|Gulf states spending billions to emulate Dubai's tourism success|
|Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait all involved in mega projects
Following in the footsteps of Dubai's mega tourism and real estate drive, Gulf states are pushing their own plans to lure visitors and open up their property sector to foreigners to stimulate their economies.
Dubai's bid to become the region's business and leisure hub to help compensate for depleting oil reserves has apparently set off a domino effect in the region where Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait have announced multi-billion dollar projects.
Affluent Dubai has launched several grandiose housing, entertainment and resort developments on artificial islands, three in the shape of palm trees and one resembling a world map.
Property yet to be built on at least one of the islands has been sold three times over, as investors across the Gulf Arab region seemingly brush off the threat of terror or instability.
Capitalising on a potentially lucrative market, gas-rich Qatar is in the throes of its first international real estate venture with The Pearl-Qatar, a $2.5 billion artificial island off its coast.
The initial phases of selling apartments on the development, which will include housing for up to 30,000 people, met with an overwhelming response from regional and international investors, developers said.
The island, to take the shape of a bay eventually covering an area of four million square meters of reclaimed land, will boast luxury hotels and marinas. Foreigners who buy property on it will be granted permanent residency, as is the case in Dubai.
Hussam Abu Issa, vice chairman of Salam International Investment Company in Qatar, said The Pearl was the country's first unique project.
"The government is also trying to locate other areas where foreigners can buy property," he told AFP. "It's the trend of government policy to encourage investment, and there's been a very positive response." Qatar is building a $5.5 billion airport to handle up to 60 million passengers annually by 2020, while Dubai has embarked on a $4 billion airport expansion project with the same target.
Since creating a Tourism Ministry last June, picturesque Oman is actively promoting itself as a Gulf destination.
"There's various projects in Oman to encourage more investments," said Mohammed Ali Said, the ministry's director general. "There's a master plan to develop a lot of areas." Last year, the Omani government launched The Wave, an $805 million resort project stretching along miles of virgin beachfront just west of the capital Muscat, with 400,000 square meters of it to come from reclaimed land.
Some 400 kilometers from the capital in Ras al-Had, the sultanate will next year start work on a multi-billion dollar eco-resort including an airport and houses open for sale to foreigners.
"There's no competition between us and the [other] Gulf [states]. We complement each other. Tourists can go shopping in Dubai and come here to see the real culture, tradition and heritage," Said said.
Tiny Bahrain is building its largest luxury residential, commercial and resort development, one of the kingdom's three major leisure and housing projects to encourage investment.
The $1.2 billion Durrat al-Bahrain, or Rising Pearl, will consist of 13 islands and a range of facilities with 2,000 villas and 3,000 apartments available for sale to expatriates.
Due for completion by late 2009, it is expected to be one and a half times larger than the capital Manama and accommodate 30,000 residents and 4,000 visitors daily.
Bahrain's Cabinet on Sunday approved additional areas in specific touristic regions where non-Bahrainis can own real estate.
Conservative Kuwait, where alcohol and discos are banned and hotels need permission to stage musical concerts, is also vying for a slice of the region's expanding industry, taking a first step by easing its rigid visa rules.
The emirate, which raises more than 90 percent of its income from oil, is attracting investors for a multi-billion-dollar project to turn its Failaka island into a major holiday resort. It is also mulling over the idea of allowing foreigners to buy property.
Beirut,04 11 2005
The Daily Star