Tuesday, 30 June 2009

BMW Z4 advert banned in Australia

From the Melbourne Herald Sun 29 June 09
The Thought Police in Australia have finally gone mad. A new television ad for the latest BMW Z4 shows the car with painted tyres being driven round a warehouse, the tyre tracks eventually forming a picture. The ad's been banned in Australia because, according to the Advertising Standards Board its "encouraging hoon driving". Yeah? And the V8 Supercars, F1, MotoGP, Motocross, Dukes of Hazzard *don't*?
Quotes from internet forums on this decision by the Advertising Standards Board have been overwhelmingly negative, including:

- "I guess watching Top Gear is going to influence me to part take in a beach assault with the Royal marines in a Ford Fiesta? "
- "Promoting hooning? I think not and I suppose watching Underbelly is going to influence me and my family to undertake underworld killings...."
- "I'm so sick of this cr*p. It doesn't even directly affect me, but to think that stupid whinging do-gooders have this much power infuriates me."

- "I'm not for one second condoning idiotic behaviour like burnouts. But the sort of morons who do that sort of thing are going to do it anyway, irrespective of a BMW advertising campaign."
Luxury car manufacturer BMW has been left in a spin after its new "artistic" TV ad was banned for encouraging hoon driving.
Australia's advertising watchdog outlawed the ad for a BMW convertible because driving stunts shown in the clip would break Australian road rule laws.
The ad features the BMW Z4 coupe creating a giant artwork in a warehouse by driving with painted tyres, and includes the vehicle spinning its wheels and skidding.
Video: Watch the banned BMW promo
The clip, which has been used around the world, was made by artist Robin Rhode and famed film director Ridley Scott's son, Jake.
The ad sparked a backlash; one viewer told the Advertising Standards Bureau and Channel 9 the clip "would encourage car hoons to spin and burn their tyres."
The watchdog banned the ad on the basis it depicted illegal driving.
"The board noted that the advertisement does depict in a number of places the driver intentionally allowing the wheels of the car to lose traction and perform . . . a four-wheel drift," the bureau's judgment said.
BMW hit back, claiming it was art, not hooning.
"We believe the audience can distinguish between fantasy and reality," a statement from BMW to the board said.
BMW spokesman Toni Andreevski said the company accepted the decision but believed it could have successfully appealed.
"It is a bit of a case of a piece of art and the freedom of art being thwarted by Victoria's anti-hoon laws," he said.
"It is a shame that artistic expression would be caught by a quirk in the legislation. Safety is important to us, and we have agreed not to appeal."
Mr Andreevski said the company was disappointed it had been branded for hoon driving.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Share slump follows Emaar merger announcement

From ArabianBusiness.com 29 June 09
Dubai's Emaar Properties said on Sunday the entity resulting from a proposed merger with three units of Dubai Holding, owned by the emirate's ruler, will have combined assets worth AED194bn ($52.85bn).
Emaar Properties' shares plunged after announcing merger plans, dragging Dubai's index to its biggest one-day fall for seven months.
Emaar, which is building the world's tallest tower in Dubai, and Dubai Holding announced a plan on Friday to merge the developer with real estate units Dubai Properties, Sama Dubai, and leisure developer Tatweer – all prominent players in a sector badly hit by the global financial crisis.
The new entity would have AED13.4bn of debt obligations, around 7 percent of total assets, Emaar chairman Mohammed Alabbar said in a statement on the bourse website.
The property developer also said its own total book value of assets at the end of March was AED68bn, with AED10bn of debt obligations.
"The proposed consolidation will create a robust and strategic asset base while joining the strengths of the management teams and employees of these companies," said Alabbar.
Dubai Properties, Sama Dubai and Tatweer had combined total assets of AED126bn at the end of last year, with around AED3.4bn worth of external debt obligations, the company said.
Property prices in Dubai have slumped since last year when the global economic crisis and a drop in oil prices ended an economic boom in the Gulf region.
Emaar, the largest listed Arab developer, which is 31.2 percent owned by the ruler, said the consolidation process will take around four months.
Tatweer said earlier this month the bankruptcy of its partner Six Flags, one of the largest theme park operators, would not delay a multi-billion dirham park project in Dubai.
Tatweer is building at least seven theme parks in the Gulf Arab emirate.
Dubai Holding said in February it would merge back-office operations at Dubai Properties, Sama Dubai and Mizin to cut costs.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Dubai's debate on morality has only just begun

From Gulf News, 27th June 09. The writer is Mishaal Al Gergawi, an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE.
In an interview to Gulf News last week, Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Deputy Chief of Dubai Police, said that it is not the duty of police to interrogate or interfere with couples in Dubai, but that they would intervene only if they are spotted committing obscene actions.
These comments come after a number of incidents of public indecency, which in turn prompted the British Foreign Office to issue a travel advisory for its citizens.
This reminds me of an old story of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) where he sent three men on separate visits to the Levant. When they returned the first said that he found it to be a land of faith and knowledge and the prophet replied that he was right. The second said that he found it to be a land of decadence and debauchery and the prophet replied that he was right too. The third said that he found it to be a land of trade and commerce and the prophet replied that he was right as well.
When he was asked how come they were all right, he said each of them found what they were looking for.
The stock to be taken from Al Mazeina is straight-forward; Dubai continues to be a city of tolerance. There are many cultures that continue to co-exist harmoniously in Dubai and the very reason for that is this tradition of tolerance.
Everyone agrees that culture is not static and is an ever-evolving process; however, there is a general norm of decency which must be observed by the inhabitants of the city. This has always been the case.
However, the last few years, which witnessed an incredible influx of migrants in a short period of time, overwhelmed nationals and long-term residents just as much.
And in the midst of the boom there was just no time to inform the new arrivals of the values of the city; some may even dare say that these values may have seemed momentarily un-interpretable to the nationals and long-term residents too.
The city will continue to grow and its doors will remain open to all who want to be part of the social phenomena that are Dubai. Yet change must be at a pace which can be absorbed by all the stakeholders of the city.
Having said that and post the crisis, the city is under invisible internal pressure to communicate its identity in a clearer way; it must define itself through new mediums and in an evolving context.
This goes beyond cultural development through the establishment of a sustainable arts programme, the enforcement of accountability through a new set of legislations and independent regulatory bodies or even the development of strong education and healthcare services. This goes to the fundamental purpose of developing a specific and strong identity which recognises its zeitgeist.
Having said that, an issue that bothers many of us in the city is a lot more immediate than the debate on public display of affection and the need to dress modestly and respectfully of the UAE's culture.
It is Thursday night and I decide to have dinner at an old school Italian restaurant in one of the older hotels on Shaikh Zayed Road. I walk into the restaurant and notice a large number of ladies in their mid-twenties. They are from East Africa, China and Eastern Europe. They are eager to find a date for the evening... for a fee.
I believe the proliferation of this phenomenon in prominent areas such as Shaikh Zayed Road is unprecedented. It has historically been isolated to other - dare I say it - less affluent areas in the past. The fact that this new area has become prevalent with this kind of behaviour is a very strong concern for the city as a whole and the police must make it a priority to crack down on it; perhaps a much more immediate concern than a pair of random intoxicated expatriates on a post-brunch short affair.
Another unfortunate issue which falls more under miscommunication than mistreatment is the unfortunate case of Raffi Nernekian.
Last summer Raffi bought a cancer awareness T-shirt from the Marc Jacobs store in New York. The T-shirt which is a collaborative effort between NYU Dermatology and Marc Jacobs shows a nude celebrity covering her intimate parts.
Raffi wore the T-shirt in Dubai and following a man taking offence to it, was arrested by the police and subsequently sentenced to one month in prison and exile from Dubai for indecent exposure.
While this sentencing is very much according to the law it could also have been an opportunity to explain what is offensive and what is not to someone to whom these distinctions may not be clear. It has, however, transformed into a very disturbing experience for Raffi and his family.
I will continue to commend the Dubai Police on their work so far and I will always say that they are one of the most civilised and helpful law enforcement agencies in the region, if not the world.
However, it is our belief that our agency can continue to improve and excel even further, not our lack of satisfaction with it which leads us to be critical of it, and continue to expect further developments.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Photos of Dubai, Satwa and the Burj Dubai

Colin's taken some fantastic photos of Dubai, Satwa and the Burj Dubai development, they're here.

