Business

GulfNews Business

Commercial property buys in the UAE come with many plus

Analysis|Property|: A majority of my clients are comfortable with investing in residential property, because most have rented or bought for their own use. And therefore understand what that experience entails. However, very few have actually had similar experiences with commercial property and are, therefore, a little less confident in investing in this potentially lucrative segment. Commercial property can add diversification to a portfolio. Segments within the real estate market rarely move in tandem and a mixture of residential and commercial can make an overall portfolio more resilient to inevitable market cycles. See More More COVID-19 rapid screening centres opened with Dhs50 per test Ferrari unveils the 620 horsepower Portofino M In Pictures: Hurricane Sally’s aftermath Z Proto: Nissan brings past and future together with new Z! Risk and reward All things being equal, commercial generate an RoI (return on investment) at least double that of residential. This is mainly due to lower per square foot capital cost, but also reflects the higher levels of risk associated with owning commercial property. Managing tenants in a commercial property is also more straightforward. You will have a business-to-business relationships with tenants, and many of the emotional issues that can complicate residential leasing arrangements won’t exist. It’s easier to keep interactions professional and focused, and fruitful relationships can be built over time to attract blue-chip tenants. They are likely to rent your property for a longer period and less likely to default on payments. In many cases, commercial tenants and property owner interests are aligned. The tenant wants an efficient operation that presents a favorable impression to his customers, business associates or peers and, in this way, is more likely to assist the owner maintain or even improve the property. Setting values Establishing a true value of the investment is often easier with commercial. Reviewing the current owners’ income statement and existing lease details will provide a good indication of likely cashflows and help establish an accurate valuation. Residential properties are often subject to more emotional pricing, developer inefficiency and cost recovery considerations. Many sides to a lease Lease variations abound for commercial properties. The requirements of a tenant operating a high turnover regional distribution and logistics center for non-perishable goods will be vastly different of those of a tenant who requires refrigerated goods storage to supply local retail outlets. In addition to lease rates, negotiations can include such items as maintenance, implementation of storage and logistical systems, provision of office fitouts, insurance, lease-to-buy options… the list goes on. However, there are some possible downsides the investor should consider. Longer gestations Let’s use a warehouse as an example. As most commercial leases are of a duration exceeding two years, with many being of five years with options for an additional five, it could take some time to find a new tenant. Additionally, your current tenant may vacate due to tough economic conditions. Residential property can be resilient when it comes to economic factors over the long term and finding new tenants is not as difficult. As the lease for each commercial facility can be negotiated with flexibility only limited by law, owning a portfolio with numerous commercial properties can be time consuming and complicated. You will need professional help just to handle issues such as maintenance and sundry emergencies. Remember, your clients will be relying on you to address any issues that arise with your property immediately. They, like you, do not want to forgo any revenues or incur costs because of a problem with the property or premises that you provide. Purchasing a commercial property of a size that can generate significant cashflow will typically require more capital upfront than a residential investment. Also, as the scale or size of the premises can be huge, unexpected repairs or major maintenance items can be expensive. This requires careful provisioning when calculating lease rates and free cashflows for re-investment. There is a greater array of physical and safety risks associated with commercial properties. Warehouses, for example, are often frequented by trucks, forklifts or other heavy machinery, which means damage can be substantial from accidents. Having proper insurance is a must, not only for damage to premises and systems, but also in the event of personal injury or death where you, as the owner, can be held liable. Remember, your investment is actually operating as a commercial venture and can receive high volumes of people traffic. As usual, greater returns will attract greater risks. However, as part of an overall balanced investment portfolio, there is no doubt that commercial space can be very lucrative indeed. - Mohanad Alwadiya is CEO of Harbor Real Estate and senior instructor at Dubai Real Estate Institute.

