Significant growth prospects are visible for virtual office sector as organisations of all sizes look for more flexible and cost-effective business solutions, according to industry analsyts.
"This is likely to continue until there is more certainty about the future economic prospects regionally and globally," Steve Mayne, Director Sales and Operations, Sentinel Business Centres (SBC), told Emirates Business. "The concept has become more familiar in the Middle East as a whole, with the number of inquiries for virtual office services growing steadily. Typically, virtual office services are more suited to overseas business travelers who spend some time in Dubai during the year."
Asked how cost effective are virtual offices compared to leasing office space, Mayne said there was no comparison between the two, adding "virtual office space was not an alternative to conventional office space".
"Companies who wish to register in Dubai cannot simply have a virtual office, instead they must have a conventional office address. Therefore, a comparison between the two cannot really be made."
According to him, virtual offices are ideally suited for overseas companies exploring opportunities in a country and are in the early stages of incorporation, or local companies with registered offices that require a professional receptionist service.
Mayne said SBC offers a range of complementary services such as hot desk time, meeting room time, administrative services, and concierge service.
Although there are quite a few providers of virtual office services in the country, new players will need to carve a niche of their own.
"The sector will continue to grow as long as local and regional governments continue to spend on infrastructure development and opportunities continue to exist for new market entrants," Mayne added.
Jitendra Gianchandani, Chairman, Jitendra Business Consulting, said: "This year I can see a clear trend emerging that of virtual offices or e-offices. We get every month more than 200 enquiries for business formation from across the world. And the trend is to opt for formation of UAE off-shore companies and within that for virtual offices or e-offices. And all these indicators suggest that investors/entrepreneurs are looking at establishing their base in the UAE so as to conduct business with their clients from the GCC countries and the wider region," he added.
The cost of setting up an UAE off-shore company or a company in free zone differs from emirate to emirate and from free zone to free zone.
However, it is still considered economical when compared to setting up business on-shore.
"UAE offshore, in particular, is in demand as it allows multiple activities outside the UAE and it is very economical as compared to virtual office or e-office. My prognosis is 2010 will be the year of virtual office," said Gianchandani.
Analysts told this newspaper that there was definitely room for growth for serviced offices in the UAE, especially for properly designed and well-managed space.
However, attractive rental packages have to be in place to draw in the tenants.
Effective floor plate sizes, office layouts, employee and visitor parking space are essential besides the location of the building are important in the decision making.
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