Bankruptcy law call after Dubai boss flees

From ArabianBusiness 25 June 09

The Gulf News has a fuller explanation of the current bankruptcy laws in the UAE.
And to confirm what's in the following article, in Dubai you can be jailed for bouncing a cheque and unbelievably there is no system in place here for the person who's written the cheque to put a stop on it.
Lawyers on Thursday called for a review of UAE bankruptcy laws, after the owner of a Dubai gifts company fled the country with massive debts.
It emerged on Wednesday that Simon Ford, the owner of an events and alternative gifts company BlueBanana.com, had left the UAE after his firm became insolvent.
In an emotional letter to suppliers and customers Ford said that the UAE’s "lack of structured bankruptcy laws and a banking system which has zero flexibility on loan repayments" had forced him to flee the country.
But legal experts have now called for an overhaul of bankruptcy laws in the UAE-and urged a review into whether a bounced cheque should be a criminal offence.
“There have been discussions amongst lawyers and accountants as to the need for modernisation of the UAE insolvency regime," Raza Mithani, a senior advocate at law firm Al Tamimi told Arabian Business.
"The areas which are probably in most urgent need of review are the enactment of detailed provisions dealing with individual (non-trader) and cross-border insolvency, together with improved legislation to better facilitate the rescue of businesses in financial distress."
“A corollary to this would be a review of the law relating to bounced cheques and whether it is appropriate for it to continue to attract criminal sanction,” he added.
Currently there are no bankruptcy laws for ‘non traders’, which would include consumer bankruptcy cases such as employees of companies.
Mithani added: “There is also a need to encourage awareness of the legislation that already exists. This would enable businesses in difficulty to consider their options at the earliest possible opportunity. Such options may, depending on the circumstances, include entering into a formal or informal composition with creditors."

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Panel warns against expat tax rule

From The Australian 23 June '09
A crackdown on how expat Australians are taxed announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan on budget night on May 12 has run into choppy waters in a Senate committee, according to a report tabled yesterday.
The Senate Economics Legislation Committee noted that the abolition of Section 23AG of the Income Tax Act, which covers people working offshore for between 91 days and two years, was going to create a compliance burden that in some cases was going to be out of proportion to the amount of tax revenue gained.
The bipartisan committee recommended bringing back at least three exemptions to the new rule, which Mr Swan said would net an extra $675 million in tax over three years to 2013.
The tax move is aimed at some 11,000 expats who Treasury says are earning at least $85,000 a year and pay "little or no tax at all" in Australia, according to Treasury submissions to the committee. However, it became clear at a recent committee hearing in Canberra that any move to make Australians in that group pay tax in this jurisdiction will cause a lot of them to stay away for longer than two years -- and thus cease to be liable to pay any Australian tax.
The 23AG exemption was brought in in 1986, and allows expats a tax holiday as long as they are paying tax in another jurisdiction. Its abolition would reinstate the need to pay tax at home, although a FITO (foreign income tax offset) showing that tax was paid offshore would reduce liability.
The first move is for the ATO to give an exemption that will spare backpackers from the new rule, by exempting the first "X" thousand dollars of offshore income. It also suggested limiting the new rule to "large employers", without defining their scale, and devising ways to prevent expats from being hit by Pay As You Go tax withholding, and corporates from being hit by double taxation of fringe benefits.
An accompanying note from Coalition committee members Senator Alan Eggleston and Senator David Bushby called for a transition period before the proposal became law, describing the planned crackdown as "a rushed and poorly-thought-out measure on the part of the Rudd government with apparently little or no regard ... given to the difficulties that the proposed short lead-in time to implementation will cause for those directly affected."
Yasser El-Ansary, general counsel for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, said his organisation was "disappointed that they haven't made a recommendation that transitional arrangements would be provided for". "Not having such an arrangement will result in a significant financial impost on employees and businesses," he said.
John Fauvet, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the budget proposal had been put together with "indecent haste" with only six weeks being nominally allowed from the date of the announcement to implementation on July 1.

See you in Court: The postscript

One final post about last night's Rent Tribunal appearance.
We left the Court at the same time as the landlord's representative and he got into the lift with us. As the lift headed down he leant over and said to Colin in a very hushed, confidential tone "Don't worry Sir, I can help you."
Don't worry Sir, I can help you?? WTF does that mean??
I thought for an instant that I'd been transported into an episode of the Sopranos. "Don't worry Sir, I can help you."? What do you think he meant, did he mean something like "I can make all this disappear" or "I can get your satellite tv hooked up for free" or possibly even "I can have somebody whacked". Who knows?
Who's he kidding "....I can help you". We pay the money as instructed by the Court and khallas, the matter is over and done with.
"Don't worry Sir, I can help you". Good grief.

Investors form action group against Dubai developer

From ArabianBusiness.com 25 June 09

A group of investors are locked in a dispute with Dubai developer ACW Holdings after significant delays to its projects. Investors, some of whom have paid up to 80 percent of installment payments on units, have written to Dubai property watchdog RERA (the Real Estate Regulatory Authority) demanding a refund and cancellation of ACW’s projects over fears they may not be completed.
Around 85 property buyers have formed an action group called ACW Investors.
Some have refused to sign contracts, which they consider to be unfairly drafted in favour of the developer.
One such investor is UK-based Chandra Kumar, who bought at ACW’s Hanover Square project in November 2007 and has paid 70 percent of installments. He said: “To date I have paid nearly 70 percent of the purchase price with nothing to show in return. The project is little more than a hole in the ground.” "The contract is unreasonable. They are holding money and demanding money. I’ll see no return on my investment for three years- I want my money back,” he added.
Although the developer has insisted its payment plans have been changed and are now linked to construction progress, some investors complain they are still being instructed to pay date-based installments.
Only excavation work and no formal construction has started at five of ACW’s projects in the Arjan and Jumeirah Village districts in Dubai. (A photo taken earlier this month of the site is shown.)
A sixth project called Platinum Two is severely delayed due to a proposed road through the site by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).
“In the present economic climate it is easy for investors to feel nervous about their investment in Dubai. We as a company made the decision to focus all of our resources on construction,” the company said in an emailed statement to Arabian Business.
”We are in the business of building, and that is precisely what we are doing,” the statement added.
The developer blamed the late handover of plots from master developer Nakheel for the delay on its Jumeirah Village projects, which include residential schemes Kensington Manor and Knightsbridge Court together with Hanover Square, a serviced apartment project.
Scott Richards, director of client services at ACW said that apart from Platinum Two, the bulk of the company’s projects will come online by the middle of 2010, although the developer’s website states most schemes will be completed in the first quarter of 2010.
Hanover Square was originally scheduled for delivery in May 2009, according a Sales and Purchase Agreement seen by Arabian Business. But clause 2.4 of the contract states: “The Handover Date may be extended by the Seller for any Period or periods up to a maximum of one year.” In an email to one ACW investor in May, Essa Saeed Al Mansoori, head of the trust accounts section at RERA, said ACW’s projects were undergoing a "technical audit".
A spokesman for RERA said: “ACW is a registered developer and has five projects in Dubai and escrow accounts set up for each one and through which funding for all these projects is financed.
”ACW was established in 2004 and has two UK offices in London and Leeds as well as its Dubai operations in Emaar Business Park and Jebel Ali.
The company has launched seven freehold developments since 2006 with an asset value of AED5bn, according to its website.

BlueBanana boss on the run

The owner of an events and alternative gifts company in Dubai has written an emotional letter to customers and suppliers after fleeing the country on fears that UAE bankruptcy laws could land him in jail.
Simon Ford, the owner of Blue Banana.com, apologised in the letter for leaving the country after the firm’s debt had grown “exponentially”, but pledged to repay every last dirham of its debt.
“Tragically, the debt of the business reached a level on Thursday June 18 that personal threats were being made against me and my family, which left me no choice but to leave four years of passion behind and take my family out of the country,” he said.
“I am not running away from debt, I am purely protecting those dearest to me and getting out of a country which, due to the lack of structured bankruptcy laws and a banking system which has zero flexibility on loan repayments, drives people to make horrible decisions.”
Through its website, Blue Banana sold alternative gifts such as skydiving and jet fighter flights.
Its online marketing business was the online ticketing partner for the Dubai Pro ARCH Trophy cricket tournament this year.
“I am not trying to justify that what has happened [or say it] is morally correct, it most certainly is not, but there is a very stark reality in doing business in UAE which unfortunately results in the most horrible decisions having to be made,” Ford said.
“On a personal level, I have been through the most soul destroying and emotionally horrific four days of my life, and am likely to continue to do so for some time as my integrity is repeatedly called into question and rumours of me stealing people’s money, amongst other accusations, grow out of control.”
In a separate statement, an investor in the company, Nazar Musa, described the company’s management style as “over optimistic”.
Ford said in his letter that he has set up an e-mail account for people to contact him with regard to outstanding payments, and that he would “proactively contact” all those owed money by the company within the next 48 hours.
“I am sorry, Dubai,” he said.
The company's website has been closed down and efforts to call someone on the telephone listed for the firm were unsuccessful.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

See you in Court: The victim

This is the garden at Garhoud when we moved out about a month ago.

and this is what the garden looks like today (24 June) after Rocky Real Estate destroyed it:

See you in Court Pt 3

This morning Colin had to go to the Muncipality to collect the documents which were all in Arabic so we didn't know what the charges were until the letter came back from the translator at about 3:30pm.