GulfNews Business

Bring in AI's influence to UAE's classrooms

Analysis|: Artificial Intelligence has become such a topic of debate, with developments progressing faster than ever. We have made incredible leaps in the pursuit of further automation, and the UAE is right at the fore. The government have mapped out a plan for AI integration across transport, health and space, with a target to achieve specific objectives by 2071. The UAE was also the first in the world to appoint a government minister dedicated to AI, and has already started rolling out AI programmes, such as the CCTV network ‘Oyoon’ - credited with hundreds of arrests - and facial recognition software at airport E-gates. See More Dog swim day: Munich's canines take a dip This Japanese restaurant is trying to sell curry to Indians Photos: New products, services rolled out by Apple Mexico holds symbolic raffle for unwanted presidential jet Embed With such rapid success already evident, the UAE should now look to expedite a similar incorporation of AI into educational institutions. There is a clear roadmap to follow... and even potentially add to. Existing technology is already capable of several feats that can enhance the learning experience, as well as ease the burden on teachers. David Kellerman at the University of New South Wales in Sydney has developed a system capable of answering a pre-designed set of questions, flagging up other questions for teaching assistants to follow up on, and track students’ performance to build personalised study sets. This delivers a more personalised mode of teaching. US universities like Syracuse, the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon University have all developed their own systems that can analyse students’ specific strengths and weaknesses, which it can then use to design an individualised feedback package delivered in real-time for them to work on. Pick one off the shelf The UAE can draw upon existing infrastructure developed by these universities, as well as collaborate with any number of companies that have designed their own platforms. Some mainstream examples include Cram101 (a software that condenses traditional syllabuses to make them more comprehensible with summaries, flashcards and tests), Netex (which allows professors to create pre-set assistance programmes with helpful videos and a personalised assessment tool), and ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Space, a programme that assesses students’ proficiencies across subjects, then designs specific curriculums to ensure gaps in knowledge are adequately filled). It is important to note, that these AI systems are not designed to replace teachers entirely, but rather assist them. I can relate to the common phenomenon of feeling lost in a class where the teacher is trying to address everybody at once. AI can cut out much of the administrative work that tends to occupy a large proportion of teachers’ time, such as marking tests or analysing student data to highlight areas for improvement. This way, AI can streamline much of the educational experience, alleviating teachers of their more mundane responsibilities, freeing up more bandwidth for one-on-one instruction. I can attest to feeling frustrated or discouraged within certain subjects because I struggled to comprehend concepts that came easily to others. If my teachers had more time to allocate to working alone with me on my weaknesses, I am confident that I would have progressed faster and further. Sets them apart This is a quandary that is undoubtedly felt by students and teachers, and one that AI can resolve. Further, AI will also be a boon for UAE schools looking to distinguish themselves as among the best. The more that AI is assimilated into educational institutions, the more appealing those institutions will be to potential talent. Delivering cutting-edge educational experience is a sure-fire way to differentiate local institutes from global competition. Although this will take years to accomplish, the potential payoff of ameliorating the UAE’s international reputation as a heavyweight competitor in the educational sphere certainly seems worthwhile. - Umer Lakhani is a Dubai-based undergrad.

