x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ambitious Sharjah sets out to recapture its glory days

Sharjah is targeting almost Dh5 billion in projects spanning tourism, transport and health care as officials seek to recapture some of the lustre of the UAE's former boom town.

Sharjah is focusing on four areas for its next phase of growth: travel and leisure, transport and logistics, health care and the environment. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Sharjah is focusing on four areas for its next phase of growth: travel and leisure, transport and logistics, health care and the environment. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Sharjah is targeting almost Dh5 billion in projects spanning tourism, transport and health care as officials seek to recapture some of the lustre of the UAE's former boom town.

The projects, which will be part government and part private sector funded, are aimed at diversifying the economy and creating jobs for locals.

"Our role is reigniting Sharjah's glory and putting it back on the map when it comes to areas like business and leisure," said Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal, the chief executive of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, known as Shurooq, the government agency responsible for luring investment and driving development.

"Our focus is to look at what was special in Sharjah and attract back investments." Lacking the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, led by its ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, set about generating wealth in other ways.

It built the UAE's first shipping container terminal, Port Khalid, in 1975, while Sharjah also established one of the leading universities in the region, the American University of Sharjah.

But the emirate is now focusing on four areas for its next phase of growth: travel and leisure, transport and logistics, health care and the environment.

Openings of new hotels, restaurants and other leisure facilities could help the emirate's leisure and tourism sector to grow from Dh1.24bn this year to Dh1.49bn by 2016, Shurooq estimates.

It is partnering with the Singapore-based hotels operator General Hotel Management on two luxury hotels scheduled to open in 2015.

StarwoodHotels and Resorts, the hotel chain, is also set to open two hotels next year, joining existing brands such as Radisson Blu, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Ramada Hotel and Resort, Rotana and Golden Tulip. The openings will add a further 2,250 rooms to the existing capacity of about 9,000 rooms.

"We believe Sharjah has a lot to offer the tourist but not many hotels are available here, so we are focusing on more hotels and resorts," said Mr Al Sarkal.

As a result, he said, the contribution of tourism to GDP was expected to jump from 9 per cent now to nearly 12 per cent by 2016.

Much of the anticipated growth will rest on the development of the airport, the gateway that currently handles almost 8 million travellers a year. Shurooq expects that figure to rise to 9.4 million passengers by 2016.

The emirate's three ports - Khalid, Hamriyah and Khorfakkan - will grow as the government pushes ahead with a plan to improve the emirate's sea and air links. Shurooq estimates the value of transport and logistics could rise from Dh4.1bn currently to Dh6.24bn by 2016,.

"We are trying to attract more transport companies looking at the GCC to choose Sharjah," Mr Al Sarkal said.

"We are the only emirate with ports on either side of the coast and Khorfakkan will be linked up to Etihad Rail by 2018." Global seaborne trade is expected to increase from 9 billion tonnes annually to between 19 and 24 billion tonnes by 2030, according to Global Marine Trends.

Within the healthcare sector, the emirate is keen to overturn a shortfall in the supply of hospital beds. It estimates a further 633 beds will be required by 2016 and is inviting companies to set up within its medical free zone, Healthcare City.

Demand from a fast-growing and young population means the healthcare market has the potential to grow from Dh5.02bn this year to Dh6.55bn by 2016, Shurooq estimates.

 

tarnold@thenational.ae