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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Dubai's SAMA SAMA a boon for owners and visitors alike

Holiday homes firm removes the hassle for property owners letting their home or vacant apartment short-term through platforms such as airbnb

Catherine Ridley, founder of Sama Sama Holiday Homes. Courtesy Sama Sama Holiday Homes
Catherine Ridley, founder of Sama Sama Holiday Homes. Courtesy Sama Sama Holiday Homes

Catherine Ridley founded the Dubai firm SAMA SAMA Holiday Homes to remove the hassle for property owners letting their home or vacant apartment short-term through platforms such as airbnb. The 34-year-old previously worked with Deloitte while qualifying as a chartered accountant in London ahead of jobs in ski resorts, with UK start-ups, the Post Office, Royal Bank of Scotland and a superyacht concierge firm. The British CEO, who lives on Palm Jumeirah, moved to Dubai when her husband took a management role distributing professional audio equipment. Here she tells The National how SAMA SAMA works.

How did SAMA SAMA come about?

The idea was … homeowners in Dubai have 45 days holiday a year, plus people leave for summer and for Christmas - while they’re away I can earn them holiday money back with zero hassle and heartache. Airbnb has been around for about 10 years, but only really in the headlines for the last three years. Until December 2013 it was, at best, a grey area [in Dubai]. They said no one could rent their home out as a holiday home unless they go through a licensed holiday homes operator. They had a couple of years reminding people. In April 2016 they did a U-turn and said you can do it yourself, but you have to have a licence. So it’s still regulated.

Why would an owner use your service?

It’s a hugely administrative task. You have to get the licence, then the permit and every time you have someone stay you have to log the details into a special system. You have to pay tourism dirhams. From an owner perspective it’s money in the bank for no hassle. We’ll give them a list: are you okay with pets or with smoking in the property? Do you mind if it’s a group of females? Everyone wants the same thing; a lovely, quiet family, to pay money and not leave a trace. It’s very convenient from the owner’s perspective. Most of our business is from repeat guests.

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What kinds of people are on your books?

People who go home every summer, winter, Easter, or who travel loads for work, have a GCC-based job but are always away, or have second homes here, or are waiting for property to sell/rent. We’ve also had people who want to sell, but short term has done so well for them ... I’m one of the first to break away from the traditional ‘holiday homes’ business; I wanted to enable property owners to earn more cash. It’s niche; like a new market. Instead of me going out looking for vacant homes, I want to rent out homes as holiday homes, but they’re still first and foremost property owners’ homes.

So flexibility in an often-rigid market?

I did it because I wanted to be flexible and here there is so much inflexibility. If you’ve got property but don’t live here and want to rent it out long-term, you’ve got to give tenants 12 months notice if you want to sell. A lot of people are stuck with properties either vacant or that they cannot rent at the right price. Even if you’ve got a second home and only stay here two/three weeks a year and the rest of the year the property is vacant … a vacant property in Dubai is gasping to get back to the desert; you get pests, dust, silt in pipes. Keeping it occupied is really good for the home as well. The point of this was to offer a solution to property owners, not an additional burden.

Who books a stay via SAMA SAMA?

We have studios all the way through to six-bedroom villas. They appeal not just to tourists, but business travellers, which is really a year-long season, and what I call transitioners – people going or coming who have breaks in their leases; their lease is up tomorrow but their flight home is not for a couple of months because of their [job] notice period. If you’ve just arrived and know you want to live on the Palm but don’t know if you want to live in Shoreline or Oceana - you can have a week here, a week there. Maybe you’re waiting for your visa to be processed, so can’t sign a tenancy agreement anyway, or waiting for a loan from your company to put your whole year rent down. All these take time, so from a guest perspective, using airbnb is hugely popular and using it with us you don’t have risk, because we’re regulated.

What is the process?

We come to the apartment or villa, have a list of everything the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing [DTCM] requires to ensure it’s compliant, bring additional things like a safety deposit box, prayer mat – we get the place photographed, do the sign up with DTCM, pay up front the DTCM fee. It’s at no risk to the property owner because we don’t charge for our sign-up. Once we’ve signed a property we send the team for a 24-hour period to stay in that home so they know everything. We take a management fee from the property owner, a fixed percentage; if the property earns, we earn – if they don’t, we don’t. That includes everything. We get the rental income in, bear the cost of payments, deal with the administrative side …submitting passports, check-in, check-out, meet and greet, handle deposits, security payments.