We arrived at the Tribunal at 4pm and after a 3.5 hour wait our case number was called. First the Tribunal saw the Rocky Real Estate guy and heard his side of the story, then the Rocky guy came out and we went in. Contrary to what I had been told, the proceedings were 99% in Arabic but the really interesting part started when the Chairman said to Colin in English "Mr Rocky wants his money, you terminated on 19th May that is less than 2 months from the end of the lease…"
Colin replied, "Not true, we wrote to Rocky on 28 February, more than 2 months from the end of the lease."
"Where is this letter?" the Chairman demanded and Colin showed him the copy in the litigation file I'd prepared with photos, an index and numbered tabs.
"Did Rocky reply?" asked the Chairman.
"Yes" said Colin "They replied twice."
"Show me" said the Chairman, which Colin did and, by the look on the Chairman's face, he hadn't seen these letters and he wasn't pleased.

Thank you to Dunhill Madden Butler of Sydney for their training in preparing litigation files. I was able to show copies of all the correspondence between ourselves and Rocky starting from 28 February and it was quickly apparent that the Tribunal had not seen 4 of these letters. The Chairman did not appear to be at all impressed that Rocky Real Estate had led him down the garden path and almost into the potting shed.

In one corner of the room there was a man perched on a chair with his back against the photocopying machine. He sat there drinking coffee thoughout the whole proceedings looking completely disinterested in his surroundings while everyone ignored him. Who he was or why he was there I cannot tell you.

We were sent out of the room to wait while the Tribunal discussed the whole thing, we could hear raised voices coming from the Tribunal room (though of course they could have been discussing what to have for dinner) then we were called back in. Unfortunately language limitations meant that the correspondence, which was all in English, was taken at face value by the Tribunal (and even then with some difficulty) and there was no examination of intent. Rocky were seeking two months rent penalty, demanding that we continue to pay rent until the 'end of the case', plus court costs, plus an amount of AED9,137, a figure they have plucked out of the air and is unrelated to anything. After being given a lecture from one of the Tribunal members on how to write letters in English to landlords, apparently letters which must include the specific word "terminate" (forget the words leave, move out or end the lease) they ordered that we pay one month's rent as a penalty plus court costs.

We left the Court at the same time as the landlord's representative and he got into the lift with us. As the lift headed down he leant over and said to Colin in a very hushed, confidential tone "Don't worry Sir, I can help you."

Don't worry Sir, I can help you?? What does that mean? I thought for an instant that I'd been transported into an episode of the Sopranos. "Don't worry Sir, I can help you."? What do you think he meant, did he mean something like, "I can get your satellite tv hooked up for free" or possibly "For AED5,000 I can make all this disappear" or even "I can have somebody whacked". Who knows?

We'll pay the money as instructed by the Court and khallas, the matter is over and done with."Don't worry Sir, I can help you". Good grief.

Lesson: be specific when writing letters to Dubai landlords: don't try to be reasonable, don't say 'Dubai rents have plummeted, we're good tenants and we want to stay in the house, but not at the exorbitant rent we're currently paying, can we negotiate?' You have to say, 'Mate, we're outta here, khallas, that's it, we're gone'. Then go.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

See you in Court Pt 2

Contrary to what the man from the Municipality said on the phone, no papers were delivered today so we're still in the dark about what's happening tomorrow. The Municipality closes at 2:30pm every day so by the time I had a chance to call them today they were shut. If we don't appear at the hearing tomorrow, despite not having been told when and where its being held, we will be ****ed so I guess in true Dubai fashion one of us will have to take most of the day off work, turn up at the Municipality at 7:30am when they open and try to find out if there really is a case being heard, when and where its being heard and what the process is. As we haven't been given the chance to prepare our case in any way we don't know what paperwork to take (take everything I guess) or what questioning will take place. Is there the option of an adjournment so that we could have at least a few hours to prepare? Silly me.

I assume that Rocky Real Estate has been informed of the hearing date and time, it'd be an irony if the Plaintiff didn't turn up.

See you in Court Pt 1

Here's the background: Our previous landlord wouldn't drop the rent at the end of our 12 month lease, we tried to negotiate, he wouldn't budge and so we moved out. The place is still empty while weve moved to a nice place in the same area and paying AED70,000 a year less.

We've just received a phone call from the Dubai Municipality telling us that the landlord's agent (Rocky Real Estate) is taking us to Court - tomorrow. They want us to pay two months rent for not giving notice. We did give notice, two months prior to expiry we wrote to Rocky saying "We want to renew but not at the current rent", they wouldn't drop the rent so we moved out . Rocky is the same rental agency that sent repairman 18 times to fix the air-con in the house.

There's been no warning other than this morning's phone call so there's no time for us to prepare (of course) and all Court proceedings in Dubai are in Arabic so we have to find an Arabic lawyer to appear in Court tomorrow.

This is how its done here, the consumer has no rights.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Dubai police will not curb freedoms

From Gulf News 22 June '09
- To refresh your memory of what is considered offensive or obscene in Dubai, please revisit the Dubai Code of Conduct.
- The article from The Independent (UK) about money from Somali pirates being laundered in Dubai is here.
Dubai Police do not restrict the freedom of the diverse communities here, but there are red lines that must not be crossed because the UAE, an Islamic Arab country, prides itself in its rich values, said a senior official.
Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Deputy Chief of Dubai Police, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview that it is not the duty of police to interrogate or interfere with couples in Dubai, but if they are spotted committing obscene actions then they will intervene. His comments come after several incidents of public indecency, which prompted the British Foreign Office to issue a travel advisory for its citizens.
"I think it is clear to the average person what is meant by obscene. There are red lines that must not be crossed. The country has its values and traditions which cannot be overlooked to satisfy others," Al Mazeina said.
The slight increase in financial crimes, he said, is not related to the financial crisis.
"We had cases of forged credit cards from abroad which were used in Dubai. Dubai Police have urged banks to issue credit cards with pin codes for all transactions to reduce counterfeit cases," he said.
Al Mazeina said traffic fines have been raised because tougher fines help reduce accidents.
He said a Dh100 or Dh200 fine was not a deterrent because living standards are high here. Now a single fine can amount to Dh1,000. Statistics show that tougher fines and more radars have reduced accidents significantly.
He also quashed rumours that Chechen commander Sulim Yamadayev who was shot in March in the car park of an apartment block in Dubai is still alive. Yamadayev was a foe of Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
In response to a report by a British newspaper, he stressed that Somali pirates' money is not laundered through Dubai. The Independent said vast sums of ransom money that the pirates received were laundered in Dubai and other GCC countries.
He said some sections want to tarnish the image of the UAE by spreading vicious rumours.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Four Seasons' Dubai hotel scrapped

From Middle East Hotelier 15 and 18 June '09
The first Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts UAE property scheduled to open in 2011 at Dubai Festival City will no longer go ahead after construction was called off by developer Al-Futtaim Group Real Estate (AFGRE).
The 400-room hotel was expected to complete the Four Seasons Golf Club development in the Al Badia district of Dubai Festival City when it opened in 2011.
“It’s always been the owner's intent to have the golf club as part of the hotel operator’s [Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts] badge, but given the fact the hotel is not going forward the golf club will be re-branded,” said Four Seasons Dubai Festival City regional vice president and general manager Bahram Sepahi.
InterContinental Dubai Festival City will operate Al Badia Golf Club having secured the management contract from developer Al-Futtaim Group Real Estate (AFGRE).
The former Four Seasons Golf Club, situated in the Al Badia district of Dubai Festival City, will be re-branded Al Badia Golf Club by InterContinental Dubai Festival City from July 1.
The news follows an exclusive report by HME on Monday that complex master developer and manager AFGRE had called off construction on the first UAE Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property — expected to complete the golf-club development when it opened in 2011 — resulting in the rebranding of the golf club.
“We're proud that InterContinental has been selected to manage the prestigious Al Badia Golf Club. This is testament to the excellent relationship that has been fostered with Al-Futtaim and recognises the strength and global consistency of the InterContinental brand,” said IHG chief operating officer for the Middle East and Africa John Bamsey.
The golf club will be an extension of IHG's current Dubai Festival City portfolio that includes the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City and InterContinental Residence Suites. AFGRE senior managing director Brett Schafer commented: “The selection of IHG to manage and operate the 7303-yard, Robert Trent Jones II-designed Al Badia golf course and clubhouse is consistent with Al-Futtaim’s strategic relationship with IHG.
“The marriage of the well-known Al Badia brand with IHG's globally acknowledged management expertise promises to further enhance Dubai Festival City's international image as an outstanding business and lifestyle destination with great hospitality and leisure offerings,” added Schafer.

News Flash: Motorists in the UAE drive like maniacs

Its more than just 'confusing', it can be fatal.

Further to the earlier post, this from ArabianBusiness.com:

A majority of people think that motorists in the UAE “drive like maniacs” and are to blame for the country having some of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Health officials have urged the UAE government to tighten motoring laws after a World Health Organisation (WHO) report found people here are almost seven times more likely to be killed on the roads than those in Britain.

