The upcoming tenders for the national pavilions at the Expo 2020 site could make for a brisk start for the UAE’s construction sector in 2019. Even otherwise, there will be a steady supply of residential and hospitality projects keeping contractors busy, according to a senior industry source.

“Several countries are on the verge of issuing tenders — that’s the market we are hearing,” said Kamal Farah, a member of the board of directors at ECC (Engineering Contracting Co.). “Obviously, some of them could well be the most prestigious tenders coming out next year.”

In recent weeks, more countries have announced the design theme of what their national pavilions would look like. With the tenders being released and contracts awarded, those visions will then take on a more concrete form.

The UAE had last year picked Arabtec for the main works on its pavilion, on a design put together by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. He is also the one behind The Tower — Dubai’s next super-tall structure — at the Dubai Creek Harbour. There were four contenders in the final round for the UAE National Pavilion tender.

“The construction sector went through a bit of rebalancing act this year — but there was never any drop in activity,” said Farah. “These were more in the nature of slight adjustments, and that is to the industry’s good. It’s not because of any inherent weakness.”

Some in the industry have expressed concerns that the local construction sector will start feeling the pinch from the sharp drop in new off-plan project launches. This year has probably been the worst one for off-plan since 2010-12, when the market went through an extended downturn and then got back into launch mode in 2012.

But Farah is not too fazed by the off-plan drops. “There’s a lot of talk about upcoming work at Emaar Beachfront and on the Dubai Hills project. Residential-related tenders are still being put out. There’s no drop to zero activity as such.

“In Dubai, there’s always something happening on the infrastructure side and related to the Metro. In fact, we are currently working on some of the Metro station refurbishment works.”

On the residential side, ECC has two projects that are headed for completion in early 2020. These are for 716 residences at the massive Town Square development located off Al Qudra Road. A project from Nshama, Town Square will eventually see the build out of 18,000 apartments and 3,000 town houses over its 750 acres.