Venture Group Continues to Grow Despite Enormous Challenges

Venture Group Continues to Grow Despite Enormous Challenges

Passion for growth has led Venture Group, specialists in the fields of leisure, tourism and real estate, to create and develop new projects locally and internationally. Rabih Saba and Marwan Ayoub, the group’s managing partners, talks about the future.

Tell us a bit about your Summer experience with the seasonal cluster in Faqra, Lebanon.

Given the economic circumstances and the issues related to COVID-19, we opted to go for an outdoor seasonal project that did not require major investment due to the fact that the infrastructure of Faqra Club was already there. Faqra Hoteliere, the owning company, mainly invested in the electromechanical part supporting the operations of the outlets.

We decided to launch a pop-up cluster with dismantable steel structure F&B outlets, food trucks, as well as 60 wooden houses of 10sqm each, featuring international fashion labels and Lebanese brands. Besides the retailers, we have 15 F&B outlets, including B-Babel, Roadster, Paul, Zaatar w Zeit, Mon Maki A Moi, Escobar, Dip n Dip and Dunkin Donuts.

On an investment level, due to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, we decided to test the market with the Faqra pop-up cluster and received great feedback. We see ourselves going into this kind of light-investment clusters for the coming years; our approach to investment in hospitality in Lebanon after everything that has happened in 2020 is totally different to how we used to encourage investors.

Your company is committed to job creation and positively impacting the community. Can you elaborate on this?

We’d like to believe that we have created the highest number of jobs in Lebanon since 2016. Besides providing employment, we have found that regardless of where they are located, the projects we introduce impact communities in a positive way, mainly because:

  • They are convenient for local residents, as having reputable brands and products within easy reach has become very important.
  • They support businesses around the project, like the minimarket around the corner and the nearby gas station.
  • They increase the real estate value of surrounding lots due to having a landmark close by as well as the support of the local municipality.
  • They promote investment with healthy returns, push architects to be creative and develop popular public projects.

What are the recent challenges you have faced, and how have you overcome them?

We are facing challenges on several levels. For our operating clusters, the challenges are more related to our tenants and the way they are coping with their F&B costs and their pricing to maintain clientele despite the decrease in consumer spending power. Our operators are coping in a smart way by avoiding hefty average checks per guest and decreasing their bottom line.

To overcome the local economical storm with our tenants, we turned our rental agreements into revenue sharing and eliminated minimum guarantee rent in 2020. This way we managed to retain all of our tenants.

Our big projects have been put on hold for the next three years, but we are considering developing several alternative pop-up cluster concepts. The greatest challenge is keeping our spirits high while doing business in a challenging country run by incompetent politicians.

Aside from Belajio Jeddah, do you have any new projects coming up in the Middle East?

I would say we have established the building blocks in Saudi Arabia to develop Venture Group projects across the Kingdom. We’ve partnered with one of the most reputable and prominent business groups in the Middle East, one that’s based in Riyadh, and we will jointly announce this partnership once my business partner Marwan Ayoub and I are able to travel back to Riyadh after the COVID-19 confinement restrictions have been lifted.

As for Belajio Jeddah, the location is second to none. We believe it will guarantee a great customer experience. It was designed with C-LAB and SK-Touch in line with the vision of the owning company Al Diri Group, chaired by Dr. Osama and Mr. Sultan Al Ghazawi, and we already started planning the activity mix and tenant mix while also considering exporting some Lebanese brands to be part of Belajio Jeddah.

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