Ajman: Focusing on tourism

The emirate of Ajman is looking to broaden its tourism horizons, investing in new upmarket resorts and facilities while also hoping to attract a greater slice of the UAE’s business and conference trade. It will, however, have to compete with many of its near neighbours, which have already established a strong position in the market and have the infrastructure needed to support their tourism industries.

A major shift in Ajman’s tourism policy came at the end of 2011, when it was announced that most of the residential component of the $1bn Al Zorah real estate development would be sidelined and the focus of the project directed towards the travel and hospitality industry.

Having been established in 2008 as a mostly residential development, with the plans calling for housing for some 200,000 people, a scaled-down version of the project debuted in December 2011. Acknowledging that there was not enough demand for such an extensive residential scheme in Ajman, Imad Dana, the chief executive of Al Zorah Development Company, said the $544m project was something that in the present climate “will work”.

Al Zorah, a joint venture between Lebanon-based developer Solidere International and the Ajman government, will encompass a series of hotels, four marinas – of which two are already complete – retail outlets and eateries. In total, the resort area will have some 12 km of waterfront access, much of which is to be left in its natural state.

Aware that having the initial project stall due to the downturn in the property market could make investors wary, Al Zorah’s partners have said the first stages of the tourism-oriented scheme are to be funded directly by its founding backers, though the developers will be looking to outside investors to buy into the financing of later levels of the resort.

The resort is planned to include an 18-hole championship-level golf course, the first such facility in the emirate. A recent article carried in the “World Edition of the Golf Course Report”, said the course, along with at least four hotels, would be completed by 2014. With golf becoming increasingly popular in the region, as well as in Asia, a course of this standard could be a major attraction for visitors.

Ajman is also looking to enter the lucrative meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market. In early June it was announced that Crown Prince Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi had signed an agreement authorising the construction of an international-standard convention centre in the emirate. Though full details of the project have yet to be released, the stand-alone centre will feature a number of community and conference halls, as well as facilities for exhibitions and other events.

While Ajman currently has some convention venues – mainly attached to some of the emirate’s larger hotels – and regularly hosts medium-scale events, the proposed centre should serve to lift Ajman’s profile as a MICE destination. Of course, it will face stiff competition from some of its neighbouring emirates, which have already seen the potential of this tourism industry segment and invested heavily in the associated infrastructure.

One drawback Ajman faces in building a place within the MICE market, and indeed in the tourism sector as a whole, is that it currently lacks an international airport. While it has excellent land links to the other emirates, meaning transfers from existing air hubs are quick and easy, with the Dubai International Airport less than 20 km away, the additional travelling time and inconvenience these transfers represent may detract from Ajman’s appeal.

Though there are plans to develop an airport capable of handling at least 1m passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo a year, this project has been put into a holding pattern since being unveiled in 2008. If the planned airport does get off the ground, with some reports suggesting work could begin later this year for a tentative completion date of 2015, it could be an additional selling point.

With its real estate sector hard hit by the downturn, Ajman has been pushing to find a new locomotive for its economy. Perhaps by offering a gentler pace of holiday life, Ajman could begin to develop its own niche in the region’s tourism market.

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