A spot poll by Arabian Business found that 69.7 percent of respondents agreed UAE highways were among the most hazardous in the world. They pointed the finger at other motorists who drive recklessly.

Surprisingly, 7.8 percent of people thought that roads here were among the safest.

The UAE is the worst performer in the region, with significantly more road deaths per head of population than Bahrain (12.1 per 100,000), Kuwait (16.9), Oman (21.3), Qatar (23.7), Saudi Arabia (29).

Comments left on the ArabianBusiness.com site were almost unanimous in agreement that bad and aggressive driving was to blame.

Sticky wrote: “I will tell you what a local acquaintance said when I asked why she didn't use her indicators when driving... her answer was "Why should I? I know where I'm going." LOL that sums it up nicely doesn't it!

Rowland said: ‘Witness the incredible total lack of lane discipline and tailgating and there you have most of the reasons for the resulting problems.

GMatths was clear on what action should be taken by governments. “The authorities should take strict action and suspend and cancel all the licenses of these idiots. Even if you are a careful driver its hell driving here,” they wrote.

Road works were blamed by 14.2 percent of respondents to the poll, while 8.3 percent blamed terrible signage.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Qatar Airways to fly to Aus from 6th December '09

......................................................................................Photo from Boeing.com
From Gulf Times of Qatar 19 June 09
Qatar Airways’ long-awaited entry into Australia will be realised with the launch of Melbourne flights on December 6.
“We will begin operating to Australia before Christmas and in time for the holiday rush”, airline Chief Executive Officer Akbar al-Baker said on the sidelines of Paris Air Show yesterday.
Qatar Airways will begin operating three weekly services using a brand new Boeing B777-200 Long Range aircraft to be delivered to the airline later this year.
The operations will quickly become daily early in 2010, following the delivery of a second long range Boeing – the airline’s fourth – from the aircraft manufacturer’s plant in Seattle, Washington.Al-Baker said he has been waiting patiently for Boeing to deliver aircraft that Qatar Airways has on order to begin operating the first of its two planned routes into Australia.
“I know the travelling public is eager for us to begin serving Australia and I have had many people ask me about our direct routes to Melbourne and Sydney. We are finalising some details with regulatory authorities in Australia, and once we have received the necessary aircraft from Boeing, we will be ready to operate.
Qatar Airways already has 4,000 frequent fliers in Australia who are part of its loyalty programme, though the local market remains largely untapped.
“The Australian economy is one of the few in the world that grew in the first quarter of 2009, so this shows that the market there is still very strong, and we believe there is demand,” al-Baker said.
The new operation will connect travellers from Australia to the United Kingdom and Europe with a one-stop service and a planned one hour connection time in Doha. From Doha, passengers can also link to numerous destinations across South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Qatar Airways country manager (Australia) Brett Mcdougall said the Australian market is active and the travelling public represents a huge cosmopolitan blend with ties to countries around the world.
“The public is ready for a five-star airline of Qatar Airways’ stature to enter the Australian market. Up until now our customers have had to travel to Asia to join our services,” Mcdougall said.
The Boeing 777-200 Long Range aircraft operating on the route will offer a two-class configuration of 259 seats. In business class, there are 42 seats with passengers able to enjoy comfort and space offering a pitch of up to 78 inches with each seat converting into 180-degree fully flat beds. With a 2–2–2 seat configuration, business class passengers are assured of either a window or aisle seat and plenty of space.
In economy, seat space is above the industry average with a pitch of up to 34 inches offering significant leg room, while the 217 seats are in a 3-3-3 configuration.

Tameer Towers investors protest by withholding payments

From ArabianBusiness.com 18 June '09
Disgruntled investors in Tameer Towers are planning to withhold payments for the Abu Dhabi project in protest at, what they claim is, a lack of progress on the AED6bn ($1.64bn) development.

The Tameer Towers Group, which represents around 50 investors with a combined investment of AED 100m in the project, have accused developer Tameer Holding Investment of becoming increasingly aggressive in payment demands for its flagship scheme.

They claim the Dubai-based company has issued threats of cancellations to investors as part of new payment schedules issued without warning.

In a strongly-worded letter the group plans to send to Tameer president Federico Tauber, it says it will “not tolerate the lack of transparency, lack of communication, lack of progress and unreasonable demands of Tameer.”

The new payment schedules, the group says, propose different completion dates of units, with those investors opting to stay on the existing plan facing a delay to completion exceeding that allowed in their contract.

“We believe Tameer is operating in a wholly unfair manner, bullying investors into submission on the basis of the contractual terms and conditions but without acknowledgement of the fact that they've made no progress on site,” one angry investor told Arabian Business.

The letter informs Tauber the group plans to suspend further payment of installments for the project until its concerns were allayed.

In a statement to Arabian Business, Tameer confirmed it was committed to the project, with contractors now working on the development’s sub-structure following completion of the enabling works and foundations.

It said in recent weeks it had issued “lean” payment plans “stretching over the project timeframe” in response to customer requests to pay according to the development of the scheme.

In addition, it said it had decided to waive the penalty clause incurred by investors for late payments.

Tameer said it had assigned a dedicated company representative to communicate with each of its clients.

Tameer Towers Group, which includes doctors, architects, engineers, pilots, directors, lawyers and construction managers, said it was receiving guidance from legal advisors and could take legal action if its anxieties were not addressed.

Uncertainty had surrounded the development of Tameer Towers, which will form the focal point of The Shams district of Reem Island.

It followed comments from a Tameer official in March stating the development was moving ahead but the developer was reviewing the construction programmes and associated costs of its iconic development.

Further confusion about the status of the project arose the same month when Murrary & Roberts Holdings, part of a joint venture in the first phase of the construction of the development, announced to shareholders its contract had been terminated. However, when contacted, Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises, also part of the venture, said its contract had not been cancelled.

However, following Tauber’s appointment as president, Tameer announced in May it had signed a construction agreement with a joint venture of Al Rajhi Projects and Construction and Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises for completion of the project, which is scheduled for delivery from December 2011 onwards.

The nine-million square-feet complex features four residential towers, a commercial office tower and a hotel.Tameer Towers Group can be contacted on towers33@hotmail.com

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

UAE roads amongst the world's most deadly.

From the National

The daily reality is that driving in Dubai is deadly, literally. The by-line for my blog says it all; "There's no such thing as a dangerous, high speed chase in Dubai - everyone drives like that." You may remember that I was knocked over by a car on a controlled pedestrian crossing a couple of weeks after I arrived in Dubai. I didn't drive here for the first six months because the roads were terrifying. I've gritted my teeth and got back behind the wheel and now "Madame" and I on the road every day. My theory is that due to outdated road signs, misleading road signs or complete lack of roadsigns, at any point in time, 50% of the drivers in Dubai are lost.
  1. The first thing you learn here is that indicators have not been fitted on 95% of cars in Dubai and are an optional extra on the other 5%.
  2. When you're in rush hour traffic probably already travelling over the speed limit and surrounded by other cars, a large 4x4 with blacked out windows comes up behind you, sits right on your tail, flashes the lights and stands on thee horn. From the driver's vantage point he can see there is a continuous line of traffic but he just keeps flashing his lights and getting even closer.
  3. It is the responsibility of the person who is changing lanes to ensure that there is a safe gap for them to move into. (After driving in Dubai for a while the concept seems strange.) Its not the job of the people in the other lanes to make room! How many times do people start changing lanes without checking (and of course no indicator) and they only stop when they hear a horn blaring as they almost hit another car.
  4. People who turn from the incorrect lane, and let's use as an example the numbat at DFC this morning. There were four lanes, two turning left (lanes 1 and 2), two lanes going straight ahead (3 and 4), I'm in the straight ahead lane 3, but when the lights go green the mental midget in lane 4 on my right hand side decides he wants to turns left cutting straight in front of me missing me by inches.
  5. People who slam on the anchors when they see a speed camera then roar off only to slam on the anchors at the next camera.
  6. Queue jumpers/push-inners; the Masters of the Universe who must get in line first. The guys who cruise down a line of waiting traffic looking for an "easy mark" to push in front of.

    The WHO report referred to in the article is


A new World Health Organisation (WHO) report has ranked roads in the UAE as some of the world's most dangerous.

Health chiefs have urged the UAE government to tighten motoring laws after the report showed that UAE road users are almost seven times more likely to be killed than those in Britain.

The study revealed that 37.1 people were killed on roads in the Emirates for every 100,000 people in 2007, the latest year for which UAE statistics are available, UAE daily The National reported on Tuesday.

Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, said the poor safety record of the Emirates “deserves our highest attention” and called on officials to take action, the paper added.

Pedestrians constituted 28 percent of casualties and motorbike riders and cyclists making up another two percent, the report said.

