George Moussa, the chairman of Planet Group Establishment and Company Management, talks to Emirates Business about his expansion plans in Western Europe and the Far East and his ambitions of a turnover of Dh1 billion by 2010. The group is a conglomerate of 11 established companies with business interests in hospitality, travel, aviation, freight forwarding, cargo, real estate, entertainment, food and beverage, exhibitions, logistics and trading.
How was the first quarter of 2008 for Planet Group Establishment and Company Management and what kind of growth did you register for the period?
The past three months have been better than we expected and the summer time looks very good for business. In the first quarter of this year we registered 18 per cent growth compared to the same period last year. During the last quarter of 2007 we set ourselves a 10 per cent growth target for Q1 2008, but we have exceeded that. In the UAE and Dubai in particular there has been so much diversification of business that when one sector goes down the other picks up so profits don't fall. And, it is safe to say that there is no high or low season for business anymore.
The Planet Group is a conglomerate of 11 companies. Which one of them is the most profitable?
All of them are doing good but our hotel business is number one in returns. We are strongest in service industry. The service industry has done very well in Dubai and we are a part of that growth. Our turnover from this sector is Dh500 million per annum and from the rest of the sectors it about Dh250m. The total is Dh750m per annum and our target is to reach Dh1bn by 2010.
What are your expansion plans for this year, both geographically and sector-wise?
We are focusing on the Far East and Eastern Europe this year. We are very well established in Western Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia. We hope to repeat our success story in these new markets. In the Far East we will be based in Shanghai and later move to Hong Kong and then in all the other important areas. In Eastern Europe we have zeroed in on the Czech Republic and then we plan to move to neighbouring countries. We have recently set up a new company called Oscar Cranes. We have leased a couple of cranes to manage a stretch of the Dubai Metro on Sheikh Zayed Road with a Japanese firm.
Last year you announced the development of a five-star hotel worth Dh600m in Abu Dhabi. How has the progress been so far?
It is a twin tower – one is residential and the other is a hotel, both being five-star properties. We have almost completed all the approvals and the designs. We are in the final stage of negotiations with an international management company to operate it for us but we will continue to own the property. Construction will start with full force in July and August and we hope to be ready with the keys in the first quarter of 2010.
Are you looking at mid-segment and budget hotels?
Definitely, but not in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I don't see any demand for budget hotels in Abu Dhabi. The city has a lot of scope for high-end properties. We have plans for hotels in this category in Ajman and Fujairah and we are in negotiations for acquiring land. The work is slated for 2010 and 2011.
How much of business do you get from foreign countries?
We are mainly into service industry and most of our business comes from this sector. Our offices in foreign countries are backup for Dubai operations. They complement our business here by marketing and selling what we offer in the UAE.
Do you plan to go public since you are expanding in a big way?
Not in the near future. We are doing well and there is no shortage of finance, but it's a thought in my mind. The group has handled some big business developments. We have been offered some very good deals, but we want to wait. However, we are open to joint ventures with foreign companies abroad.
Are you impacted by the rising cost of operations and talent shortage in Dubai?
This is our biggest problem. We could do 10 per cent better if we had the right people in the right place. There is no shortage of people and it is very easy to get visas, but the real issue is about getting the right people. We are present in seven to eight financial capitals around the world such as Moscow and Frankfurt and when people come to the UAE from these countries it takes them about six months to one year to get adjusted to business here.
Have your businesses in foreign countries been affected by the international economical slowdown?
The Middle East economy is booming and there is a feel-good factor here. Our office in Beirut, despite all the political turmoil and unrest, is doing very well and so are our other offices in Turkey, Germany, Russia and the CIS. The gross profits of these countries are equal to what we register in the UAE. It is good that we haven't been touched by any kind of problems emanating from the United States credit crisis.
PROFILE: George Moussa Chairman of the Planet Group George
Moussa is an electro-mechanical engineer by profession. After obtaining a degree in Lebanon he went to the US for higher studies. He came to Dubai in 1975 and worked in an engineering and contracting company.
In 1989 he switched to the service industry by setting up his own company called Planet Travel and Tours. Today the group comprises 11 established firms headquartered in Dubai. The group has an international network in the Middle East (UAE, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey), Europe (Germany, France and the UK) and CIS (Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan)