Manchester City profit doubles on higher revenue

Manchester City has nearly doubled its profit as revenue increased and the proportion of its income going to player wages continued to fall.

The English Premiership football club on Tuesday reported a profit of £20.48 million (Dh91.4m) for the 2015-16 season compared to a £10.54m after-tax profit for the 2014-15 season. It reported record annual revenue of £391.77m, an 11 per cent rise on the £351.76m in revenue Manchester City earned in 2014-15.

Last season’s rise in profit comes as the club’s wage-to-turnover ­ratio fell to 50 per cent from 55 per cent.

Wages stood at £197.5 compared to £193.8m in the earlier season.

In 2015-2016, commercial revenue increased 2.8 per cent to £177.9 from £173m and broadcast revenue was up 19 per cent to £161.4 from £135.4m, thanks to City’s run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Matchday revenue rose by 21 per cent to £52.5 from £43.3m after the club’s Etihad Stadium was expanded to a capacity of 55,000 seats for the start of the 2015-16 season.

The club also made a profit of £20.7 on player sales during the period compared to a profit of £12.9m a season earlier.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, said in its annual report that the 2015-16 season was a turning point in the club’s evolution.

He added: “Manchester City has now reached a level of sporting and commercial maturity that allows one to feed the ­other.”

“I believe the 2016-17 season represents the beginning of a critical new phase in the evolution of Manchester City. We know that we have the playing, coaching and off-field capabilities at our disposal to achieve great things in English and European football in the years ahead,” Mr Al Mubarak said.

Manchester City currently sit at the top of the English Premier League table after an exciting start under new coach Pep Guardiola and a number of new signings, including young English defender John Stones, bought from Everton for a reported fee of £47.5m.

In October, Manchester City reported its first profit in the seven years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought it in 2008.

The club ranked sixth in Del­oitte’s football money league for the 2014-2015 season when it became only the second English club ever to break the £350m revenue barrier, Deloitte said in January.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and City’s local rivals Manchester United are the top three, all earning revenue of more than £500m.

Manchester City is part of City Football Group, which is majority owned by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.

As well as Manchester City, the group includes football clubs New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F Marinos, the Japanese team in which it has a minority stake.

In December, a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings paid US$400m for a 13 per cent stake in City Football Group, valuing the company at $3 billion.

“Our new partners are instrumental in our ability to understand and foster the opportunities for our group in China,” City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano said in the annual report.

“As our commercial structure continued to mature, we opened new offices in Singapore and Shanghai…We are confident that all these positives will make for an even better 12 months to come.”

From the current season, all 20 English Premier League clubs will share a £10.4bn global television deal. The three-year agreement is the biggest in world football.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Manchester City profit doubles on higher revenue

Manchester City has nearly doubled its profit as revenue increased and the proportion of its income going to player wages continued to fall.

The English Premiership football club on Tuesday reported a profit of £20.48 million (Dh91.4m) for the 2015-16 season compared to a £10.54m after-tax profit for the 2014-15 season. It reported record annual revenue of £391.77m, an 11 per cent rise on the £351.76m in revenue Manchester City earned in 2014-15.

Last season’s rise in profit comes as the club’s wage-to-turnover ­ratio fell to 50 per cent from 55 per cent.

Wages stood at £197.5 compared to £193.8m in the earlier season.

In 2015-2016, commercial revenue increased 2.8 per cent to £177.9 from £173m and broadcast revenue was up 19 per cent to £161.4 from £135.4m, thanks to City’s run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Matchday revenue rose by 21 per cent to £52.5 from £43.3m after the club’s Etihad Stadium was expanded to a capacity of 55,000 seats for the start of the 2015-16 season.

The club also made a profit of £20.7 on player sales during the period compared to a profit of £12.9m a season earlier.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, said in its annual report that the 2015-16 season was a turning point in the club’s evolution.

He added: “Manchester City has now reached a level of sporting and commercial maturity that allows one to feed the ­other.”

“I believe the 2016-17 season represents the beginning of a critical new phase in the evolution of Manchester City. We know that we have the playing, coaching and off-field capabilities at our disposal to achieve great things in English and European football in the years ahead,” Mr Al Mubarak said.

Manchester City currently sit at the top of the English Premier League table after an exciting start under new coach Pep Guardiola and a number of new signings, including young English defender John Stones, bought from Everton for a reported fee of £47.5m.

In October, Manchester City reported its first profit in the seven years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought it in 2008.

The club ranked sixth in Del­oitte’s football money league for the 2014-2015 season when it became only the second English club ever to break the £350m revenue barrier, Deloitte said in January.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and City’s local rivals Manchester United are the top three, all earning revenue of more than £500m.

Manchester City is part of City Football Group, which is majority owned by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.

As well as Manchester City, the group includes football clubs New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F Marinos, the Japanese team in which it has a minority stake.

In December, a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings paid US$400m for a 13 per cent stake in City Football Group, valuing the company at $3 billion.

“Our new partners are instrumental in our ability to understand and foster the opportunities for our group in China,” City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano said in the annual report.

“As our commercial structure continued to mature, we opened new offices in Singapore and Shanghai…We are confident that all these positives will make for an even better 12 months to come.”

From the current season, all 20 English Premier League clubs will share a £10.4bn global television deal. The three-year agreement is the biggest in world football.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Manchester City profit doubles on higher revenue

Manchester City has nearly doubled its profit as revenue increased and the proportion of its income going to player wages continued to fall.

The English Premiership football club yesterday reported a profit of £20.5 million (Dh91.4m) for the 2015-16 season compared to a £10.7m after-tax profit for the 2014-15 season. It reported record annual revenue of £391.8m, an 11 per cent rise on the £351.8m in revenue Manchester City earned in 2014-15.

Last season’s rise in profit comes as the club’s wage-to-turnover ­ratio fell to 50 per cent from 55 per cent.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, said the 2015-16 season was a turning point in the club’s evolution, according to a statement from the club.

He added: “Manchester City has now reached a level of sporting and commercial maturity that allows one to feed the ­other.”

“I believe the 2016-17 season represents the beginning of a critical new phase in the evolution of Manchester City. We know that we have the playing, coaching and off-field capabilities at our disposal to achieve great things in English and European football in the years ahead,” Mr Al Mubarak said.

Manchester City currently sit at the top of the English Premier League table after an exciting start under new coach Pep Guardiola and a number of new signings, including young English defender John Stones, bought from Everton for a reported fee of £47.5m.

The club’s Etihad Stadium was expanded to a capacity of 55,000 seats for the start of the 2015-16 season.

In October, Manchester City reported its first profit in the seven years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought it in 2008.

The club ranked sixth in Del­oitte’s football money league for the 2014-2015 season when it became only the second English club ever to break the £350m revenue barrier, Deloitte said in January.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and City’s local rivals Manchester United are the top three, all earning revenue of more than £500m.

Manchester City is part of City Football Group, which is majority owned by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.

As well as Manchester City, the group includes football clubs New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F Marinos, the Japanese team in which it has a minority stake.

In December, a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings paid US$400m for a 13 per cent stake in City Football Group, valuing the company at $3 billion.

From the current season, all 20 English Premier League clubs will share a £10.4bn global television deal. The three-year agreement is the biggest in world football.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Energy markets reacted briskly and positively to the news overnight from Algiers that oil producing countries had agreed a framework for a crude output cut, potentially before the end of the year.

The fine details of the agreement, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by other Opec members, indicate that what is being said may not turn out to be quite as bullish a reality for oil prices.

However, that is countered by the pleasant surprise that the group was able to come together at all.

This somewhat myopic response, to what is a promise and nothing more, shows how much more effective the words of policy makers have now become in making us all look in the same direction.

While it has ever been thus, the internet and social media has augmented to unprecedented levels the reach and speed with which the subsequent chatter spreads.