The report said 86 percent of the 1,754,420 vehicles registered in the UAE in 2007 were motor cars, with trucks (seven percent), minibuses and vans (two percent) and buses (two percent) making up most of the remainder.

The police recorded 1,056 fatal and 11,155 non-fatal accidents in the same year with men making up 87 per cent of casualties and women 13 per cent.

The UAE is the worst performer in the region, with significantly more road deaths per head of population than Bahrain (12.1 per 100,000), Kuwait (16.9), Oman (21.3), Qatar (23.7), Saudi Arabia (29).

Explain yourselves! UAE Capital and Securities Authority to Emaar

From Reuters and WAM (the official UAE News Agency)

On Sunday Emaar's shares rose 7.18% after Kingdom Holdings (KSA) announced that Emaar would invest in Kingdom's Jeddah development which will include The World's Next Tallest Tower. However, Emaar's share price fell 5.7% yesterday following Emaar's announcement that it was not investing in the Jeddah development but merely "offer[ing] management services against a fee". Kingdom Holding's share price has also fallen 2.7 percent.
The UAE bourse regulator has asked Emaar Properties to give detailed clarification about a deal with Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding, the official WAM news agency said on Monday.

Emaar on Sunday denied it was investing in a development by Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding that will feature what would be the world's tallest tower, but said it was in a deal to offer management services against a fee.

"The Capital and Securities Authority has asked ... that Emaar Properties presents a clarification about the deal signed with Kingdom Holding that includes the details about the deal, its nature, value and the possible impact on the earnings of Emaar and in which period," WAM reported.

Emaar shares surged 7.18 percent on Sunday, the day after Kingdom Holding Co said it had appointed the Dubai-based firm as developer of the project, with a total investment of at least 100 billion riyals ($26.7 billion). The share tumbled 5.74 percent on Monday.

"The statement from Kingdom Holding was misunderstood, Emaar clarified its role in the project today," said Roy Cherry, Shuaa Capital vice-president for research.

"Emaar has been appointed supervisor on the project, against this service the company will charge a fee. As such it will not be exposed to the risks nor reap the full rewards of this 100 billion riyal project.

"Kingdom Holding, owned by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said on Saturday in an emailed statement that Emaar would be in charge of developing and supervising the construction of the Kingdom Tower.

Emaar, the region's largest property developer, is currently constructing the world's tallest tower, Burj Dubai, in the emirate - a regional trade and tourism hub.

Prince Alwaleed, the chairman of Kingdom Holding, signed the deal on behalf of Jeddah Economic Co with Emaar Chairman Mohamed Alabbar, Kingdom said in its statement on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, launched two large projects in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah in October. They include the construction of a tower that will be more than 1,000 metres (yards) high.

The kingdom needs one million houses by 2014 to meet the needs of its growing population, and there are shortages in residential, commercial, retail and hospitality property in Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and the Eastern Province, HSBC said in a report earlier this month.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Emaar denies deal with Kingdom Holding to develop world's tallest tower

From the Gulf News 15 June '09

Despite the announcement from Kingdom Holding earlier this week, it appears there's been a 'misunderstanding' and Emaar's having no role in developing The World's Next Highest Tower to be located in Jeddah. FYI, Prince Alwaleed is the largest shareholder in Citigroup.

Emaar Properties on Monday issued a denial that it had made any deal with Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding Company on developing the world's tallest tower with a total investment of at least 100 billion riyals ($26.7 billion).

Kingdom Holding, owned by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said on Saturday in an emailed statement that Emaar would be in charge of developing and supervising the construction of the Kingdom Tower.

The news saw a surge in Emaar's shares rise up to to 7.8 per cent.

In a statement issued to Reuters, the Dubai based properties said that it will not invest in any projects of this sort.

Emaar is currently constructing the world's tallest tower, Burj Dubai, in the emirate - a regional trade and tourism hub.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Where the buck stops: a reminder

From the The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland New Zealand 7 June '09
Directors have to take some of the blame when executive salaries soar, says an expat high-flyer. He's described by Britain's Sunday Times as "one of the most influential men in British industry", he's a New Zealander, and he has slammed the high salaries of many chief executives and described those who receive them as prima donnas.

Aucklander John Buchanan - former chief financial officer of BP, current chairman of Smith & Nephew and director of BHP Billiton, Vodafone and AstraZeneca and UK chairman of the International Chambers of Commerce - is also critical of company directors who have agreed to overly generous packages for executives, saying they have failed to do their jobs.

Shareholders around the world were "rightly irate" at the huge salaries paid to many executives, Buchanan told the Sunday Star-Times, particularly those in high-flying activities such as investment banking, when the capital of the companies they worked for had collapsed almost to the point of disappearing.

"So tell me how brilliant these people were at creating sustainable value," he said.

"The sort of stuff we get from the banks, that people like me find hard to understand, is when we are told, 'well, of course you have to reward talent'.

"My response to that is, 'look, I've worked in resources at BP and now at BHP Billiton. I've worked in telecommunications with Vodafone and in pharmaceuticals with AstraZeneca and I've worked with some seriously talented people and they don't expect those ginormous packages'.

"So what's going on? Have the banks got a disproportionate share of the talent? Well, not in my experience, and I met a lot of them when I was CFO at BP."

He believed recent events had exposed the executives who demanded and received those huge salary packages as emperors with no clothes.

But he also pointed the finger of blame at the directors of those companies for not standing up to the demands of their executives.

"These things are very challenging and it ends up as a poker game," Buchanan said.

"But you have to establish a policy and you have to see that policy through. And if you come across prima donnas that don't accept it, then you have to have a different sort of discussion.

"But if they think the money is more important than being part of the company and part of the team, then they have to make their choices and do what they have to do."

Buchanan believed some executives had acted as "quasi owners" of companies rather than as agents of the board.

"You can see that in the compensation issues.

"If the board is doing its job looking after shareholders, then you have to ask how these costs can be so high.

"I believe it's one of the board's jobs to keep some sort of balance. You are there to look after the owners' interests in terms of what is done and making them more prosperous, but also how it is done.

"And it requires robust independence to ensure it happens."

Buchanan himself takes (PndStlg)350,000 ($889,000) a year for chairing Smith & Nephew, the world No 4 hip and joint maker.

He described that salary as "modest". Others would say it's well rewarded for a two-day-a-week job.

His point is that he expects non- executive directors to work hard for the money. "It's about the shoe leather of getting out and about and making sure that all those sonorous noises you are hearing around the board table are reflected in the words and music you get when you visit the (company's) sites and locations and offices.

"I don't think New Zealand is any better or worse off than places like the UK.

"You can see a mix of companies, some that do it very well and some that do it much less well."
Although Buchanan lives in London, he maintains strong links with this country and its business scene.

He has an apartment in Auckland at St Heliers Bay and he and his wife, also a Kiwi, return here about four times a year. He is also on the advisory board of the University of Auckland Business School.

Buchanan said many New Zealanders had a mistrust of the business sector and he hoped the current government would be more business-friendly.

"If you look at the New Zealand economy, it's sort of been hollowed out. A lot of businesses have departed. It's not just individuals (heading overseas), whole businesses have redomiciled. I think smart nations realise you need to be business friendly."

Asian nations had been particularly adept at adopting business-friendly policies, he said.

"This is an internationally competitive market and if you are not user- friendly then people go elsewhere.

"That's really unhelpful for an economy because all those headquarters- type jobs and all those higher skills sets, as well as the tax base, evaporate. And that cannot be good for a nation because it's those taxes that pay for hospitals and education and roads and all those good things.

"So I think for New Zealand it's very important to be user-friendly towards business.

"It's about having stable tax regimes, it's about encouraging foreign direct investment, it's about not having penal rates of tax at high levels, it's about having tax breaks for research and development.

"It's also about being friendly to universities and not having caps on fees, so they can attract people from overseas," he said.

As far as having a more direct role in the New Zealand scene, Buchanan said he was open to the idea of becoming a director of a New Zealand company.

He already flies to Australia several times a year for BHP board meetings and says he spends so much time between the UK, Australia and New Zealand that he feels "almost stateless".

"If the right thing came along in New Zealand, I'd be delighted to be part of it."

* Born 1943, Auckland. Educated at Auckland Grammar School and University of Auckland where he earned a PhD in Chemistry, before undertaking further study at Wolfson College, Oxford and Harvard Business School.
* He was seconded to the UK Cabinet Office in 1976 and then began a 33-year career with BP.
* He was sent back to this country in the 1980s as head of marketing in NZ. He went on to become BP's group chief financial officer before retiring in 2002.
* Is currently chairman of medical devices manufacturer Smith & Nephew, deputy chairman of Vodafone Group, and a non-executive director of AstraZeneca and BHP Billiton.
* He chairs the UK International Chamber of Commerce.
* He was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Auckland in 2008 and is a member of the advisory board of its Business School. Has homes in Mayfair in London, and St Heliers Bay, Auckland. -

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Emaar to develop Saudi kilometre high skyscraper

The Jeddah tower
From a Kingdom Holding (KSA) Press Release 13 June '09 and Zawya.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's Kingdom group said Saturday it had signed Dubai-based Emaar to develop and supervise the construction of a kilometre-high tower in Jeddah.

