Emirates and City Centre for example, even Ghurair Centre and Burjman, you go any day, forget about the weekend, you can't find a parking space."
He adds this is due to the "overwhelming growth" in the emirate. Al Mali believes the growth is high and fast-paced and the company's projects correspond to this growth need. While there are 4.6 million people in the UAE today, Al Malik is confident that number will be doubled in five to six years.
"Look at the projects we are building and the industries; we are attracting lots of talents to Dubai and we still need those shopping malls because all those areas we are creating; villages and cities, still need shopping malls and healthcare. I think it is going fine, it is balanced," he says.
Growth, however, is not only expected to be seen in the number of tourists and people flowing into the emirate. Al Malik reveals that although Tatweer's current projects focus on Dubai, the company will be examining growth opportunities beyond the emirate in five years' time, when projects in progress are completed and the time is right to evolve and move elsewhere.
This growth will not be constrained to the region. Al Malik says it will depend on where the company will see itself in that point in the future, which industries it will want to tap into, and "who would open doors" for it to come and invest.
"The whole world is an alternative for us so we'll see where's best," Al Malik confirms. In the short term, the chief executive explains that Tatweer will maintain its current activities.
"We will continue to launch projects or companies that will add value to the industries we have developed in Dubai, whether it's Industrial City or Healthcare City. We will continue coming up with quality projects," he concludes.For all the latest banking and finance news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.