Déjà Vu and Dubai’s Real Estate Sector – Is Communications Doing Enough to Win Back Consumer Trust

We’d just finished off another round of Cityscape here in Dubai, an exhibition that was the highlight of the decade that was the 2000s. When 2008 struck, Cityscape was almost forgotten about. No one wanted to be reminded of how much Dubai’s real estate sector had fallen. Anyone who visited the event this month may have been forgiven for thinking that the downturn never happened. We were bombarded with news about how good everything is looking; one executive from Dubai-based executive Damac claimed there had never been a property bubble to begin with.

All the good news hasn’t been without incident. An announcement at the beginning of this month revived plans to build a canal, this time linking Dubai’s Business Bay waterway system out to the Gulf at what is now Jumeirah Beach Park (Alex McNabb wrote an excellent blog piece about the news which you can read here). Other reports have focused on stalled projects which have neither been revived or cancelled, basically locking in investor money (the law here in the UAE requires projects to be cancelled before any collected monies can be returned to investors), and the proposed establishment of a body that would help return funds to those who invested in projects which never got off the ground.

While there’s no doubt that the boom is back and that Dubai is again one of the leading lights when it comes to global real estate, is enough being done to ensure not just investors but ordinary people out there, the likes of you and me, that mistakes which were made in the past will not be repeated?

If you’re an Arabic speaker listen to this interview at Cityscape with the CEO of Damac Ziad El Chaar.

The Ratner effect in Dubai: Ahmed Bin Sulayem and Jumeirah’s Lakes

He’s the boss of Jumeirah Lakes Towers but ‘he doesn’t like lakes’ (image source: arabianbusiness.com)

For those people who are old enough and who lived in the United Kingdom during the end of the Thatcher years, there’s one piece of tabloid news that always brings back memories. On 23 April 1991 the then CEO of a popular high street jewelry chain called Ratners told an audience of executives at the Institute of Directors that his products were “total crap”. Just over a year later Gerald Ratner was out of a job as consumers deserted his shops in protest at his comments.

While it’s not on the same ‘did he say that’ proportions I enjoyed reading an article last week on the UAE’s news portal Arabian Business. The publication had interviewed the executive chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Center Authority Ahmed Bin Sulayem. The DMCC as it’s called oversees an area of Dubai called Jumeirah Lake Towers. The lakes part of the name is fairly accurate, in that the area does have a selection of bodies of still water of considerable size.

Back to the piece by Arabian Business, and Ahmed Bin Sulayem comes out with a whopper. The executive chairman of an area named the lakes doesn’t like lakes. What’s more, he wants to do something about them (and presumably the name of the real estate).

“It’s no secret, I hate lakes. I love more efficiency. The only lake that I think will be untouchable is the one facing the Dubai Diamond Exchange [because of] the view.”

With 65,000 people living and working in almost 7,000 registered businesses and 65 completed and operational towers Jumeirah Lakes Towers is one of the largest free zones in Dubai. However Bin Sulayem goes on to say that the lakes, one of the key designs of the community, are not needed any more.

“I don’t work like that. We don’t need [the lakes], the demand is here; we don’t need to do these things to attract businesses. If I do fill in other lakes it will not be the same set-up that the park [will have]. It will be something else that gives value to the community … whatever we can add that makes more value for the community without leaving and getting into traffic. It wouldn’t be extra towers though. That’s all I can say.”

What I enjoy just as much as the story itself, what with its controversial quote which is then expanded and elucidated upon, are the comments. One particular gem is:

Bin Sulayem,

You have no concept of community or people’s rights and desires!!!

We bought lake front property not something with a cheap tacky gold souk that nobody would want. Talk to your community first and don’t just come up with comments like this on a whim!

To his credit however, Ahmed Bin Sulayem does respond to reader criticisms in the comments section. His first comment is the below:

Ahmed Bin Sulayem
Friday, 12 July 2013 5:18 PM – UAE
Roadworrier, AHMED HANIF, MOHAMED HANIF AHAMED, omar faris, nimby, Faisal, F Backer, Sheikha & Michael all of you are more than welcome to come by my office or I can visit you in JLT to see what really grieves you, the article states my opinion not what will be done. No other Lake would be touched unless the community wants a change or an addition to the JLT Community. If you don’t live in JLT I don’t follow why you would be upset about any of this especially when we are getting recommendations from the JLT community to change all the Lakes into parks which I have reservations because if the other Lakes are to be changed they should be adding more diversity & value to the JLT community.

Your constructive thoughts are very much welcomed, you can tweet on our twitter accounts @DMCCauthority & or @TheJLTCommunity as for the roads you have @RTA_Dubai

However, despite this proactive outreach by Bin Sulayem my question is why talk to the media on this specific issue. As they’re expert at, Arabian Business have published two additional pieces on the issue which are worth reading, including one where Bin Sulayem hits back at criticsm and another vowing to clean up the lakes.

Wouldn’t the communications have been handled better by releasing a resident or business survey, undertaking a town-house meeting with residents, listening to their opinions and then acting on their wishes rather than the boss saying I don’t like lakes and I want to change as implied by the article?

Isn’t it best to learn from the likes of Ratner and get the necessary media training to say what you want to say but in the right manner. But at the end of the day, shouldn’t someone be listening to the customers rather than talking to them. After all, isn’t the customer always right, even in Dubai?