The Jeddah Kingdom City and Kingdom Tower will comprise 23 million square metres (247 million square feet) of commercial, residential and office space on 530 hectares of land near Jeddah's international airport, Kingdom said in a statement. The Kingdom Tower was unveiled first in 2003 and in 2007 the Kingdom group announced that the US-based engineering firm Bechtel would oversee the project. Kingdom Tower is part of the Kingdom City development which will be one of the largest and most comprehensive real estate projects to be built in Saudi Arabia located at Obhur, North of the creek of Jeddah and the mountains to the east.

Prominently located on a prime site, the master plan, encompassing 5.3 square kilometers. Kingdom City in Jeddah is 20 km from the old city of Jeddah near King Abdulaziz International Airport. The centerpiece of the development will be the landmark Kingdom Tower. Kingdom City is expected to house 80,000 residents and accommodate 250,000 visitors who will enjoy its facilities; lakes, canals, water sports and other leisure activities.

Prince Alwaleed commented: "The alliance between Kingdom Holding Company and EMAAR is strategic."

EMAAR are in charge of developing and supervising the construction of Jeddah Kingdom City land and Kingdom Tower, the highest in the world. EMAAR was selected by Kingdom Holding from 5 other international developers, for their previous proven experience in the development of mega projects, their knowledge of the area and social setup. EMAAR was able to bring together an experienced team within a week from the signing to work on the development, master planning, traffic study, environment and updating market research and commencement of ground work. Furthermore, the preliminary license was obtained and the EMAAR team is working closely and in co-ordination with the Jeddah municipality.

The centrepiece of the 100 billion riyals (26.6 billion dollar) project will be a 1,000 metre-high (3,280 feet) needle-like skyscraper, taller than any building completed or under construction in the world.

The current tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which towers over the Dubai emirate to the east of Saudi Arabia at a current height of 800 metres (2,624 feet) while still not completed, is being built by Emaar.

According to industry reports Bechtel pulled out early this year.

Everyone’s talking nonsense

My head's spinning. Every day it seems, some "expert" gives their opinion on the state of the UAE property market and you couldn't get a broader range of opinions if you were discussing the All Black front row, or to use another analogy as there are local readers of this blog, whether Al Shabab should use the 4-4-2 formation. (Hey, don't blame me, I had to look it up on a website, I know zero...sorry nil...about soccer.)

These expert property opinions range from "the recession is over and prices are rising" through to "we're all doomed, abandon ship" with every shade of opinion in between. Its totally baffling. I thought about saving some of the conflicting headlines to write a piece on the confusion for the public who aren't experts and who need to make property related decisions but Anil Bhoyrul of
Arabian Business 13 June 09 has done the job already:

If you’re planning on buying a new home, I guess you only need to know one thing: have property prices bottomed out?

Depending who you believe, prices are now stabilising. Or they are actually rising again. Or they are falling just a tiny bit more. Or they are in freefall. Or you better get in now. Or don’t touch property with a barge pole.

Before you blog comments accusing me of being negative again, these are not my words but those of the experts. HSBC said in May that real estate prices in the UAE were stabilising after agreed prices in the two largest cities rose 4 percent in April and 5 percent in May from the previous month.

And earlier this week, Standard Chartered said that the market was stabilising after being in “freefall” for several months.

Yet today, from Deutsche Bank: “We expect UAE property prices to decline another 15 to 20 percent from current levels and only expect a bottom by year end.”

Hang on a minute. Two days ago, the respected National newspaper stated the following: “In Dubai, the price of homes in The Springs, Jumeirah Village, The Greens, The Green Community and Jumeirah Islands have risen from their lows in January by between five and 30 percent, according to Cluttons, an estate agency.”

Oh, and let me add that on Sunday, Arabian Business will publish an interview with ex-World Bank boss James Wolfensohn, in which he predicts that for global economies, “the worst” is yet to come.

So what is really happening? In the absence of any genuine and reliable data, I have come to only one conclusion: everyone who is trying to sell their property is lying.

They are lying about the price they will take, they are lying about how long it has been on the market, they are lying about how desperate they are.

Let’s take the quote from Cluttons, which says that in some parts of Dubai prices are up 30 percent since January. I hate to be blunt, but this is absolute, utter, complete and total nonsense. Codswallop. Tosh. I’m not accusing the very respectable Cluttons of lying. They are a great bunch of guys who have been around since 1765. (So please don’t call my CEO to complain late on a Thursday night, as some of your contemporaries like to do).

But they rely on statistics from their clients, and whatever they are getting are clearly flawed. A 30 percent rise since January would represent the biggest property boom taking place anywhere in the world during the last ten years.

Is this really going on in The Springs? And it’s not difficult to see why everyone is lying. Many speculators stuck with countless properties are facing ruin. Their multi-million dollar property portfolios are just a few thousand dollars away from collapse.

They have to claim that prices are rising, in the hope that if everyone says it enough, everyone will start believing it. This will, eventually, lead to a herd effect. We will all pile in asap, and therefore actually force prices up.

The only way to measure what is really happening in the market is through actual transactions made (not advertised or hoped for). But with virtually no transactions being made, everyone is giving it their best guess – hence so many different reports from highly respected organisations.Where do I sit in the middle of all this?

I am still of the view that things will get worse before they get better – as suggested by Deutsche Bank and James Wolfensohn.

But I might be lying...

Friday, 12 June 2009

The luxury mob moves on: Bin Hendi closes "Luxury Arcade" at Deira City Centre

From Arabian Business 12 June 09

Oh meeouw! Bin Hendi pulls out of Deira City Centre because its not "classy" enough and there aren't enough "luxury" shoppers......the second part at least is true, you could fire a cannon down there in the luxury arcade most days and not hit anyone except bored shop assistants.
Well, woohoo is my response to that. I love Deira CC, its full of real people doing their real shopping. We may be "non-luxury" to you Mr BinHendi but we non-luxury shoppers and our money will be around long after your precious luxury crowd have moved on. I'll also be sure to avoid your Second Cup coffee bars that remain in DCC, I wouldn't want to offend you by spending my "non-luxury" money there. If you want me you'll find me in Costas.

The earlier post is here.


BinHendi Enterprises confirmed on Thursday that its first own branded mall, BinHendi Avenue, has closed due to a lack of luxury shoppers in Dubai’s Deira City Centre.

Mohidin BinHendi, the president of BinHendi enterprises, said the closure was not the result of the downturn in Dubai’s retail sector but rather a consequence of shoppers choosing newer, glitzier malls over older ones for their luxury purchases.

“We are in luxury goods, and the mall is no longer for luxury goods,” he told Arabian Business.

“When new facilities come the old facilities lose their charm, and it’s happened to all the malls.”Deira City Centre was the third major mall, after Al Ghurair City and Bur Juman, to open in Dubai when it threw its doors open in 1996.

The Majid Al Futtaim owned development was the city’s largest mall until Nakheel’s Ibn Battuta opened in 2005.

Today it is one of Dubai’s most affordable malls, with brands like Carrefour, H&M and New Look among the tenants.

BinHendi will continue to operate two Second Cup coffee shops in the centre.

The two-storey BinHendi avenue had been home around 26 high-end stores selling brands such as Hugo Boss, Porsche Design, Phat Farm, plus a BinHendi Boutique selling luxury watches and jewellery, and dining outlets. The avenue was opened to a huge fanfare in December 2005.

In February a new BinHendi Boutique was opened in Emaar’s The Dubai Mall, following on the heels of another store in the Burj Al Arab in June 2008.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Dubai: Boom or Doom

From Travel Weekly, 9 June '09
A long, but very interesting article reviewing the indicators for imminent doom or future recovery in Dubai.
Re the reference to hotel prices, a current visitor is staying at one of the beach high end hotels for AED1200 p.n where last year he was paying AED3200p.n. I regularly receive flyers for Summer Specials including this year, the Atlantis which is now actually affordable for the first time. A couple of the business hotels in Old Town are now under AED400 p.n.
Depending on whose claims you believe, this luxury mecca, the world's most ambitious playground, is either teetering on financial disaster or poised to dominate leisure and business travel in the Middle East for decades to come.

Dubai has always had its share of contradictions, not least of which was its transformation from an obscure, relatively oil-poor desert country into a high-end beach destination and commerce center built on the themes of first, biggest and best.

But as the global economic meltdown has made its way to this once seemingly unstoppable boomtown, the country is grappling with a new set of contradictions -- or at least contradictory scenarios about how the country is faring in the face of a global drop-off in ultraluxury and business travel.

