HN sat with Elie Armaly, director of business development at Sharjah Development and Investment Authority (Shurooq), to answer that question. Shurooq is an independent government body with a mission to evaluate and follow up on tourism-related infrastructure projects and to provide all the possible facilities and incentives to help attract more investors to the emirate.
Shurooq is a 100 percent government entity created through a mandate by His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah. Since its creation, the authority worked tirelessly to create the tourism infrastructure and to enhance existing ones in the Emirate. For example, we started by creating tourism destinations, waterparks, then we moved on to bringing in international hotel brands for our hotels. We were also successful in bringing in international food and beverage brands. Since the beginning, we have participated in local and international travel conferences and exhibitions which created awareness about Sharjah. Also, as an Investment Promotion Agency (IPA), Shurooq promoted tourism as a major investment sector in the Emirate and was in fact successful in concluding partnerships and joint ventures to develop hotels and tourist destinations.
How important is the role the investment arm plays?
It is very important to have a strategic investment plan. Immediately after the creation of Shurooq, the team embarked on various studies to determine the sectors that were unique for the investment map of Sharjah and the financial impact. We then prepared an action plan. We worked closely with our colleagues in the government, and in addition to attending exhibitions, we went on to do our own roadshows and seminars internationally and locally. We wanted to create something special and in line with the Emirate’s vision which focuses on education, culture, history and the environment. Nowadays, we are seeing more and more brands in the Emirate and high-quality service and products throughout.
How were your business ventures affected by the pandemic? How did you emerge?
Like any other business, we had our fair share of ups and downs. However, I am pleased to say that we had more ups. Initially during lockdown, most of our destinations had to shut down, our hotels suffered low occupancies like the rest of the hotels. During the lockdown, we created different packages for quarantine and worked with the local health authorities. Once the lockdown eased, our hotels attracted ‘staycationers’ and enjoyed high occupancies and average room rates. This was important not only from a financial perspective but also from a marketing perspective due to the fact that these hotels were more or less newly opened. So many people who were not able to travel due to Covid-19 decided to try new and exciting destinations such as the Sharjah Collection which is a unique collection of boutique hotels and destinations in exciting areas within the emirate that offer special experiences.
How do you think Expo 2020 Dubai will boost investment in the UAE at large and the hospitality industry more specifically?
There is no doubt that Expo 2020 is a prime booster for the overall economy of the UAE, including the Emirate of Sharjah. This is a proud moment for the UAE and the Arab world, highlighting the achievements of the country and its promising future. Expo 2020 this year is “turbo-charged” with endless business activists, seminars, talks, conferences etc. It’s not just about highlighting a country, it is the future of mobility, sustainability, IT and the list goes on. Hospitality these days is more than just hotels and a comfortable bed. It is about culture, environment, history, activities, nature, and this is something that our leadership had in mind from the outset. The new technical revolution is changing the industry when it comes to operations, marketing and systems and, although Expo 2020 is not a travel show, it is actually better and offers knowledge and expertise from all sectors.
What are your upcoming projects and business plans?
In the past 10 to 12 years, Shurooq has developed around 12 billion dirhams’ worth of projects, ranging from a 100 million boutique hotel, to a 1.5 billion mixed-use development. Ten years ago, it used to take just a couple of hours to visit our destinations, now it will take a couple of days at least. The future is promising and busy. We are looking at an additional 10 billion dirhams’ worth of investments in the coming five to six years. Next year alone, we will embark on developing five hotels – three in the east coast, one in the central region and one on the beach in the Al Khan area in Sharjah. Each one will have its own character and unique activities. The hotel in the central region will be a Safari lodge where we have partnered with the Environmental Agency in Sharjah to bring in animals from Africa. The hotel in Kalba will be an environmental destination celebrating the area and the natural beauty it possesses. Al Khan will be a re-generation of an old fisherman’s village into a five-star destination. We recently announced at the WTM the appointment of the LUX brand from Singapore and Mauritius to manage two of these properties and we will announce another luxury brand for the others soon. Lastly, Shurooq will embark on other investment sectors such as food security, healthcare, IT, education.