Property | UAE

Cityscape MD: 'Challenging times behind us'

As Cityscape celebrates its tenth edition in Dubai this month, its managing director Rohan Marwaha tells us what prospects await exhibitors and visitors

  • By Binesh Panicker, Property magazine
  • Published: 00:00 September 15, 2011
  • Property

Cityscape 2010
  • Image Credit: Gulf News archive
  • Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, at Cityscape last year.

During the boom time, Cityscape acted as a platform to bring together buyers and sellers, with each edition witnessing several sales transactions and project launches. However, today the event is more or less a litmus test for the real-estate sector in the region.

With this year's event just around the corner, everyone is curious to know what lies in store at Cityscape Global 2011. Will it corroborate real-estate agents' assertions that the market is getting back on track? What will visitors get to see at Cityscape — new projects or completed properties?

Moreover, will the event tell the world where the real-estate markets in the region stand currently?

Property talks to Rohan Marwaha, managing director of Cityscape, to find out what he thinks of the event, what visitors can expect and how the Dubai property market is expected to fare in the years to come.

While industry analysts claim prices and rents are still going down, according to real-estate agents, there's been an increase in the number of enquiries and transactions over the past few months. What's the current situation in Dubai's real-estate market? Have you noticed any movement in the market or is it stagnant?

The past few years have been challenging for the real-estate industry. The rapid growth we witnessed up to 2008 was driven, to a large extent, by speculators. This was not a sustainable foundation for real-estate growth, as we have all realised today.

We have seen a distinct shift in the type of investors attending Cityscape Global — where, traditionally, it was dominated by speculative investors, today the visitors are focused on the long term and looking for more information to weigh their options.

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There have certainly been stronger signs of stabilisation in Dubai's real-estate market in recent months. The basic fundamentals of demand and supply are working their way into the market dynamics. Certain areas are holding prices very well or even witnessing an increase while values could still slide further in other enclaves. As with other markets around the world, location is the key factor when it comes to real estate.

Members of the real-estate sector look at Cityscape as an important event. What role does Cityscape play in helping the markets fight back?

There have been significant changes to the economic climate over recent years but this has not affected our commitment to deliver real value and quality products to the real-estate industry.

Transferring knowledge, creating transparency, rewarding excellence, networking and sharing best practice are the objectives around which our organisation is built. Many of you will know about our major events which run once a year in various emerging markets around the world.

These platforms exist to enhance and support the vision for real-estate growth to an international audience, highlighting iconic architecture, revolutionary developments and investment opportunities.

In addition to these major events, however, we also achieve our objectives through a series of conferences, meetings, award functions and information services.

Each year, we embark and invest in new initiatives to help drive the industry forward and this year will be no exception. The next 12 months will see new events in the latest hotspots around the world — Egypt and Qatar to name but two.

I am pleased to say that our online networking platform, CityscapeConnect.com, launched last year, is being developed further to ensure people can connect with our network all year round. Our business breakfasts have proved to be extremely popular and are being rolled out to yet more cities around the world.

We continue to work closely with our advisory boards, comprising visionary leaders and senior decision-makers, to provide market insight and strategic direction to our products. This way, we can ensure that as the market changes, we continue to deliver the most valuable products for the benefit of the industry.

There is usually a lot of hype surrounding Cityscape events. Given the current market conditions, how do you expect this year's event to fare? What is its significance to the real-estate market?

All our platforms build up to the main event, Cityscape Global, being staged this month. Dubai is once again the destination for the main event that serves as a bridge between emerging and mature real-estate markets. It attracts the largest international participation. The event has weathered the storm of the past few years and celebrates its tenth edition in Dubai this year.

It is important to remember that Cityscape covers all asset classes within the real-estate spectrum, including residential, commercial, industrial, hospitality and retail. Each of these sectors has unique fundamentals and opportunities which are discussed during seminars, conferences and round table events, and also showcased on the exhibition floor.

The Global Real Estate Seminars are interactive discussion platforms, bringing together senior decision-makers from across the industry to provide delegates with an in-depth debate on real-estate investment market fundamentals and growth strategies in global emerging markets.

The World Architecture Congress is a premier forum for the global architecture and design industry with a focus on new best practices, highlighting international design triumphs and delivering sustainable communities for the future.

The Future Cities Conference, organised in partnership with Dubai Municipality, will showcase leading solutions and technologies, deliver information and inspire debate on the needs of the cities of tomorrow.

The Retail City Conference will host global retailers, investors, shopping centre developers, franchise networks, shopping centre management and regional authorities as part of a forum to take a new look at the retail real-estate environment in the context of today's economic climate.

The Occupiers Day will be launched at Cityscape Global this year. This provides corporate end-users with a wide range of content-driven seminars, workshops and business-matching opportunities to update them on the latest market offerings and best practices in office site selection, fit out and regulations. Not only does this programme provide value to corporate end-users, it also creates an opportunity for our exhibitors to network face-to-face with occupiers looking for suitable commercial space in the UAE or beyond.

There are conflicting reports about whether this is a good time to buy. Experts have been issuing statements about current market conditions that have only added to the confusion. What advice would you offer prospective buyers — wait or go for it?

Cityscape is not in the business of property consultancy and, therefore, we do not advise on or against any specific investment opportunities. We do believe, however, that investors in the past have made investment decisions on the basis of insufficient and inaccurate information.

Fortunately, today investors are more cautious. We believe that Cityscape Global's conferences offer investors the perfect platform to learn about the general outlook of emerging real-estate markets around the world. Meanwhile, the Cityscape Global exhibition allows them to explore specific investment opportunities that are showcased.

Although predicting the future of Dubai's real-estate market is rather difficult, reports abound on where the industry is headed. What's your opinion on the future of Dubai's property market? How do you expect it to perform in the mid- to long term? Do you foresee major growth?

We believe the most challenging times are behind us. Signs of market stabilisation are becoming stronger. Real estate should be an industry with a long-term vision. However, if we focus on the UAE's prospects in the mid- to long term, market indicators are, in fact, very favourable.

The IMF has projected a healthy GDP growth for the UAE at 3.5 per cent for 2011 while a recent CB Richard Ellis report ranks Dubai among the top-ten global business destinations. In addition, the Arab Spring has had a positive impact on the UAE, and Dubai in particular, as it has helped to reconfirm its position as a stable and leading business hub for the wider region.

The announcement by the UAE Federal Cabinet to extend visas for real-estate investors from six months to three years is also positive news for the real-estate industry. It comes at the right time as it will take away much uncertainty for investors.

Market analysts are generally expecting an increase in demand from both overseas as well as resident investors as a result of this announcement.

We hold a positive outlook for real estate in the UAE for the mid to long-term. It cannot be ignored, however, that investor confidence and transparency remain issues that need to be addressed.

Cityscape also takes a pro-active approach in offering developers and regulators a stage to report on the progress of ongoing projects as well as the implementation of new laws and regulations.

Cityscape's timeline 

2002 The first edition of Cityscape Dubai is held at Emirates Towers Hotel. It is a relatively small-scale event compared with today's.

2004 Cityscape Abu Dhabi is launched. Cityscape takes the first step towards creating an international portfolio of real-estate events.

2007 Cityscape expands and moves to the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre. The event continues to be held here today.

2008 Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre is sold out for Cityscape Dubai. Cityscape becomes the largest organiser of real-estate events globally.

2010 Cityscape rebrands ‘Cityscape Dubai' to ‘Cityscape Global', recognising it as the international flagship event in its portfolio of six annual real-estate platforms.

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