According to widespread media reports, Dubai pinned a large part of its economy around both of those markets and has now become a symbol of excess run amok, with the government and developers teetering on the edge of massive defaults.

A New York Times article earlier this year cited reports that parking lots at the city's modern new airport were clogged with cars that had been abandoned by expats fleeing the country after losing their jobs and their visas.

Privately, some local business officials say Dubai is broke and that sister emirate Abu Dhabi is bailing it out to protect the United Arab Emirates as a whole and the region's reputation. But government, hotel and airline executives here insist that the gossip and foreign media reports are grossly exaggerated.
Yes, the economy and business travel have slowed, they say, and some projects have been delayed. But Dubai, they insist, is doing just fine, thank you very much.

"Total nonsense," Gerald Lawless, executive chairman of Jumeirah Hotels, said of reports of Dubai's demise. "It really is wrong." Lawless noted that occupancy at the company's beach hotels was 97% in April; however, that was on an average rate of $578, down almost 22% from $739 in the same month last year.

Dubai's skyline is still dotted by seemingly endless construction cranes. But they no longer run 24 hours a day like many did at the height of the recent construction boom. In fact, many are not running at all, and sentences here often begin with "Before the credit crisis ..."

Projects that have already been announced will continue, insists Dubai's commerce and tourism spokesman, Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman. Many in the planning stages, however, may at a minimum be postponed.

"Only about 2.5% of projects have actually been canceled," said Nigel Page, senior vice president of commercial operations for the Americas for Emirates Airlines. "Virtually all projects that have started construction will be built."

Moreover, despite the fact that the economic crisis has taken a particularly large toll on some of Dubai's key tourism bases, such as Britain and Russia, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing says the number of visitors, which hit 7.5 million for all of 2008, is up 5% so far this year, while the number of visitors staying in hotels is up 7.5%.

The Russians, for example, "haven't stopped coming," said a tour guide with Arabian Adventures, an arm of Emirates Airlines that organizes excursions such as desert dinners and four-wheel-drive trips through sand dunes. "They just don't come in private jets anymore. They fly first class, and they don't get the Royal Suite, they just get a suite."

Fortunately for visitors, those suites are lot cheaper. The city's notoriously astronomical hotel rates are down as much as 60% in some cases. Yet they remain among the highest in the world.

"Some would argue that room rates going down are a good thing," Page said. "It really makes Dubai much more competitive."

Beaches still popular

Even Lawless, whose beach hotels once commanded some of the highest prices in the world, agrees the rate reductions aren't all bad.

"There is a pent-up demand for Dubai," he said. "Now it's accessible in terms of affordability."

He said rates were already in the process of correcting themselves as new hotels came on line last year. The number of hotel rooms in Dubai increased from 32,000 in 2007 to 40,864 in the first quarter of this year, according to the DTCM. Another 5,000 to 6,000 rooms are expected to come on line this year.

When the depth of the credit crisis and its global impact on hotels and tourism started to become fully apparent last year, it first seemed that Dubai and the rest of the Middle East might be spared.
Although the first cracks began to appear in September, the numbers improved again until December, when occupancy fell 16.5%, to 65.9%, rates fell 9.4% and revenue per available room dropped 24.3%, according to STR Global, a global alliance of Smith Travel Research.

In May, STR said, "Dubai has suffered dramatically compared with the Middle East region as a result of the recent economic crisis." Compared with the same period last year, RevPAR through March declined 35.9% in Dubai, driven mainly by drops in average daily rate, while the RevPAR decline for the entire region was only 13%.

"It's all variations on the theme of 'in the toilet,'?" said James Chappell, managing director of London-based STR Global. "Still, certain things need to be taken into account. One is that you are dropping from a very, very high base. Yes, it's bad, but average rates and RevPAR are still better than any city in Europe. ... It could be a lot worse."

Occupancy, he said, is still above 70%, which is considered healthy. And Dubai's rates are still the highest in the world, Chappell said, averaging $280. That contrasts with average rates in the U.S. that have been hovering just below $100. Only Russia had higher rates before the global economic meltdown, Chappell said, because it has such limited hotel supply.

Occupancies have rebounded in Dubai's leisure hotels, in part because of aggressive efforts by the government and air and hotel companies.

"We have planned for the crisis; we have a strategy," Rahman said, noting that the DTCM has 18 offices around the world.

As part of that strategy, the DTCM, along with Emirates Airlines and Jumeirah, has launched the "Keep Discovering Dubai" campaign, which includes hosting hundreds of journalists from around the world on three-day trips to the Emirates, aggressive advertising across Europe and packages promoted to consumers that include free and discounted hotel stays and airport transfers.

"People who are thinking about coming to Dubai are scared about their money," Rahman said. "So we are providing added value, things like children stay free. This is one of the things that will let us help them come to Dubai."

The country is also aggressively courting both tourist and meetings business from places such as China, whose economy remains strong, he said.

It was clear on a recent visit to the country that tourists are indeed still coming. Dubai's airport terminal, though big and modern, was packed. A chair could hardly be found in Emirates' sprawling business-class lounge. And negotiating the crowded gate and duty-free-shop areas was like trying to navigate a New York subway terminal at rush hour.

At the country's newest megaresort, Atlantis, which was built as a gateway from the Persian Gulf to the man-made Palm Island, the lobby, pools and aquarium areas were busy on a recent weekday, and resort officials said occupancies were in the mid-70s.

Business hotels, however, have taken a bigger hit than the beach resorts. On a recent weekday, a hotel worker at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, across the street from the country's financial center, said that occupancy was just 48%.

Lawless, however, said he is seeing signs that "our exhibition and conference business is slowly coming back." The bulk of the county's tourism is from Europe.

The modern city also attracts a number of shoppers and tourists from places like Saudi Arabia. Last year, only 465,000 of the 7.5 million visitors to Dubai were Americans, and most of those were business travelers. Still, the DTCM, which has an office in New York, said it hopes to open a second, West Coast office to increase tourism from the U.S.

Emirates Airlines now has nonstop flights from New York, Los Angles, San Francisco and Houston, and it is eyeing service from Chicago.


Dubai is the second largest of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Although its economy was built on the back of the oil industry, Abu Dhabi has the bulk of the Emirates oil. Petrodollars account for only about 3% of Dubai's gross domestic product, and it's estimated that the wells will be dry in 15 to 20 years.
Dubai Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum developed the country's grand vision to transform itself from a regional port into an extraordinary tourist destination and the most important city between Europe and Asia.

As part of that plan, the country has developed the famed man-made Palm Islands as well as "The World," a group of private islands that resemble a map of the world. Two other Palm Islands are also under development. Dubai is also home to the iconic, sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel, built just off the beach on the country's first man-made island.

But the theme that drives Dubai's development is "biggest and best."

- Set to open in September is the Burj Dubai, the tallest building in world.
- The just-opened Dubai Mall is the largest in the world.
- The Mall of the Emirates houses the world's largest indoor ski hill.
- Dubai Land, which is still in the early stages of development, will be bigger than Disney World.
- The fountains outside the Dubai Mall and new Address Hotel shoot higher than those at the Bellagio.
- Near the port is the world's largest aluminum plant.

With much of the development being led by entities of an opaque government, it is difficult to determine, though, exactly how Dubai and its economy are weathering the economic crisis and the crash of its real estate market.

Page recalled that on a recent weekend he could hardly find a parking spot at one of the country's famed shopping malls. "So is the economy doing badly? It is down a bit, but I don't think it is doing that badly," he said.

Still, questions about Dubai's economic future and its plans for dealing with the crash of its real estate market were renewed last month when the country's finance minister was abruptly fired. Nasser al-Sheik was overseeing the administration of a $20 billion bond program launched by Dubai and purchased by the U.A.E.'s central bank to ease liquidity problems at a number of government-related entities, including developer Nakheel.

According to the Financial Times, the emirate has said it has about $80 billion in outstanding debt, and Nakheel, the development arm of the government that is building its World and Palm islands, is one of the main recipients of the bank bailout.

In addition to developments around Dubai, the government, through Dubai World, is a 50-50 partner in MGM Mirage's $8.5 billion Las Vegas CityCenter, which has struggled to meet its debt obligations.

Arthur de Haast, CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, said it was hard to know exactly what was happening in the region, but he expected it to survive the real estate downturn.

"In the Middle East, at the end of the day, much of the development is driven by government-related entities," he said. "Even those that are so-called nongovernment are major families that are operating out there. They are all closely linked. It is a pretty tight-knit community, and the reality is you've already seen a big bond issue largely underwritten by Abu Dhabi. I think that Dubai itself may be under pressure, but there is sufficient liquidity within the U.A.E. as a whole to sufficiently manage the situation."

In an interview podcast available on Emirates Airlines, Mohammed bin Ali al-Abbar, director general of the Department of Economic Development and chairman of Emaar, which is developing the Burj Dubai and Dubai Mall, said the U.A.E. has taken necessary steps to protect the economy.

