Water activities, port and realty investments buoy UAE maritime industry

To cater to this growth in the maritime industry, nearly $65bln was invested in ports across the UAE in 2018

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Dubai Creek or Khor Dubai is a saltwater creek located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Dubai Creek or Khor Dubai is a saltwater creek located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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As the UAE's maritime industry continues to grow - driven by an increasing interest in activities such as sailing, watersports and fishing trips, as well as investments in ports and beachfront property developments - experts say that the UAE will continue to grow in popularity as a destination for boat owners.

The Middle East has long cemented its position as a key marketplace for yacht owners, with 216 superyachts registered in the region. With an anticipated wealth growth of $12 trillion across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region by 2021, spending power is on the rise. Manufacturers have noted an increase in demand for leisure boats and superyachts alike throughout the Gulf.

To cater to this growth in the industry, nearly $65 billion was invested in ports across the UAE in 2018, leading to the UAE being ranked as the world's fourth best performing and logistically advanced port last year. A relaxing of formerly stringent maritime laws, and an extension of duration for crew visas has also been responsible for a spike in interest in recreational boating.

Speaking ahead of the 27th edition of the Dubai International Boat Show, which is one of the most anticipated events for the global maritime industry, Abeer Alshaali, executive management officer at Gulf Craft, noted that the ongoing growth in the number of new residential developments, that are away from the busy city hubs and by the sea, are definitely drumming up interest in the maritime lifestyle.

"The developments have helped to enhance the idea of what it is like to own a boat and have it docked at a berth close by your home. We are excited and look forward to the opportunity to design and create boats that will work well on the canals in Dubai for the new developments. We have reached out to our previous boat owners and let them know that if they have yachts that have trouble fitting under the new bridges, then they can bring them back to us and we will alter them," she said.

The global recreational boating market is expected to be worth around $74.7 billion by 2022. In the UAE alone, the industry was valued between $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion in 2018. In addition, the country also witnessed a 50 per cent increase in local berths - a number which is set to grow by a further 1,400 with the 2020 opening of the new Meraas-developed Dubai Harbour. The UAE's recreational boating market, now home to more than 10,000 registered small-to-midsized boats, enjoys a considerable share of the Middle East's 216 40-metre-plus superyachts. The region as a whole is investing heavily in its maritime offering, with the UAE accounting for 35 per cent of that total investment.

"We are very happy to see the progress that is being made at the Dubai Harbour, and we are excited to see what it will look like next year," said Alshaali.

"We want to make boating accessible and affordable to everyone. At Gulf Craft, we have the largest range of boats in the world from 27ft all the way to 175ft and including everything from affordable day boats for fishing to big luxury yachts. Prices range from what you would pay for a family car to hundreds of millions of dirhams for a big yacht. The idea in making it affordable is to allow the younger generation to experience what it is like to be out on the water and for it to be passed on from generation to generation. We are seeing a growing interest in multiple families pooling in their resources and purchasing a yacht so that they can enjoy it together. We are also seeing the charter market grow, which creates lots of opportunities in the market."

"It is not just about residents," she added. "We are also working very closely on tourism for international visitors that might want to experience such activities. For example, if a visitor wants to rent a hotel room for a month and have a berth outside that he can use, then we are happy to see where we can take the idea."

Nawfal Al Jourani, director of the Dubai Maritime Cluster Office at the Dubai Maritime City Authority, also spoke about the recent easing on regulations that have been welcomed by the maritime community.

"Dubai creates a platform for engagement for everyone; it is a system that is driven by vision and leadership. The maritime community in Dubai is driven by the private sector, but the government sector takes great care in ensuring that it listens to the private sector and implement initiatives that helps them with their needs. We are engaged with maritime companies such as Gulf Craft to develop the ecosystem and the community. We want to make doing business easy, accessible, and rewarding. Mobility is a key factor in making Dubai's maritime sector such a vibrant place to do business," he said.

Ahmed Al Ameeri, CEO of Seas and Deserts Group, another long time exhibitor at the boat show, said that Dubai is a very important maritime destination, and that there has been a growing interest in its offerings from around the world. "This year, we have a lot of requests for yachts coming from clients in Vietnam, the US, Jordan, and Lebanon. The Middle East and, in particular, the GCC countries, is now one of our central markets, to which we have delivered large numbers of our famed Azimut Yachts, with many of these sales orchestrated through the Dubai International Boat Show."

Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president, Exhibition and Events Management of Dubai World Trade Centre, noted that the participation of over 800 different companies and brands from 50 countries at the boat show this year, is indicative of the growing interest in the region's maritime sector. "We are operating at maximum capacity for the event. For us, it is about more than just selling boats at the event; we want to highlight the lifestyle by the sea that Dubai is known for. Dubai and the UAE remain extremely attractive to international brands."

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