Interview: Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal

What are the most significant projects under way in terms of long-term sustainable development?

MARWAN BIN JASSIM AL SARKAL: Shurooq is taking the lead on developing hospitality and tourism infrastructure in the emirate. In 2017 Shurooq will open Al Bait Hotel, a Dh100m ($27.2m) hospitality project located in the Heart of Sharjah and home to 54 high-end rooms, a traditional Arabic tea and coffee house, heritage museum, library, business centre and other facilities. In addition, new recreational facilities in the emirate will include the Kalba luxury tented campsite, the Fossil Rock Lodge and Al Badayer Oasis. Shurooq is involved in securing joint ventures across different sectors and is also involved in residential and mixed-use developments. Other projects under way include Al Majaz Waterfront, and its phase two extension has added 53,000 sq feet to the area, taking it to a total of 284,000 sq feet at a cost of Dh35m ($9.53m). Finally, on the east coast there is Al Jabal Resort, The Chedi Khorfakkan.

How would you characterise particular opportunities for foreign direct investment (FDI)?

AL SARKAL: Following a study to identify the sectors that investors should focus on in Sharjah, we concluded that the tourism sector required additional five-star hotels and international food and beverage brands. Moreover, we also identified two growing segments that are presenting many opportunities. One of these is the growing ecotourism segment, with the recently expanded Kalba and Mleiha archaeological and ecotourism projects. The latter saw its first phase – encompassing 93 sq km – open in 2016, while a second phase will expand the area by an additional 114 sq km and will include an astronomy observatory. A third important project in the segment is Al Badayer Oasis, with 3600 sq metres built up across a total land area encompassing 226,500 sq metres. It features an urban resort, lodge, restaurants, cafés and an amphitheatre. Shurooq has contributed significantly to the promotion of both tourism and economic investments to and from Sharjah. Over the years we’ve conducted numerous international, regional and local visits taking part in trade, industry and tourism exhibitions and events, carrying personalised investment opportunities directly catering to each country’s demands and needs towards improving FDI. Shurooq’s four sectors are: travel and leisure; transport and logistics; health care; and environment. We’ve also strengthened our relationships with several global economies by hosting international delegations visiting Sharjah, offering them detailed, 360-degree insights about Sharjah’s diversified sectors and business advantages. For example, Shurooq hosted the Sharjah FDI Forum for the second year in 2016.

In terms of policy, how can more private investment be attracted to the sector?

AL SARKAL: There are three main policies that would help attract additional investment. First, Sharjah can further develop the business environment by making it more friendly to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Fortunately, the emirate is already home to more than 55,000 SMEs. Also, the Sharjah Economic Development Department issued 35% more new trade licences during the first two months of 2016 than over the same period in 2015. Second, it can further encourage the development of free zones to facilitate easy business set-up for hospitality-related operations. Third, Shurooq recently launched the “Invest in Sharjah” initiative to increase awareness and incentivise FDI. It aims to unify all efforts and capabilities from business and government organisations to create unique investment opportunities for businesses considering setting up operations. The project adheres to international standards and incorporates a modern vision designed to align with economic changes, and it will work to help investors fully capitalise on Sharjah’s numerous advantages.