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Dubai Gold Souq

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Now, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem who remains Chairman of DP World, the ports operator and Istithmar World, the investment firm, has stated in London's Sunday Times on July 7th 2012, that things are fast improving in Dubai.

In the previous week, he revealed plans to refit the former cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2, as a 300-room hotel, ending five years of uncertainty about the fate of the former iconic .... and historic ... cruise liner.

DP World is also pressing ahead with London Gateway, a £1.5 billion project to build a deep-sea container port on the Thames estuary in the United Kingdom.

According to the report in the Sunday Times .."The resurgent confidence reflects a turnaround in Dubai's fortunes". "It's back to normal!" the Sultan said. "Today you see that many of the unfinished buildings in Dubai are being finished."

Recent bond sales by Dubai indicate that investor confidence in the emirate has returned. In April 2012, it received $4.5 Billion in bids for a sale of $1.25 Billion of Islamic bonds. The cash was used to refinance debt and to fund Dubai's budget deficit, which aims to halve its $498 million this year.

Borrowing costs are falling due to a raft of chunky repayments and debt restructurings by government-related companies.

Also, Dubai's economic output is expected to grow by 4 to 5 per cent this year, according to the Dubai Economic Council, as tourism picks up again.

This growth prediction is higher than the projections of most other institutions, however, including the Washington-based Institute of International Finance which expects Dubai's real GDP to grow by 2.5 per cent this year. 

Dubai's debt crisis may be slowly disappearing in the rear view mirror, but Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem has not lost sight of it yet.

As part of Dubai World's $25 billion debt restructuring, Istithmar's assets are to be sold off over the next five to eight years.

The investment company's portfolio includes Cirque du Soleil, the live entertainment troupe, and Barney's, New York, the upmarket store chain. The Sultan says. "We always have this plan of buying and selling  assets. Every business is for sale, anywhere in the world.".  

Istithmar is a company that buys and sells---it is an investment company. Yes there are some assets whose value eroded, but we have never sold an asset at a loss."

One of the investment firm's assets is the QE2. Plans to open the liner as a luxury 1000-room floating hotel have been downgraded since it was bought for £64 million in 2007.

At that time, it was going to be moored at the tip of  the Palm Jumeirah, the series of islands laid out in the shape of a palm tree, as a base for luxury mansions and apartments.

Times have changed since then.

The liner, launched by the Queen in 1967, is now going to have just 300 hotel rooms and  will be docked at Port Rashid, an important commercial area for shipping, situated about 6 miles east along the Arabian Gulf coastline from the tourist playground of Palm Jumeirah, but near the mouth of the very interesting, historic Dubai Creek, where the trading port of Dubai initially grew up over the centuries.

Therefore, Port Rashid is at the heart of old Dubai, near the fantastic, glittering Dubai Gold Souq, which has to be seen to be believed.

Obviously, the hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers pouring off the cruise ships at Dubai Cruise Terminal nearby, will make a bee-line for the Dubai Gold Souq, as well as  to Al Shindagha Market; Bur Dubai Souk; the Textile Souk; Deira Covered Souk and the Spice Souk, with its myriad  exotic smells! There is so much of interest around Dubai Creek!

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said that Port Rashid was in the process of being transformed into a "seaport village", that will bustle with 500,000 cruise tourists a year by 2015.

This is eminently achievable, because Dubai is a very convenient, high quality, well-organised, cruise port for cruising on to India and the Far East, and for cruise ships heading west towards the Red Sea, Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea. 

Cruising is fast gaining ground in the popularity stakes, due to the fantastic quality of service on cruise ships generally and the  value for money.

The advantage of bringing cruise passengers to Dubai is that many of them will cruise directly to home ports, like Genoa [for Italians] and Southampton, for the British, without having to fly.

Therefore, they can carry far more weight of purchased goods home, since the weight restrictions imposed by flying will not apply to them.

Explaining the more modest scheme for the QE2, the Sultan said. "The plan was to widen the rooms. That  would have meant removing the corridors in some instances, which was going to be prohibitive.  At the same time  cruise and hotel operators were telling us that people wanted to see the ship as it is, the legend that it is."

Istithmar is in talks with three hotel groups ...... state-owned Jumeirah and two others ...... about managing the QE2 hotel.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem's other pet project, the London Gateway container port and logistics park, takes him back to his roots.

In the late 1970's, after his studies, he started his career as a Customs inspector at Dubai's then sleepy commercial port. A chance meeting with a man who mistakenly came into his office one day set his career on course.

They talked, and the suggestion came up that Dubai could serve as an entrepot for the tea trade if it created animport tax-free zone  at the port. The 30 year old Sultan took the idea to the ruling Al Maktoum family. He was given the all-clear and set up the Jebel Ali Free Zone in 1985.

There are now 6,600 companies operating in the tax-free distribution hub. As a result, the port has gone from handling 1 million containers a year in 1991 to 13 million in 2012 ........ and there are plans to expand capacity to 19 million containers ........ an amazing success story, thanks originally to the vision of Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem and the ruling Al Maktoum family of Dubai!

"London Gateway reminded me of Jebel Ali!" said the Sultan. "If someone had asked me when I started whether Jebel Ali would be full of companies, I would have said never!"

The London Gateway Port project requires similar vision.

At this date, in July 2012, the site is a giant mud-hole spanning six square kilometres of the north shore of the Thames Estuary in Essex, 28 miles from London.

However, work is progressing quickly and the first phase of the project is due to open by the end of 2013. By the time the project is completed in 2015, London Gateway will have six deep-sea container berths, capable of handling the world's largest cargo ships.  

DP World inherited the plans from P and O after taking over the British ports operator in 2006. As well as a container port, the site near Canvey Island  will accommodate the biggest logistics park and distribution centre in Europe, as well as Britain's largest rail freight terminal. 

"In my experience of shipping, one of the  crucial elements is to have good warehousing and logistics links close to the port", Bin Sulayem said, "London Gateway, because of the land available to us, gave us the opportunity to design that!"

The group is anxious to emphasise the container terminal's green credentials. "It is closer to London and the South East..... the biggest consumer market in the UK .... than rival ports such as Felixstowe, which feed road haulage hubs in the Midlands.

"This will help take 2000 trucks a day off  the roads", the Sultan claimed.  

Even the banks think DP World is on a winner with London Gateway.

The Dubai company raised £600 million in debt financing for the project in 2010.

"This money was raised in difficult times!" the Sultan said. "Why are the bankers interested  in this? They see the value!!".

Work started on this 750 hectare site ... the former Shell Haven plant  at Thurrock, Essex .... in  February 2010. Once completed, the quay will stretch to 2700 metres, and there will be 24 giant quay cranes to  load and unload cargo.

The project will create more than 12000 jobs, making London Gateway the country's largest single employment generator.

Dubai will therefore have enormous influence on London's international trade.

As we have said, "You cannot keep a good man down!". The visionary Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem is on his way back to the top! In truth, he probably never vacated it.