It is a phenomenon that has allowed Donald Trump to grasp clumsily for the White House. It has also allowed the Federal Reserve, under Janet Yellen, to make us all dance to its hawkish tune as she and most of her equally gun-shy colleagues choose time and again not to pull the trigger on the interest rate rises that have been promised all year.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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The Silicon Valley mantra ‘fail fast, fail often’ has become part of its mythology, a way to hype up normal people into super beings. Failure goes against our basic natures, we cannot invite it, but it is a reality of the business world. There will be times when an idea, no matter how well conceived and executed, just does not work. Acknowledging this reality, many have hesitated before starting their own business here, knowing that failure could lead, in the worst cases, to jail if debts go unpaid and cheques bounce.

This has been a pretty daunting obstacle in the way of efforts to increase the number of small and medium enterprises and their contribution to the UAE economy. The policy is sound – more people starting their own businesses supports economic growth and reduces public sector employment which frees up the government to invest elsewhere, adding further stimulus. To help this policy work, changes have needed to be made. The bankruptcy law is one of those critical reforms; the legislation will, once enacted, give protection to companies, their directors and employees, in the case of insolvency. And it could be passed in a matter of weeks according to Obaid Al Tayer, the UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs on Tuesday. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this move but equally hard to gauge how much of an impact it will have in the short to medium term. Will there be a sudden flowering of entrepreneurial spirt that launches hundreds of new businesses? Will banks and institutions rush to lend again? Most likely the momentum will take a little time to build but once it does we will tip into a dynamic and exciting era, reminiscent of the early days of the property boom a decade ago. Thousands will hear the call and we will all be better off for it.

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Manchester City owners target China as club set to report profit for 2015-16

Manchester City is expected to report a profit for the 2015-16 season as its owners look at opportunities to increase the brand’s global reach.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, said in a recorded video interview released on Wednesday that the club would report a profit for the year and is “constantly moving in the right direction financially”.

“We are financially sustain­able and we are consistently profitable,” he said, without revealing any figures.

In October, the Premier League football club reported its first profit in the seven years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought it in 2008.

The club reported a £10.7 million (Dh57.2m) after-tax profit for the 2014-15 season thanks to record annual revenues of £351.8m and a reduced wage bill.

The club is part of City Football Group, which is wholly owned by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.

Mr Al Mubarak said that Sheikh Mansour’s commitment to Manchester City is “untouchable” and that his dream of a financially sustainable football club had become a reality.

As well as Manchester City, the group includes football clubs New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F Marinos, the Japanese team in which it has a minority stake.

“These are developing well. We have an ambition as a football group to have an organisation that is global and will have multiple clubs as part of it,” said Mr Al Mubarak. “I would say that when the opportunity arises, and we are looking at opportunities, you can expect us also to add to the number of clubs we have.”

It is “too early for me to pinpoint” exactly where the investments could be.

He did say that China is an important market commercially for the group’s ambitions.

In December, a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings paid US$400m for a 13 per cent stake in City Football Group, valuing the company at $3 billion.

“China is a huge market for us with tremendous potential and value long term for us,” said Mr Al Mubarak adding that the company planned eventually to have a club there.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Manchester City owners target expansion as club set to report profit for 2015/16

Manchester City is expected to report a profit for the 2015-16 season as its owners look at opportunities to increase the brand’s global reach.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, said in a recorded video interview released on Wednesday that the club would report a profit for the year and is “constantly moving in the right direction financially”.

“We are financially sustainable and we are consistently profitable,” he said, without revealing any figures.

In October, the Premier League football club reported its first profit in the seven years since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought it in 2008.

The club reported a £10.7 million (Dh57.2m) after-tax profit for the 2014-15 season thanks to record annual revenues of £351.8m and a reduced wage bill.

The club is part of City Football Group, which is wholly owned by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.

Mr Al Mubarak said that Sheikh Mansour’s commitment to Manchester City is “untouchable” and that his highness’s dream of a financially sustainable football club had become a reality.

