Interview: Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi
How is Abu Dhabi handling the slowdown in global trade and container traffic?
MOHAMED JUMA AL SHAMISI: This is a cyclical business and we are intertwined with the performance of shipping companies around the world, but for us as Abu Dhabi Ports, we have continued to see growth in 2016 across all commodities and sectors. We are expecting this upward trajectory to continue for two main reasons, which themselves are not cyclical. First, the economy of Abu Dhabi is very strong and ports mirror economic activity. Second, Khalifa Port is completely integrated with the Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD). More businesses coming into the pipeline drives volumes, and we offer a full breadth of solutions to businesses that rely heavily on port activity – our “beyond the gate” strategy. Central to this strategy is the expansion of the Khalifa Port Free Trade Zone. Now we have 100 sq km of free zone adjacent to the second-fastest growing port in the world, which serves as an important incentive to international investors who have growth plans in this area. Increasingly, we see companies consolidating their business at KIZAD to reduce costs. We are also seeing a diverse array of businesses setting up shop, including staples such as polymers, steel and aluminium, but also sectors like pharmaceuticals, food and logistics.
How will a new terminal operator benefit the activities at Khalifa Port?
AL SHAMISI: Bringing in COSCO SHIPPING goes hand in hand with our expansion of Khalifa Port. COSCO will consider Khalifa Port as their main hub in the region, which will drive volumes higher and freight costs lower, and in turn, will stimulate more volume coming to our ports. It is a huge marketing tool for our tenants because now they will have an international player on their doorstep that links them to the entire world. COSCO SHIPPING is one of the largest shipping companies in the world, which is a sign of trust and maturity. We think this will usher in a new era in terms of container service.
What are the next steps for Maqta Gateway?
AL SHAMISI: Maqta Gateway is one of the most important resources for our customers and clients. In terms of customer service and experience, we are creating a single platform that links shipping companies, freight forwarders, Customs, food control and other government entities into a single platform.
Online our clients can do pre-clearance procedures, track their cargo, upload documentation and pay. It improves transparency, allowing our clients to track transactions and know exactly where the issues are. We finished the sea operation in 2016 and all transactions are fully online. We began with Khalifa Port and then issued instructions to do it for all the ports under our umbrella. Our target in 2017 is the land operation. In the future we will move to cover logistics companies and then integrate everything with the airport and Etihad Rail system. You will eventually be able to track cargo across all channels of transportation in the emirate.
What potential do you see in cruise tourism?
AL SHAMISI: Cruise tourism is really promising, and we are one of the major players in this business. This is a destination offering, built by a host of entities, and grouping these entities together to make offerings is really exciting. The numbers show already. In 2006 we saw about 35,366 cruise visitors. In the 2016/17 season this number grew to over 250,000, supported by our new cruise terminal at Zayed Port as well as Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach – the only beach experience cruise passengers can have in the region. We expect these numbers to continue increasing in the years to come.
In the summer period, cruise ships are usually in the Caribbean or in Europe. During the winter period – which is a nice time of year in the Gulf – the ongoing proposal is that we can place the cruise ships here and make it a seasonal business. When we market this, we market it as a region, not as a single port offering, and so far we have received a very positive response.
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