Future of Gulf construction looks brighter, says survey

Construction work on the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 January 2018

Future of Gulf construction looks brighter, says survey

LONDON: There are signs of improving optimism in the Gulf construction sector, despite continued worries about delayed payments and contract disputes, a new report said.
Overall sentiment in the building industry has risen by seven percent in the last two years, from 32 to 39 percent, a survey conducted by law firm Pinsent Masons’ found. The majority of the companies surveyed are involved in projects with a value of more than AED500 million ($136 million).
The UAE came out on top as the market expected to generate the most growth in the region, with 38 percent of respondents saying they expected the country to generate the most opportunity over the next 12 months.
“The UAE is set to see an increase in the number of projects during 2018 and we expect the country to remain in top position, particularly in the lead-up to Expo 2020,” said Sachin Kerur, head of Middle East region at Pinsent Masons.
Sentiment toward Saudi Arabia also improved, according to the survey, with 29 percent of respondents expecting the Kingdom to provide the biggest opportunities over the next 12 months. 
In 2016 just 11 percent of respondents said they saw the most opportunities in the Kingdom.
There were also pockets of pessimism, with 20 percent of those surveyed expecting their order books to decline by more than 10 percent in the coming months.
Around 86 percent of businesses said contract conditions have become less favorable during 2017, which is roughly in line with sentiment in 2016, while the same proportion said payment periods were longer in 2017 than the previous year.
Close to 70 percent of respondents said they were involved in more disputes during 2017 than had been expected.
“Whilst analysts predict a slight economic revival across many GCC markets during 2018, the survey results are indicative of what has been a challenging time for the construction sector — which has grappled with the impact of lower oil prices and ongoing geopolitical tensions,” said Sachin.
The report also highlighted the rising importance of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to attract inward investment into the industry. The survey found that 40 percent of respondents were currently involved or expected to be involved in PPP projects during the next 12 months. This compares to 32 percent in 2016.

A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

Updated 29 February 2020

A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

  • A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism
  • It hosts a learning center that has partnered with universities to promote a new form of educational tourism

CAIRO: “Community is everything, surround yourself with beautiful souls and watch what happens. So much love, I feel it bubbling out of my chest,” writes Madison Cooper.

The experienced yoga instructor and assistant manager at The Kings Arms pub and music venue in Salford, UK, said this when describing her experience in the Habiba village, a remote beach community in the middle of Egypt’s South Sinai desert.

It was this feeling of peace and tranquility that brought Cairo-born Maged El-Said and his Italian wife Lorena to the Egyptian port city of Nuweiba to settle and eventually start the Habiba community in 1994.

The community is a village that hosts an eco-friendly beach lodge, an organic farm, the Sinai Palm Date foundation and a learning center partnered with universities and organizations around the globe to promote a new form of educational tourism by hosting professional certification courses in permaculture and agriculture ecosystems.

More than 90 percent of Egypt’s land is covered by deserts, Sinai being part of the Eastern desert that occupies more than 20 percent of the country’s surface area, with very few populated villages and cities along the Red Sea coastal strip.

“I am sure there is enormous potential to invest in our huge deserts. The hidden value is in the people if we learn from each other the best way of integrating management of resources,” El-Said said.

This, however, is easier said than done: El-Said, who is now in his sixties, spent almost 20 years taking “agritourism” from a concept to a meaningful business.

He succeeded in 2009, when tourists started coming to volunteer at the organic farm merely to enjoy the experience of isolated serene living.

Before that, El-Said spent several years doing a series of seminars and workshops and inviting local and international experts in organic farming to discuss the agritourism model.

His first introduction to the field was in Italy, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Italian language and literature in the 1970s.

Italian agritourism gained traction around the time when the agricultural business became less profitable.

Farmers in Italy were giving up, transforming their farms and farmhouses into vacation homes where tourists could stay and experience farming.

“People come to enjoy the beautiful nature and the serene surroundings, eat clean food and leave with fresh ideas and a new perspective on life,” said El-Said when explaining the concept of agritourism.

While the idea is widespread in the US and many European countries, it remains nascent in MENA. Sporadic trials around the region are currently under way, including a licensing program launched by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities for farms willing to explore the concept and offer agritourism services.

Expanding the scope of its target community, the Habiba learning center has been working toward hosting a series of certificate program.

Among them are an internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificate course that provides an introduction to sustainable living systems for a wide variety of landscapes and climates.

The move is intended to attract a more professional interna- tional audience and establish a new breed of educational tourism. El-Said has an ambitious plan for the future, hoping he can establish a desert research hub within his community and start replicating the model in other Egyptian resort cities by the year 2025.

“It is challenging but beautifully rewarding; people are resistant to change, but when they see a working model, it becomes easy for them to follow,” he said.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.