"The global situation is affecting everyone," al-Abbar said. "The good news in the Middle East is that the fix really starts from the banking system. The banking system in the Middle East is quite healthy. The banks have been regulated in a first-class manner."

Still, he said, consumer sentiment and "a little bit of tourism has been affected."

Asked if the recently opened Dubai Mall and the planned September opening of the Burj Dubai will be affected by bad timing, he said, "It depends on who you are dealing with. If you are dealing with a developer that has leveraged heavily ... then I think you would have a challenge. Thank God we are smart. We are lucky. We don't have that issue."

A lingering question, though, is how al-Maktoum's grand vision for Dubai might be blurred in the long term by the current crisis.

"In a year-and-a-half, two years, one year, as the world gets back on its feet, I think this development and the city of Dubai are ready to be at the front," al-Abbar said.

Chappell and de Haast agreed that the country's future, especially its tourism markets, remains rosy.

"I think demand will bounce back," de Haast said. "As a destination, one thing that Dubai is very good at is marketing itself extremely well."

Chappell said Dubai has "had a big shock" that will serve in some respects as a reality check.

"They had a big scare," he said. "But what's not to like? They are going to come back, and they are going to come back strong. ... They might be more selective in their projects, scale back some of the more ridiculous ones. But I think in many ways, as ridiculous as this sounds, this whole thing will have done them a huge favor."

Dream jobs dwindle for Australians in Dubai

Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Rd in Dubai

Article from The Australian 28 May '09. The "fear and loathing" referred to in the article is working both ways. You don't have to read too many UAE web forums to see a growing number of anti-expat postings (in English) as the "If you don't like it go back to where you came from" brigade is overtaken by an increasingly virilent sentiment reflected in a recent posting. Its one of the tamer anti-expat posts "....the western way of life inherently is devoid of any real deep meaning. A westerner doesnt have that deep capacity anymore. He/she [only] has a capacity for power, money, whores..." Pfft, I wish! Though, I'd be magnanimous with the first, demonstrate good stewardship of the second and the other is not my territory.
Dubai's dream jobs have evaporated and hopes of making quick riches have been replaced by an air of fear and loathing following the arrest of several Australians this year.

Five months after taking on a job in a large Dubai property group, a Sydney property specialist has returned to Sydney as promises made during the interview disappeared the day he arrived in Dubai.

"The project for which I was hired to develop was cancelled due to the credit crunch," said the executive, who declined to be named.

"The base salary was $US500,000 ($640,000) a year plus generous bonuses. Potentially, it was a $US1.4 million package - tax free." The icing on the cake was to be six weeks of annual leave.

But two months after taking on the job last October, he said: "The Australian executives in my company were arrested on allegations of corruption. There was a real sense of unease in that place."

Expatriates have been arrested along with local employees on charges of alleged corruption and espionage.

"It is quite unbelievable. It is like stuff you see in a James Bond movie," said another Australian executive.

Officially, the charges remain unclear. Those who spoke to The Australian said the bursting of Dubai's property bubble had sent companies and authorities searching for someone to blame.

The irony was that nothing happened in Dubai without the signature of the chairman of the company, said one Australian executive who resigned because the company changed his job description on arrival.

"An individual had his computer removed from his desk when he went on holidays. On his return, the company's security guards escorted him out of the building," the executive said.
"He believed sensitive information in his computer regarding an offshore investment that has gone sour overseas could be the reason."

Stories and circumstances of how expatriates have lost their jobs have painted a grim picture of Dubai. Some of those still employed talk of paranoia and fear of persecution.

The reason? The arrest of fellow Australians, mostly in the property sector, without charges.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said 17 Australians were currently detained in Dubai.

He said five were in prison or detained. Of these five, three had been charged. They faced a variety of charges on a variety of matters.

The situation of the remaining 12 was unclear as no charges had been laid, but their passports had been seized to prevent them from leaving the country, sources said.

An official source said the number of Australians getting into trouble with the law in the UAE had risen from 23 cases in 2005-06 to 55 in 2007-08 and still rising.

"There is no doubt the number of cases is growing, but then the number of Australians working and living in the UAE is also rising," said the source.

He said charges could range from drunkenness, not paying a bar bill to more serious charges such as embezzlement.

The most high-profile arrests are those of two former employees of Dubai-based Nakheel, Australians Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, detained without charges since January. They are alleged to be involved in bribery over the sale of the Waterfront site, now controlled by the Queensland-based Sunland.

While these cases are pending, a small number in senior management is concerned about phone tapping and monitoring of their emails, according to industry sources.

Several persons who lost their jobs recently spoke to The Australian on an anonymous basis, citing concerns of inadvertently implicating former colleagues still in Dubai.

One expatriate said that in at least one instance, the employer held a person "hostage" by refusing to return his passport. The passport was finally returned after the intervention of his embassy.

"Holding on to passports is apparently a common tactic in disputes over severance payments," said one executive.

"I was not paid out when I left, but I was not about to argue with them. I just wanted my passport back to jump on the first plane out."

There are now about 20,000 Australians working in Dubai, lured by wonderful job descriptions and huge salary packages.

As jobs dry up, the Gulf's largest investment bank EGF Hermes says Dubai's population will shrink by 17 per cent this year.

During the boom years, Dubai's population grew by about 20 per cent a year, said Keith Parker, an expatriate living in Dubai.

The number of employees in the worst-affected sectors of construction, real estate and financial services will drop by 30 per cent this year, according to EGF Hermes.

Reports said 54,684 residency visas were cancelled in January alone. Most of those affected, however, are workers from South Asia.

Those who spoke to The Australian said when a person terminated his contract, he or she would be banned from taking a position with another company in Dubai.

These people also face financial hardships such as locked-in rental payments and relocation costs.

A source said accommodation costs are much higher in Dubai than major capital cities such as London or Sydney.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Getting from A to B in Dubai: It ain't easy.

It should have been simple; arrange for our IT man to drive an overseas visitor out to Jebel Ali for a meeting at the head office of a major US firm.

First snag, trying to find exactly where the company head office is located. Its not as easy as it sounds. Dubai has no system of street addresses so there is nothing like "#244, Najoom Street, Leyaltown, Dubai" or anything like that, locations are given in relation to local landmarks. Readers may remember I wrote about street directions given to me when I first arrived here "…its where the Oasis Centre used to be", which wasn't much help to me as a newcomer as the Oasis Centre had burnt down at least 12 months earlier.

There are numbered streets here, but the same street numbers are used in each of the communities (suburbs) in Dubai. If you live in, for example, 11A Street in Mirdiff, there is also an 11A Street in Satwa, Jumeirah, Al Quoz, Rashidiya and another 11A Street in each of the 100+ communities. No wonder the sharwama delivery guys get so confused. A recent arrival in our office was bemused when filling out a US form as he tried to squeeze "The villa with the orange door just past the second roundabout…." into the small box on the form allocated for his residential address. Its either that or expect overseas authorities to believe that everyone in Dubai lives at the Post Office - Dubai residents quickly get used to putting 'PO Box xxx' as their residential address.

Back to the task in hand. I found the Jebel Ali company's website but unfortunately no location map there. The simple answer seemed to be to phone the head office to ask for driving directions from, say, Ibn Battuta Mall. I thought to myself "Surely they'll be used to this type of call. They'll probably have a map they can fax or email to me." So, I made the call at 5:05pm, bearing in mind that in Dubai office hours are 8:30 - 6pm so the office would still be open.

The phone rang and rang and just as I was about to hang up, a voice answered and said something unintelligble. That was the best part of the conversation, from there it went downhill:

Is that XYZ Inc?
Yes Madam
Can you give me driving instructions to your office please. I have a visitor who has an appointment at your office tomorrow.
No, I'm sorry the office is now closed.
But they have to be at your office first thing tomorrow morning. I need to give them directions tonight or they'll be late for their meeting.
No I can't do that, the office is closed.
If the office is closed, then why are you answering the phone?
It's my duty.
Okay, can you just tell me the nearest exit number?
No I can't do that, you'll have to telephone the office tomorrow.
Why can't you tell me now? Is the office location moving overnight?

And then there was complete silence except for the dying moans of my attempt at sarcasm. He hadn't hung up though, he was just waiting for my next move, it was a standoff. This man was not going to overstep the limits of his authority and dip his toe into the murky waters of customer service by giving me directions to the office he was currently standing in and presumably travelled to every day. No siree, that sort of stuff had to wait until the office reopened the following morning.

I admitted defeat and hung up, my brain addled. Eventually I contacted someone else at the head office, who helpfully sent me a faxed map showing the location of the site office of an unrelated construction company (?!?!)

The next morning the visitor set off with our office IT man at the wheel. After an hour of driving round and round Jebel Ali, they rang the head office (after opening time of course). They were given careful driving instructions which unfortunately proved to be wrong as the road described to them hasn't even been built yet!