As well as Manchester City, the group includes football clubs New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F Marinos, the Japanese team in which it has a minority stake.

“These are developing well. We have an ambition as a football group to have an organisation that is global and will have multiple clubs as part of it,” said Mr Al Mubarak. “I would say that when the opportunity arises, and we are looking at opportunities, you can expect us also to add to the number of clubs we have.”

It is “too early for me to pinpoint” exactly where the investments could be.

He did say that China is an important market commercially for the group’s ambitions.

In December, a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings paid US$400m for a 13 per cent stake in City Football Group, valuing the company at $3 billion.

“China is a huge market for us with tremendous potential and value long term for us,” said Mr Al Mubarak adding that the company planned eventually to have a club there.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Aldar develops the heart of Abu Dhabi's vision

The sleek, modern luxury of the Yas Acres’ sales centre on Yas Island is a throwback to the glory days of real estate eight or nine years ago. Except there is a very 2016 feel to it all.

The 1,315-villa project’s every detail is shown to prospective buyers on big, interactive screens embedded in the tables around the lounge area. Seen through the window, retro-looking bicycles are a languid feature of the back garden. The parking lot offers a view of the Formula 1 track opposite, which was also built by the Abu Dhabi developer Aldar. There is an unmistakable air of an organisation whose people are confident of where they are headed.

The chief executive Mohammed Al Mubarak articulates this mood with passion and intensity.

“Today we are celebrating a big success for all the teams in Aldar, the sales team [in particular]. I put a lot of pressure on these guys to really sell, to go out there in a tough market, and they have accomplished the mission. There are a lot more missions to come,” he says of the Yas Acres project, without giving any sales figures since it was launched last month.

Mr Al Mubarak also talks with humility about the journey that he and the property company has been on in the years since the boom ended.

“I’ve been part of this Aldar family from day one, so I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. It has helped me grow as an individual, mature as an individual, it has helped me take all the tools that I need to run an organisation like Aldar,” he says.

He took on the role of chief executive in the summer of 2014, after the merger between Aldar and fellow Abu Dhabi developer Sorouh, a deal that helped to stabilise the local property market at a critical time for the emirate’s entire economy.

In the past three years, the company has undergone a transformation that has doubled revenues and tripled net operating income, going “from a pure property play, Aldar is expected to generate the bulk of its revenue and profitability from a diversified and growing recurring portfolio”, according to Citibank research.

However, it is the return to its roots as a developer that offers the most satisfaction for Mr Al Mubarak. Off-plan launches in the past two years, apart from the Dh6 billion Yas Acres, include Yas Island’s West Yas, Mayan and Ansam schemes and the affordable housing project Meera on Reem Island’s Shams Abu Dhabi as well as others at Al Raha Beach.

“I am a developer here. My DNA is a developer,” says Mr Al Mubarak, waxing lyrical about the company’s broad and rich land bank, which has a conservative book value of about Dh4bn, analysts say.

“Starting with that canvas puts Aldar in a very strong situation. Obviously we do not want to do everything at once. You start losing sense of quality, you start losing sense of time. You don’t really have a finished product like you want it to be. This is where Aldar has really strategised itself over the last couple of years to focus on the developments it really wants to complete as a whole.”

Yet, according to analysts, Aldar’s share price – it is listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange – attributes no value to its land bank despite Dh3.2bn in off-plan sales between 2014 and 2015 and a steady pipeline of new launches. This is because of an assumption that the local property market could always crash again.

“I set very clear goals to my board [when I became chief executive] on what I am going to achieve, whether it is increasing my recurring revenue, decreasing my debt, making sure I have strong development pipeline, to manage my land bank,” says Mr Al Mubarak, highlighting the company’s enviable track record of delivery.

“Our board really understands that if you really want to do things right you do right everywhere, it’s not just the home, it’s the entire masterplan. Do it right there [and] the product will sell itself.”

To mitigate risk as much as possible, Aldar sets itself high sales targets on projects before it commits any resources to construction.

