Dubai: Horse trading is big business — globally.
For example, more than two million people own horses in the United States — the biggest market for the horse trade.
The equine industry in the region is growing and we are playing a leading role in it
There are 9.2 million horses in the US. Total tax paid by the industry to the US government reached $1.9 billion in recent years.
The horse racing industry contributes about 2 to 2.5 per cent to US gross domestic product (GDP), according to industry reports.
The UAE hosts the biggest equine industry in the Middle East and Meydan City intends to be the epicentre of the region's horse trade.
"The equine industry in the region is growing and we are playing a leading role in it," said Saeed Humaid Al Tayer, Chairman of Meydan City Corporation, developer of one of the world's largest horse racing facilities in the world.
He said the equine industry in the UAE hosts about 4,000-5,000 horses employing between 3,000-4,000 people. However, it indirectly impacts the tourism, hospitality and exhibition industry.
"Its position in our economy is significant and we contribute handsomely to our economy," Al Tayer said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. The following are excerpts:
Gulf News: What is the current status of the Meydan City project in terms of development activities?
Saeed Humaid Al Tayer: Meydan City is a growing story. We built the Meydan Grandstand as the centre piece of the master planned project three years ago.
We are adding a number of new facilities.
Now gradually, we are working to realise the vision — an integrated lifestyle destination that caters to every aspects of the equine industry — from horse racing and hospitality to the training centre, the breeding of horses, etc, the entire industry.
Over the last few years, we have completed the landscaping, construction of roads, infrastructure and associated works. We have recently completed the district cooling and power distribution plants that will ensure a smooth supply of power, cooling and water to our residents and visitors.
I think to an extent we have achieved our objectives so far even though we have more goals in the near future... for example, we are on the verge of opening the Golf Course and the Club House right after the World Cup.
We have opened the Tennis Academy at Meydan. We are soon opening the Meydan Beach Club at the Jumeirah Beach Residence that will cater to the growing number of tourists that we serve at the Meydan Hotel.
We are also making the final plans for the launch of Meydan Horse Academy that will be announced by a board member soon. We are in the final stage of launching it.
However, Meydan will remain a low density, high-end community where you will see more open space. It is meant to be a lifestyle destination. So we are progressing as per our plans and gradually it will take a much bigger shape than what you see around us.
We are extremely happy with what we have added to Meydan City development so far.
Are there any individual projects within Meydan City coming up for construction this year?
We have finalised the construction of 528 villas that will be built for Emirates airline's pilots. Construction is going to start soon.
We are currently negotiating with consultants and partners on developing a signature mall at Meydan City that will cater to the residents as well as visitors.
We are currently benchmarking the mall against some of the best facilities in the world.
It is going to be one of our key projects within Meydan. A project of such magnitude usually requires about Dh2-Dh3 billion worth of investment.
We are currently negotiating with investors to build two hospitals that will serve the future residents of Meydan.
We are also talking to the authorities to develop a permanent jogging and cycling track that will help fitness and health conscious people to use these. These will help attract more people.
You have signed an agreement with an Indian developer — Sobha Group — to develop Sobha City within Meydan City last month. Is there any update on this project?
Sobha is one of our partners. We consider all our investors partners of Meydan. Because, one has to understand our philosophy, what we stand for… and share the Meydan vision.
In a similar way, Sobha Developers are a strong partner who embraced our vision and will play their role in implementing it. Once they are ready with their plans, they will start works on the projects.
You had announced a project in China. What is the status of the development?
We have a strong partner in China to execute the Tianjin Horse City project. We have done a study that recommends the development of 3 to 4 projects of this scale as China is a large country, a growing economy with people's lifestyle are changing and this will strengthen the growth potential for horse racing and the equine industry.
A country like China would probably need more such facilities going forward.
However, we have also presented another location for a second project with our partner in China.
Are you planning some more international projects in other countries, such as India?
India is seriously on our radar. We are waiting for the right partnerships and the right opportunity.
Your hospitality division — Meydan Hotels operates two hotels — Meydan Hotel and Bab Al Shams. Are you planning to add more to the portfolio? If so, when?
Yes, we are interested in adding more hotels, if the right opportunity arises. However, right now we are focusing on strengthening the existing two hotels within our portfolio.
We are currently more focused on brand building, strengthening the brand image of the hospitality division of Meydan.
Are you building any more hotels?
Yes, we will build a boutique hotel close to the new shopping mall that will cater to business and leisure travellers. To construct such a hotel, requires Dh1 million on average per room. So, if it's a hundred rooms, then you are talking about Dh100 million.
What are the challenges being faced by Meydan in executing projects — is it finance and low market demand?
Meydan has undergone lots of challenges. The biggest challenge was to build the Grandstand in record time in extreme odd situation — amid the financial crisis when companies were shelving projects.
We have overcome those challenges. Our journey is going to continue amid challenges. However, there are opportunities as well.
Do you have any plans to raise funds — through loans, sukuks or bonds?
Not at the moment. However, we work closely with our banks on any funding that we need.
How important is Meydan for Dubai's economy? Other than the horse race, what are your plans to make it a year-round destination?
Meydan compliments Dubai's attractiveness. Dubai World Cup is part of emirate's major events.
Although horse racing is a seasonal event, the destination will remain a year-round [and be] full of activities. The golf course, the tennis academy, the horse trainer's institute, the hotel — all are geared to cater to visitors to the facility.
Dubai World Cup has become a subject of a major global media attention. International media participation quadrupled in recent years as the show gains more audience. It is currently one of the most sought after global horse races. It helps Dubai's tourism and hospitality sectors.
It is the only horse race in the world that attracts participation from all over the world.
How many people are currently working for Meydan?
We have about 2,000 people currently working for Meydan.
During the height of the World Cup, more than 4,500 people will look after the event.
I am very appreciative of my team members. They are working very hard and the success of Meydan could not have been achieved without their contribution and support.
A master-planned community
Meydan City is a mixed-use project in Nad Al Shiba area of Dubai. It was launched on the eve of the 2007 Dubai World Cup. The entire development will cover more than 3.7 million square metres gross floor area (GFA) on a land size of around 1.4 million square metres.
Meydan racecourse officially opened on March 27, 2010. The development includes hotels, sky-bubble restaurant, entertainment, clubs, a concourse plaza, towers and a boat house.
Meydan Racecourse is able to accommodate more than 60,000 spectators in a 1.6km long grandstand.
When not used for races it will serve as a business and conference integrated facility. A horse racing museum and gallery are also planned. The development also includes a nine-hole golf course.
The 7.5 million square metres Meydan Racecourse includes Meydan Marina, the Meydan — the world's first five-star trackside hotel with 285 rooms — two race tracks and the Grandstand, which comprises a hotel, restaurants, a racing museum and 72 corporate suites for entertaining throughout the year. It has a 2,400 metre left-handed turf race track and a left-handed 8.75-furlong (1,750 metres) Tapeta synthetic dirt course. It operates from November to March and features the Winter Racing Challenge, Dubai International Racing Carnival and the Dubai World Cup Night. The Dubai World Cup is the world's richest race day with over $26.25 million (Dh96.4 million) in prize money.
The overall Meydan City development however is 1,900 hectares. It is divided into four sub-districts: Meydan Racecourse, Meydan Metropolis, Meydan Horizons, and Meydan Godolphin Parks.