GulfNews Business

Homegrown Dubai membership apps make experiencing luxury easy and affordable

Retail|Technology|: Dubai: Don’t feel like signing up to be a member of any one gym? Then ‘subscribe’ to many… and at rates lower than a single gym membership.  Subscription apps now offer that choice to UAE residents, allowing them to pick and choose among a large list of leisure and entertainment options. The X by OJ Lifestyle is the latest to join the band of apps, which also includes Privilee, Classpass and Entertainer.  See More Photos: Landmarks illuminated for Berlin's Festival of Lights Musical interlude: London stage creeps back to life UAE: Artist depicts Emirati women’s history in digital exhibit Look: Taiwan craftsmen creates miniature worlds And these apps are tapping into a changing mindset among residents - rather than be tied down to any one beach club, gym or salon, they prefer to be ‘free agents’. So they pay a flat fee via the app and enjoy the perks from varying providers.  Privilee, for example, is one such membership app. Members who sign up get unlimited day passes to a number of Dubai's beach, pool and gym venues each day of the week. “We’ve seen consistent growth over the past five years - we started off with eight hotels and a handful of members in Dubai,” said Lars Johannesen CEO and Founder of Privilee. Today, the app allows access to over 60 luxury resorts, 31 beaches and over 1,000 fitness classes across the emirates.  Not sticking to one “Over the past few months and with most people staying in the UAE due to the pandemic, we noticed that members are exploring a larger variety of venues, rather than sticking to the same spots,” said Johannesen. Of course, if all the listed venues can promise the same level of safety assurance in precautions taken against COVID-19. “I am generally not someone who likes to sign up for any memberships,” said Sarah Mahmoud, a Dubai resident. “However, when the pandemic prevented summer travel, I signed up to Privilee for Dh1,500. My kids and i went to different five-star hotels four times a week.” Subtle differences Although these membership and subscription apps may seem to have a lot in common on the surface, it’s a fact that no two services are exactly the same. And the ongoing downturn is impacting them differently. While some have focused on acquiring new subscribers through incentives such as discounted membership rates, like Privilee did during the quiet summer months, others focused on retaining them by providing additional services, as Entertainer did by adding more emphasis on delivery options. Then there was the one who ventured into the space now despite the unpredictable circumstances. Omar Jackson, the app's founder, who launched the “X” by OJ Lifestyle, is going in a different direction. “A lot of membership platforms in the UAE are mostly there to offer discounts or special packages, but we are not tied to those criteria,” he said. “We have fewer brands - but our focus is a higher-end consumer.”  The rationale is that someone who can afford to utilise the brands that the X app partners with shouldn’t have an issue affording the Dh699 a year membership. “We want to make sure that we capture the right clientele,” Jackson said. “We market the brands that we consider high quality in terms of service, reputation, and we will focus on generating revenue and awareness for them rather than diluting them across the competition.” The app promises members access to “offers and experiences”, including events at the Coca Cola Arena and to The Box gym. No one formula fits all The gyms are back in action, but with strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News Like Privilee, Classpass is another one of those “get more for less” apps, but with a focus on gyms and spas. Founded in 2013, ClassPass provides access to a network of fitness and wellness providers. “Dubai has quickly grown to be one of our Top 30 markets globally by subscriber count - quite the feat considering we operate in more than 3,500 cities,” said Sam Canavan of ClassPass. “Dubai punches well above its weight and [is] similar in subscriber size to the likes of Hong Kong and the Philippines.” According to Canavan, the average Dubai user takes three classes per month, and tries an average of six different class genres - so clearly variety is key. Starting from Dh65 a month, the prices of access is quite competitive given that signing up for some of the popular Dubai gyms can cost an average of Dh2,000 a year. Clearly, annual membership tied to any one service provider is in for some heavy disruption from these apps. And there are no clear winners as yet...

GulfNews Business

Apple to launch online store in India on September 23

Retail|Technology|: Mumbai: Apple Inc. will this month begin direct sales online in India - more than 20 years after the world's most valuable tech company first began operating in the South Asian country that's one of world's fastest-growing smartphone markets. It will launch its online store  on September 23 and offer its full range of products from iPhones to Mac computers and provide support directly to customers for the first time, following years of lobbying New Delhi to get around regulations that force foreign companies to source 30 per cent of components locally. See More This Japanese restaurant is trying to sell curry to Indians In Pictures: Madrid fashion week kicks off Ferrari unveils the 620 horsepower Portofino M In Pictures: Hurricane Sally’s aftermath Smartphones account for the bulk of India's online retail by value, and Apple will be among the first global companies to sell directly online before it opens a brick-and-mortar store. Apple's India online store will offer customer support in both English and Hindi, allowing it to reach out to the country's 1.3 billion people just ahead of the October-November festive shopping season that culminates with Diwali. The iPhone maker has been boosting investments in the South Asian country to reduce its dependence on China both as a market and manufacturing base amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. The company previously only offered its devices in India through stores owned by franchise partners and via online platforms including Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart Online Retails Services Pvt. It intends to open a second physical store in the technology hub of Bengaluru, following an outlet in Mumbai that will be its first brick-and-mortar store in India.