“I’ll give you an example. With Yas Mall, before we had a crane on site, I created a very clear mechanism from my team that the mall had to be 50 per cent leased. That was in a very tough market if you remember. It was just coming out of the last economic crisis, people didn’t know retail in Abu Dhabi, the Yas [Island] story wasn’t as clear as it is today. In a period of time we got to that 50 per cent leased, the board were 100 per cent behind me, we started construction, and today [after the] first year of mall operations, again when everybody thought it wasn’t going to happen, we have had 20 million visitors.”

Yet the company’s ambitions to return to development did not escape concerns about whether there would be sufficient demand for its projects. “Investors are getting it a lot more now. It goes back again to track record. Today we have Yas Acres; if Yas Acres wasn’t launched the way we said we were going to launch it, if we didn’t launch it with the golf course, with the clubhouse, with the schools, public amenities. If we just launched it as nice houses overlooking the golf course I don’t believe we would have sold the amount of villas we have sold in such a short period of time,” says Mr Al Mubarak.

This is where Aldar begins to show the future course that property developers will increasingly chart as they hunt out higher and more secure returns. The mission, to use Mr Al Mubarak’s phrase, does not begin or end with the home, office or shop. The focus is on the buyer; the individual person; their hopes and dreams.

“A lot of buyers on Yas Island are first-time buyers and end users, which is something very special for us,” he says. “There are [also] investors, long-term investors, not looking to flip, but to complete, for yield because they believe in the dream of Yas Island.”

Because of this, Aldar has given more focus than perhaps expected on elements beyond the home that go into living that dream but do not directly add to the bottom line.

“We have done things differently at West Yas. We have built the amenities before building the homes. From day one that you move into your home you will have schools, retail, a clinic, public parks, a mosque. We have launched two phases of that, we are going to launch phase three and four in the next couple of months,” he says.

Mr Al Mubarak wants Aldar to be an integral part of the life journey; from a first home to an ultimate dream home. That includes educating a child from Foundation Stage 1 to graduation at their Aldar Academies schools, which feature in many of its projects. It hopes to be with you when you buy your child’s first toy at its malls.

“We take you through that voyage and it is exciting for us to be part of that voyage. It is important for us to take you through that voyage,” he says.

This long-term, sustainable approach extends to its duty of care to the wider ecosystem of which it is part. It will soon announce a new lifestyle project for Reem Island, which Aldar hopes will benefit everyone in Abu Dhabi, raising property values in the area and helping its rival developers, too.

“We will be announcing a major attraction on that island that’s going to benefit all the residents of that island and the city of Abu Dhabi,” says Mr Al Mubarak, declining to give more details.

“That is a part of our thank-you to the city, the Government of Abu Dhabi and the residents of Reem Island.”

This approach has also motivated the company’s desire to help the Government to improve regulation of Abu Dhabi’s property sector. New legislation that took effect at the start of this year was drafted with input from the property industry.

The law includes the establishment of a real estate register, provides for owner associations and requires developers to set up escrow accounts for off-plan projects. Mr Al Mubarak gives the Government a lot of credit for encouraging this dialogue which, after a longer than expected process, ultimately has provided much greater protection for investors and benefited Aldar.

“It has given a certain trust in the Abu Dhabi real estate market and a certain trust in Aldar,” he says.

The maturing of both the market and Aldar has been critical in building up this trust, he says.

“The last economic crisis really helped everyone mature. Now is the right time to invest.”

The current economic slowdown in the region and the softening of the property market in the UAE, triggered by the lull in oil prices, does not concern him too much.

“I like to use the word efficiency. I think times like this make you a lot more efficient, make you a lot more focused. I’m sure it is the same with the Government.”

He is grateful for everything that the Government of Abu Dhabi has given the company. Support during the crisis, when billions of dirhams of assets were sold to the Government, including the F1 track, helped to stave off any lasting damage and gave Aldar the chance to turn itself around.

