Upon arriving in Dubai to speak with Construction Week, Benoy Kurien, general manager of Al Hamra Group (AHG), makes light of how rare it is for him to venture outside of his domestic market of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). “I’m not allowed to leave,” he jokes.
Jovial though his tone may be, during the course of the interview, it becomes increasingly apparent that his opening gambit contains at least a kernel of truth. RAK is not just a place of business for Kurien; it’s also his home.
Indeed, Kurien and his colleagues have been instrumental in shaping the emirate’s Al Hamra Village. In little over a decade, the master-planned community has grown from a sleepy coastal settlement with a single hotel – primarily serving business guests of RAK Ceramics – to become a popular regional destination for residents, visitors, and tourists alike. In addition to its 3,000 residential units, the community now boasts several five-star resorts, a mall, a marina and yacht club, and a championship golf course.
“Al Hamra was inspired by what was happening in pre-2008 Dubai,” Kurien begins. “Following AHG’s establishment in 2004, we decided to develop eight apartment buildings, and some duplexes and townhouses. These projects were delivered in 2006, which is when we started to build The Royal Breeze Residences. The golf course and the marina were also completed during this initial phase of development, and everything else was built in phases thereafter.”
This patient approach to growth has contributed to a familial atmosphere within the Al Hamra Village. While still popular among investors and holiday-home buyers due to its competitive prices, Kurien says the locality has developed a genuine sense of community during the past decade.
“Initially, people bought units as holiday homes; they would come and live in RAK at the weekend,” he explains. “But they have since discovered that Al Hamra Village is an extremely nice place to live on a permanent basis, especially for those with families. Consequently, many of our customers have opted to make RAK their primary home.
“It’s a friendly environment compared to the developments you typically find in big cities,” Kurien continues, noting that the area is just an hour’s drive from neighbouring Dubai. “It’s a tight-knit community; everybody knows one another. When you add in the financial benefits of owning and living in Al Hamra, it just makes sense. People are willing to commute an hour to work if it means returning home to that kind of environment.”
Turning his attention to the sales strategy of Al Hamra Real Estate Development (AHRED), AHG’s property development arm, Kurien says the firm typically looks to sell the majority of its inventory before moving on to the next project. “At the [most basic level] AHRED is a developer,” he explains. “Our primary goals are to build, sell, and move on to the next residential development. We do retain a certain proportion of our inventory for the rental market, but this wouldn’t usually exceed 15%.
“We conduct off-plan sales, but we also hold on to a considerable number of units to sell once a project has been constructed. We take care of the initial risk with off-plan sales, and our upside comes later. Finished products are extremely appealing to end users,” he adds.
Yet to suggest that AHG and its subsidiaries focus solely on real estate development would be to do a disservice to the group’s long-term engagement with – and investment in – its projects. For example, Kurien’s team is in the process of refurbishing all of the beaches within Al Hamra Village. The initiative, which is being conducted by Netherlands-headquartered contractor, Van Oord, will cost approximately $10m (AED36.7m) to complete.
“We have already relayed the residents’ beaches on Falcon Island and around Al Hamra Village,” reveals Kurien. “We’re now renovating the resorts’ beaches. The overall project is due to complete before the end of the year.
“Once finished, all of the community’s beaches will be sandy and white. If you look on Google Maps, you’ll be able to see the difference between Al Hamra Village’s beaches and those [elsewhere in RAK].”