GulfNews Business

Dubai's hotels await the business traveller from October 1

Tourism|: Dubai: Starting October 1, Dubai’s hotels will be getting back the business traveler. Or those visiting the city to be part of conferences or exhibitions and want to book a hotel room for the period. Hotels in the city are reporting an increase in enquiries, though it may still take time for these to translate into bookings and stays. The sense of caution over COVID-19 is still very much there – but Dubai’s tourism authorities and its hotels are learning to cope with it. See More Dog swim day: Munich's canines take a dip This Japanese restaurant is trying to sell curry to Indians Ferrari unveils the 620 horsepower Portofino M COVID-19 delays completion date for Spain's Sagrada Familia Dubai has given the green light to host meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE), and expects the last three months of the year to provide some lift to the ailing hotel industry. Last year, 2.3 million visitors landed in the city for business purposes, and a significant number from this took part in events. Now, if Dubai can get back a portion of that in the next three months, it will help businesses salvage something from 2020. It would also help hotels shift their attention slightly from the extra focus they had been giving to generating local demand via staycation offers. Some of the high-profile events have shifted to 2021, but if enough visitors turn up for those that will open in the next few weeks, that would still be a win-win for hotels. This year, hotels are aiming for incremental gains.  The response to the staycation promotions offered partial relief to UAE hotels. Now, heading into the last few months of what has been an unprecedented year, hotels will hope that business travellers will make a return. Plus, all those wanting to catch the winter sun. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News Touching 60% would be a win “It is still early to predict month-on-month occupancies, but we do expect many of the UAE hospitality submarkets to tip over the 60 per cent occupancy,” said Philip Wooller, Area Director at STR, a consultancy focused on the hotel industry. “The UAE [hospitality sector] is fast approaching the traditional season whereupon tourists arrive for the winter sun. “But it will still be some way off from 2019 numbers.” But confidence is brewing The lead times between making a booking and the guests turning up are reducing sharply, according to Alexander Lee, Chief Commercial Officer of Jumeirah Group. This is an “important shift in booking behavior from key international source markets,” he added. What this could mean is that the leisure or business traveler are once again making those travel and hotel stay plans in the city. But instead of making those plans well ahead of a future visit, those decisions are being taken almost overnight. The re-launch of exhibitions and conferences from October should see more of that happen. But 2021 is when a full-scale improvement is most likely to show up. “Upcoming events such as the Arabian Hospitality Investment Conference, Arabian Travel Market, Expo 2020 signify a positive step towards the recovery of the city’s MICE and hospitality industry,” said Lee. The Jumeirah Group recently opened in Dubai Marina, with the Marina Gate’s serviced apartments catering to “anticipated demand for long stays and business travels in the near future.” “The opening of Dubai in July to international visitors had a positive impact on our bookings, especially from Europe and Russia. We are optimistic we will continue to welcome more overseas guests as well as the domestic staycation market Alexander Lee of Jumeirah Group A new source market in the making The signing of the Accord with Israel opens up opportunities across sectors, and UAE’s hospitality space will be no exception. Launch of direct flights, and if it happens the earlier the better, should see hotels pick up some traffic and guests by December or January. Much depends on what rates will be in place during the period, even though many in the industry reckon that room tariffs are unlikely to see major gains even with higher demand. The feeling is that there will still be plenty of rooms to take care of it. Build on the staycations Mask up... There will be no dilution in the strict health and safety protocols. It will also go a long way in reassuring guests. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News There is no doubt that UAE hotels’ refocusing on getting residents to spend part of their enforced local breaks at their properties went off much better than many in the industry had hoped for. The staycation promotions clicked… and in a fairly big way. Even with all the extra precautions that had to be taken, these guests meant a few percentage point improvements in occupancy rates. And after a bleak four months, the July and August tally did come as much needed relief. “In the last month, as restrictions began easing up in Dubai, we have seen a significant increase in enquiries for conferences, product launches and weddings,” said Akshay Bajaj, Group Manager at Five Hotels and Resorts, which operates two properties in the city. “We have some bookings for corporate events from the local market… but also from the UK. With our current occupancy levels, fully booked dining events along with our food and beverage offers, the increase in enquiries hasn’t come as a big surprise. If more hotels in Dubai can start saying the same from October onwards, these would be the post-pandemic breakthrough the hospitality industry was searching for.