“But I don’t want to rely on the Government. At the end of the day I am a publicly traded company. I have shareholders. I don’t want to go to them and say my biggest revenue comes from managing projects for the Government. They don’t want to see that. They want to see me take the calculated risk and coming back to them with some big returns on their investments,” he says.

That the Government is committed to completing its major infrastructure projects such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the airport’s Midfield Terminal expansion will, however, ensure that the flow of lucrative management projects remains steady beyond its visible pipeline of about two years currently.

“We are working closely with Musanada and some of the other government entities at an early stage and we are deciding together; ‘is this a project that is worthwhile?’ ‘Is this a project that has to start in 2018, 2019 or 2020?’ It is a collective understanding and based on these decisions there is going to be projects launched in the near future,” says Mr Al Mubarak.

And what of that future?

“I think Aldar has the building blocks to be a world-class developer, to compete with some of the best, the Westfields of this world, the Relateds of this world,” he says.

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Hotels form vital plank in Aldar plans to diversify revenue

Aldar plans to open more hotels as part of its ongoing efforts to diversify revenues beyond those earned from property sales.

“There is definitely a need for serviced apartments in Abu Dhabi, there is demand for four- and three-star level hotels in the city of Abu Dhabi,” says Mohammed Al Mubarak, Aldar’s chief executive.

Its development projects will increasingly feature serviced apartments and hotels to complement residential and retail components. “A lot of our future thinking is going that route,” he says.

Recurring revenues more than doubled between 2012 and 2015 to Dh2.9 billion thanks to its expanding portfolio of assets that includes schools, retail and offices as well as hotels. Recurring revenues contributed to 62 per cent of total revenues and 68 per cent of net operating income last year compared with 11 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, in 2012.

Aldar is targeting a growth of 6 per cent year-on-year in 2016 for recurring net operating income to Dh1.6bn and by 2020 to have grown this by 45 per cent to Dh2.2bn, compared with last year.

“Yes I want to increase my recurring revenue, I will continue to increase my recurring revenue. That strategy is always going to be enhanced. Because I believe in the long-term prosperity of my sites,” says Mr Al Mubarak.

Currently hospitality and leisure assets are predominantly hotel properties on Yas Island such as the Viceroy. They make up 8 per cent of the overall recurring portfolio, contributing 22 per cent of recurring revenues.

Its hotels are also outperforming the overall Abu Dhabi market both in terms of revenue per available room (RevPar) and occupancy levels.

Last year occupancy was at 79 per cent compared to 75.4 for Abu Dhabi and RevPar growth was at 4.3 per cent when the overall market was flat.

However, we are currently in a softening market, the latest data shows. Abu Dhabi’s average occupancy rate in February was 77.6 per cent, down from 81.5 per cent a year earlier, according to Hotstats data from TRI Consulting.

The average daily room rate was Dh157.95 in February this year, down from Dh217.20.

“At the moment the hotels on Yas are doing well [compared with the overall market]. We all know that, basically, it is a tough time for hospitality in Abu Dhabi, we all need to come closer together [to ride it out because] we all know that there are new hotels coming,” says Mr Al Mubarak. About 8,000 new rooms are expected to open in the next five years, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), of which Mr Al Mubarak is chairman. There is now a focus on attracting visitors from India, China, Africa and the Arabian Gulf as the emirate looks to build on the 4.1 million guests who checked into Abu Dhabi’s hotels last year, staying a total of 12.24 million nights.

“We work very closely with tourist offices around the world to make sure that Abu Dhabi and Yas Island is on their stop,” says Mr Al Mubarak.

According to Citibank research analysts last month: “Aldar’s hotels have seen a very healthy performance over the past year, leveraging on Abu Dhabi’s tourism strategy, Etihad [Airways’] expansion into new destinations and its strategic location next to major retail and leisure destinations such as Yas Island.”

