S. Arabia, Iraq within Range

DUBAI - Range Hospitality, a UAE-based property developer, is turning its investment focus of investment in Saudi Arabia and Iraq as the religious tourism is gaining strength in the Middle East, its top official said.



By Muzaffar Rizvi (INTERVIEW)

Published: Mon 27 Feb 2012, 10:44 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 11:19 AM

The company will increase its presence in Iraq by opening hotel projects in Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad during the next three years. It has also plans to develop and operate a series of hotels in Makkah and Madinah to cater the needs of entire Muslim audience.

“The religious tourism market we are covering tends to be focused in the Middle East region. As well as Iraq, our expansion plans include to have a presence in Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia,” Range Hospitality chief executive officer Munaf Ali told Khaleej Times in an interview.

About the company’s major project in Iraq, he said construction of the $175 million Al Rawdatain Residences hotel project in Karbala is underway.

The company has successfully sold Shariah-compliant fractional ownership and is expected to complete the development by the end of 2013.

“The foundations works, which tend to be the most critical part of any development, are near completion and we are ready to start going up very soon,” Ali said.

Designed by Dewan Architects and Engineers, the UAE-based firm is behind projects such as Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi and the Baghdad Rotana Hotel. The new hotel, which was launched in August 2010, has 624 apartments and it will be the largest five-star hotel and residence complex in Iraq.

“The project will be managed by Shaza Hotels. It is a 65,000sqm, G+12 hospitality development and is conveniently located just one kilometre from the holy shrines.

We secured funding from the sale of off-plan Shariah-compliant time share over the past 18 months,” Ali said.

“As extensive foundation works come to an end, the site has been transformed from a 7,500sqm excavation to a fully fledged operational building site. This includes various contractors, sub consultants and engineers working around the clock to deliver the project on time.

Future development plans

“Rather than a opting for the traditional concrete structure, we decided to design the project using a steel structure. It is obviously much more costly, but it has the major advantage of saving considerable time,” he explained.

About the future expansion plan in Iraq, he said Range Hospitality aims to operate both three-star and four-star hotels in Najaf by 2015. “We remain focused on delivering quality projects and we aim to announce a project in both Najaf as well as the capital city of Baghdad.”

In reply to a question about investment in Iraq, he said Iraq has a number of attractions, as well as home to a number of religious cities. “The country is undergoing considerable development and growth. With the political, security and economic situation improving on a daily basis, inflow of visitors has seen enormous growth. One of the largest industries to benefit is the hospitality and tourism industry.”

“The group always looks for potential markets and we found that Iraq offers a very favourable foreign investment environment making it a lucrative market for investment. Thus finding a gap in luxury accommodation across all spectrums, we went ahead with this large development to cater to over 20 million pilgrims who visit Karbala every year, and face acute shortage of residences,” he said.

As the political situation in Iraq is settling, Ali said pilgrim numbers are expected to swell and the city’s facilities cannot cater to their needs. “As the religious tourism market was ripe for development, we took the lead and are confident that people will appreciate Range Hospitality’s offering.”

In reply to another question about Saudi foray, he said the group has a firm plan to enter the kingdom and will unveil its development strategy in near future.

“We have already received a number of inquiries from regional partners to consider joint ventures in Madinah. The group also intends to develop and operate a series of hotels in Makkah to cater to the needs of the entire Muslim audience,” Ali concluded.

muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com


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