We want to be the largest in both numbers and statistics

Bonyan has already invested Dh10 billion and is looking to further that by Dh36.7bn in the next three years or less, Atatreh said. (MAHMOUD KHATIB)

 

Most companies today are either in a race to penetrate the emerging markets of the soon-to-be-superpowers in Asia or indulging in a shopping spree in the US, while asset values are relatively low. But not for Bonyan.

The firm's focus remains on exploring opportunities in the equally rapidly growing Middle East and North African (Mena) region.

"Our market is still very good. We have the strategy to become one of the largest real estate developers in the Mena region in the next five years," said Abdulla Atatreh, Chairman and founder of Bonyan International Investment Group, in an interview with Emirates Business.

The goals of this 32-year-old businessman, who is a civil engineer from the Emirates University and has an MBA from Madison University in the US, however, is not regional growth only.

Eventually, he said, he wanted to make Bonyan one of the best property companies in the world. "We also want to be one of the largest in the world in terms of numbers and statistics, and not in marketing hype," said Atatreh, who owns 85 per cent of the group.

Launched in 2002, Bonyan has already invested Dh10 billion and is looking to further that by Dh36.7 billion ($10bn) in the next three years or less, Atatreh said.

"Most of this will be invested in real estate and we plan to spend it in the next three years. But we may end up spending it within two years or one," he said.

Atatreh's first steps were to tap and develop the not-so-popular destinations: Iraq, to start with. Earlier this year, Bonyan established Bonyan Kurdistan, a company it has formed with the Al Hanthal Group, a prominent Iraqi developer with various businesses in the Middle East.

The newly-formed company will be launching its first mega project in the Kurdish city of Al Sulaimaniya in next eight months with the completion target set for 2010. Called Bonyan Al Sulaimaniya City, it will cover an area of one million square metres and comprise residential and commercial towers, villas, shopping malls and two hotels.

"It's a safe place and it's good to be there now because we believe in taking the first opportunity. We believe in opening the door and we like to open the door for other investors. We don't want to be alone there. We believe if we start, a lot of companies will follow," Atatreh said, adding that the development is currently in the final stages of designing.

"This is our first project in Iraq but we plan to do more," Atatreh said. Bonyan Kurdistan is already studying further investment opportunities in Kurdistan's capital Erbil and Dahuk, he added.

Next in line is Ajman, the UAE's smallest emirate by area. Last week, Bonyan launched its Dh3.5 billion Eye of Ajman mixed-use project, where more than 50 per cent of the plots were sold prior to the launch.

Atatreh said: "Ajman has witnessed a huge growth in the real estate sector in the past couple of years, with investments now totalling more than Dh400bn. This is largely due to the availability of 100 per cent ownership, which has created great investment opportunities for GCC nationals, expatriates and overseas investors.

"The government's commitment to promoting the emirate as an ideal destination, the major infrastructure developments currently taking place, and the announcement of the Ajman airport have all contributed to the present image of Ajman as an attractive place to invest in."

He said the city location – 20 minutes from Dubai airport with a coastline to boot – presents investors with an easily accessible site, that is both close to nature and the urban bustle.

Although not as economically buoyant as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Ajman is gradually becoming an investors' favourite due to its relatively low cost. Industry estimates show that what one can buy in Dubai for Dh1,200 per sq ft, is available for Dh400 in Ajman. But land prices in Ajman are rising by 15 to 20 per cent every year. In less than two months, prices are said to have moved up to Dh76 per sq ft from Dh68 per sq ft.

Atatreh said most of Bonyan's properties are now sold out including the Dh1.93bn land it had purchased in Dubai's Jadaf area together with Tamweel. "We have sold about 99 per cent of the land in Jadaf. And the infrastructure will be finished within the next two months," he said, adding that they are also keeping a part of the land for themselves.

Speaking about properties in other GCC countries, Atatreh said the four buildings Bonyan is constructing in Doha are close to completion and it also has a presence in the real estate markets of Jordan and Oman.

Bonyan is also eyeing another property investment in Abu Dhabi. "We have not finalised the location yet, but we are looking at selling plots there rather than constructing buildings," Atatreh said.

Bonyan has always been keen in focusing on property. Currently real estate comprises 75 per cent of its total portfolio. Atatreh wants to keep it that way despite the threats posed by the US recession and global slowdown.

"The next three to five years will provide a very unique opportunity for every body. Some people think our market is very shallow but it's not. It's a very deep market and is supported by tourism, petrochemicals, oil and gas, airlines, and so on," he said.

"The delays in construction are in fact making the market stronger. Many see delays as bad but for me it's good that not many units are being delivered on time, as it keeps the price of property high," he added.

But just as any other investor, Atatreh does not keep all his eggs in one basket. Through its marine, aviation and energy subsidiaries, Bonyan has been able to tap other markets as well.

Atatreh, also the Chairman of Executives Aviation Group, has partnered with Grand Aviation Kuwait to embark on a VIP and private jet business. The venture, with a capital of Dh100m is on its way to launching its luxury jet services for VIPs and business clients. "We already have one private jet company called the Grand Aviation Dubai and it will start its services in the next eight months. But Fliteport, the logistics and service company for the private jet, will start this month," he said.

Grand Aviation Dubai will be based at the Dubai International Airport and will soon expand its services to include the Al Maktoum Airport at Dubai World Central.

The joint venture is expected to cash in on the increasing demand for executive and VIP travel in the GCC. Grand Aviation also plans to serve corporate passengers, government officials, high-net-worth individuals and families, who would like to move to business meetings or events.

Bonyan's pursuit of luxury includes yacht manufacturing. It is currently building a Dh36.7m factory in the Marche region of Italy to manufacture yachts for clients across the Gulf. The facility will complement Bonyan's two-year-old yacht factory in Egypt. Bonyan already has orders for 10 yachts worth Dh 55.1m due for delivery between the fourth-quarter of this year and the first-quarter of 2009.

"We will finish these orders within the next two years, after which we can take more orders," Atatreh said, adding he plans to shift the yacht workshops to Abu Dhabi or Dubai next year.

"We have a joint venture with Rafael, the Rolls-Royce of the yacht world. We plan to move the workshops soon to the UAE. It will be a good opportunity for us to offer a better price to customers."

Asked if he wants to capture portion of the niche and luxury market segment, Atatreh said: "Not really. We have a 50 per cent stake in a university in Dubai, called Al Jazeera University, which will open in October. So our investment varies and depends on the returns."

In addition to property and luxury, Bonyan is also a silent player in the energy sector, with a 15 per cent stake in LNG Impel. The project, set to be the first independent LNG (liquefied natural gas) storage in the world, will be pushed back a year from its original schedule due to operational issues. It was first announced in August 2006 and will be used as the basis to set up an LNG derivatives market.

State-run Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) and the Techno Park economic zone said then that they would develop the facility with LNG Impel, a subsidiary of the private Canadian company Galveston LNG. The location of the LNG storage hub is still uncertain. Impel and DMCC have yet to decide where to build the facility. Initially, the two had earmarked land in Dubai for the project.

But according to Atatreh, the location has now been moved to Oman. Asked about the reason behind the decision for the move, he replied: "It's not my decision; it's a collective choice."

 

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