Mr Al Mubarak agrees that the outperformance of Aldar’s hotels is partly down to the particularly strong draw of “destination” hotels and the growing number of attractions on Yas Island such as the recently announced Warner Bros theme park that will build on what is already there, such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

“Today our hotels on Yas Island continue to do better than the market and the more assets that come to the island, again this is Aldar and [the theme park developer] Miral working very closely with each other, the more we know we can start selling this island even better. The more we can have more visitors, the more we can have destination management [and] more hotels.”

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Yas Acres the new gem in Yas Island's crown

It is fitting that the location for my meeting with Aldar’s chief executive Mohammed Al Mubarak is at the sales centre for its latest development on Yas Island, Yas Acres.

“Yas is a very special project for me because I have seen it grow. I have seen it come from an idea to become a reality at the moment,” he says.

It is not immediately obvious to all who visit what a visionary project Yas Island is from the snatched experiences we typically get of a place on which nobody yet lives. The 25 million visitors to Yas last year did not necessarily see the whole by spending a day at the Formula 1 in November, or catching a gig at the du Arena, or on a quick shopping trip to Ikea or even from dinner at Cipriani in the marina.

This is set to change from 2017 onwards.

Yas is currently at a “very important stage” of its maturity cycle because people will soon be “living on the island, working on the island, getting schooled on the island”, says Mr Al Mubarak.

Projects including Ansam and Mayan overlooking Yas Links golf course, West Yas aimed at UAE nationals, or Yas Acres on the northern, “quieter” side of the island, have all been launched in the past two years. Ansam is scheduled to begin to draw residents from next year.

Yas is a critical part of Aldar’s development strategy since 2014 when it returned to the market. Fifty-one per cent of its launches since then have been projects on the island.

Sensibly, prices have been kept capped at about Dh1,400 to Dh1,500 per square foot to ensure demand amid a lack of quality supply of prime property in Abu Dhabi. This strategy has had its reward.

Mr Al Mubarak talks about exceeding targets in terms of sales on Yas, with properties at Ansam more than 85 per cent sold, for example. Its strong sales record comes amid a softening in the overall property sector in the UAE as oil prices continue to languish at less than half their 2014 peaks of about US$110 per barrel.

However, Aldar has done well in a tough market, with Citibank research estimating total off-plan sales meeting Aldar’s own forecasts and bringing in Dh3.2 billion over a two-year period up to the end of last year.

While Yas right now flits in and out of the consciousness from weekend to weekend, rarely taking permanent hold in the mind of Abu Dhabi’s residents as they go about their working week, it is worth remembering that the emirate has had a long and successful history of bringing life to its beautiful but harsh natural landscape.

On Yas, these are the early pioneering days of what will be the heartbeat of Abu Dhabi in the years to come. Aldar has been at the frontier since inception. “I believe in the Yas story. This is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s story. He believed in this story 10 years ago. He clearly states what he wants on the island and what he sees the island will look like in 2020. His vision is becoming a reality every day. Every time I think of Yas my imagination runs wild,” says Mr Al Mubarak.

The activities and lifestyle available now and potentially on offer in the future excites him. He talks of an “unbelievable picture to tell and an unbelievable picture to see on Yas Island” which is continually evolving. The developer Miral, of which he is the chairman, last month announced the Warner Bros Abu Dhabi theme park, set to open in 2018. “That is going to be highly immersive, the technology that sits on that theme park is amazing, the designs, world class. No theme park anywhere is as immersive as this theme park, when you are in Gotham City, when you are in Metropolis, you are in these cities, you are taken to that dream,” Mr Al Mubarak says.

Aldar works with Miral to make sure the dream cannot but become a full fledged reality, that any blanks in the masterplan are filled. “Today, when Aldar sells a home, that person wants to know that in four or five years, when my home is done, that there is going to be new activities on the island.”

He says Yas is different to what is currently on offer at newer residential areas such as on Reem Island, which “is [the equivalent of] Manhattan”.

“Yas is a lot more comfortable, more family oriented. Bigger homes, bigger gardens, a lot of public amenities, massive public spaces. That’s what differentiates them. When you plan an island well, when you market an island well, it sells itself.”

malrawi@thenational.ae

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