Interview: Sharjah's Shurooq bets on big growth backed by $2bln project portfolio

Investment and development authority pledges to drive economic diversification through projects including hotels, shopping malls, luxury apartments, and nature inspired tourism

Kalba Waterfront project

Kalba Waterfront project

Shurooq / Handout via Zawya

The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority is forging ahead with tourism, real estate and retail projects worth billions, including those in outlying areas of the emirate of Sharjah, as part of a long-term economic diversification strategy. 

Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, executive chairman of the authority, also known as Shurooq, told Zawya that its current portfolio of projects is worth AED 7.56 billion ($2.06 billion).

The company recently announced a range of new projects in Al Dhaid, Kalba, Korfakhan and Mleiha, which are outlying areas of Sharjah, as well as the imminent completion of existing projects.

Kalba Waterfront project. Image courtesy Shurooq.

Its existing projects include cultural destination the House of Wisdom, due to be inaugurated in the fourth quarter of 2020, Maryam Island’s Maryam Beach Residences, due for completion in December 2020, and Kalba Waterfront, a retail project due for completion in the second quarter of 2021.

Avenues Mall Sharjah, a 65,000 sqm venture developed in partnership with Kuwaiti real estate developer, Mabanee, near the Mughaider suburb, is due to be inaugurated in in the fourth quarter of 2022, and will include 71 leasing units, 70 percent retail and 30 percent food and beverage outlets.

The new outlying area projects include a 60-room family retreat within Seih Al Bardi Kabeer safari park project currently in development in Al Dhaid interiors, two five star hotels at Kalba and Khorfakkan, Sharjah’s enclaves on the East Coast, and the Moon Retreat, an eco-tourism destination in Mleiha, which will be in addition to the existing Mysk Al Faya retreat.

Al Sarkal said the projects are part of a long-term economic diversification strategy for the emirate.

“It is a strategic undertaking that seeks to implement Shurooq’s vision of transforming Sharjah into a leading hub of nature-inspired experiences and brings the emirate’s central and eastern regions within the folds of its ambitious plans,” he said.

“Shurooq has a portfolio of completed and ongoing projects worth AED7.56 billion extending across a total area of 11.74 million square metres.

“It has successfully achieved the perfect harmony between luxury and culture in developing current and upcoming cultural and eco-tourism projects,” said Al Sarkal.

“Today, Sharjah is at the forefront of eco-tourism thanks to its roster of projects developed by Shurooq which have contributed to the emirate's diversified growth. Shurooq invested around AED 5.14 billion in tourism projects between August 2015 and 2018.

“It has been promoting the emirate’s status as one of Middle East’s most progressive and dynamic tourism destinations to the world at venues like the World Travel Market, ITB Berlin, and other top international shows for travel and tourism, and what you see now is all that effort beginning to pay off.”

While tourism is a key focus for Sharjah for its post-oil economy, demand for flights in the region remains ‘critically low’ according to recent research published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggesting that it will be some time before the international market recovers.

Maryam Island project. Image courtesy Shurooq.

But Al Sarkal said it is not simply tourism, but also environment, education, healthcare, light manufacturing, transport and logistics, technology and research and development, that are part of the emirate’s economic future.

Shurooq’s Sharjah Sustainable City, a 7.2 million sqft AED 2 billion mixed use development, billed as the first fully integrated, net zero energy community in the emirate, will feature urban farms, greenhouses, electric power charging stations and waste recycling plants, will reuse water for irrigation and is part of the diversified investment strategy that Shurooq has followed from inception, said Al Sarkal.

“Sharjah enjoys the distinctive advantage of a strategic geographic location between Asia, Africa, and Europe, with investors enjoying instant connection to a customer base of more than 2 billion people in these markets. This has led to its overall growth across all sectors, not just tourism,” he said.

He also highlighted the ways in which Sharjah businesses have pivoted to take advantage of new opportunities that have arisen during the global pandemic.

“Historically, forward thinking organisations with strong contingency plans have responded better to the business impacts of any crisis situations or emergencies.

“Similarly, technology savvy companies that had already existing response teams and remote working facilities have been able to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 much more effectively.”

Sharjah Sustainable City project. Image courtesy Shurooq.

Al Sarkal cited Immensa Technology Labs, a 3D printing company at Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation (SRTI) Park, which began producing face masks and shields. Falcon Pack, which was already manufacturing safety equipment for the food industry, began making hygiene packs, face masks, shields, and gloves, for medical use, he said.  

“There are several other such survival stories in Sharjah which have served as an inspiration to other businesses which are struggling in this scenario,” he said. 

“Undoubtedly, the federal as well as local governments have helped companies weather the situation through stimulus packages, favourable labour laws and exemptions in various fields.

“The lesson we have learnt from this disruption is that businesses need to stay flexible and change strategies to suit the situation.”

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)


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