Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of Al Habtoor Group (AHG), one of the largest privately-owned business conglomerates in the region, said the first quarter of 2021 fared better-than-expected thanks to the post-pandemic recovery in the United Arab Emirates.
Al Habtoor said AHG took measures early in 2020 to ensure it could withstand the fallout from Covid-19, which is still impacting much of the world, including industrialised nations. “The Covid-19 pandemic, which took the world by storm, took everyone by surprise. It was something no country was prepared for, let alone companies or individuals. Many industries around the globe were brought to a standstill or faced complete collapse, particularly the travel and tourism industry,” Al Habtoor said.
He added, “Some of the world’s largest nations failed in dealing with virus and managing its impact. Many are still struggling to get the pandemic under control, introducing lockdown after lockdown, and severely impacting business operations and the economic recovery.”
He praised the UAE authorities for their handling of the crisis. “The United Arab Emirates was exemplary from the start. We have proven that we are a nation that excels in crisis management. Protecting our citizens was the number one priority. The collective efforts from the government and the willingness of the general public to support their measures are to be commended.”
Speaking about the diverse industries that AHG operates in, Al Habtoor noted that the real estate sector in Dubai recorded strong sales growth of 17% in January 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier: “We have seen solid growth in our real estate division, achieving a more than 300% surge in the volume of sales compared to the same time last year. This growth is being driven by investor confidence in the Dubai Real Estate market and the superior quality of the product. Many buyers from the Middle East, parts of Europe and the United States are seeing the UAE – particularly Dubai – as a safe and stable environment to relocate to.”
He praised the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) for its rapid rate of Covid-19 vaccine distribution. “The UAE administers more than 120,000 doses of the vaccine daily. Currently, more than 8 million people have been vaccinated in the country. We are well on the way for the UAE to become the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire population. This is one of the reasons why we are witnessing a pickup in certain sectors, like real estate and hospitality.”
The UAE was recently named as ‘the most popular tourist destination for 2021’ in a study conducted by global travel firm Kuoni, who revealed that the country has emerged as the world’s most searched destination for 2021 in 11 countries.
Al Habtoor said that UAE’s hospitality sector has managed to withstand the impact of the pandemic to regain a healthy level of business and noted that his hotels have witnessed a steady rise in occupancy rates. “Our ability to be agile and adapt to the needs of the market have been critical to our success,” he said.
He noted that a ‘boom’ in staycations has contributed to the resurgence of hotel occupancy rates in Dubai, which reached 71% in December, the highest level since February 2020; oscillating between 50 and 70% over the past three months throughout the Emirates. “While we cannot receive guests from countries in lockdown, we continue to welcome guests from countries still able to travel, such as the CIS, Eastern Europe and the US,” Al Habtoor said.
He acknowledged that it was hard to see hotels close their doors at the start of the Covid-19 crisis, with hotel lobbies looking like ghost towns. “I am pleased to see them back to life and delighted that the hospitality industry in Dubai is well on the road to recovery.” Al Habtoor said he is expecting 2021 results to surpass those of 2019. He praised the creativity of the teams at Habtoor Hospitality who had to ‘reinvent’ their sales approach, looking at offers and opportunities to reinvigorate the market. “Some of our hotels are already ahead of last year by more than 20%, year to date,” he added.
Al Habtoor said the UAE’s success is down to the excellent crisis management and transparency of the authorities, as well as the collaboration between the private and public sector. “It was a collaborative effort,” he said. “We prepared for the worse, adapted, and found ways to navigate the extreme circumstances we found ourselves in. At the Al Habtoor Group, we mobilised our business continuity plan very quickly and focused on cost efficiency and optimisation. We managed to turn a challenging year around.”
Al Habtoor said other parts of the business are faring well. The Group’s car leasing business, Diamondlease, increased its fleet size by 24% to reach more than 10,000 vehicles in the period from March 2020 to March 2021, with 90% utilisation. He also noted strong results at Al Habtoor Motors, which match pre-pandemic numbers, and increased demand at Emirates International Schools.
He concluded, “My belief is stronger than ever, that Dubai is a safe haven for investors and for business. I am proud to wave the UAE flag.”