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Site visit: Jebel Sifah, Oman

by Yamurai Zendera on Jul 21, 2013




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Close to Oman’s Hajjar mountains, Muriya, a joint venture between Orascom Development Holdings and Omran, is building what it hopes will set the standard for integrated tourism complexes in the region. Yamurai Zendera paid a visit to see what it’s all about.

Sprawled across six square kilometres of land on a narrow coastal strip set against the dramatic backdrop of the Hajjar mountains, Jebel Sifah is a contemporary town designed in the local Omani architectural, next to the fishing village of Sifah 45 minutes from Muscat

At the centre of the development a marina town, built around Oman’s first island marina, will sit amidst hectares of manicured gardens and an 18-hole Peter Harradine-designed PGA standard golf course.

A roster of luxury resorts operated by the world’s leading hotel companies; Four Seasons, Missoni, Banyan Tree and Angsana, will be located across the landscaped site interspersed with villas.

In addition to the activities that will be available at the resort including golf, tennis, snorkelling, scuba diving and jet skiing, the Hajjar mountains offer opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and camping, whilst the surrounding sea offers diving, game fishing and sailing as well as boat trips to the islands of Ras Abu Dawud, Bandar Khayran and Bandar Jissah.

The development is being built by Muriya, a joint venture between Orascom Development Holdings (70%), a leading developer of integrated destinations and Omran (30%), the tourism development arm of the Omani government.

Phase one started in 2007/08, and construction was not halted even when the global financial crisis and later the Arab Spring took hold.

Muriya CEO Hamza Selim said: “The good thing about Orascom and Muriya working together is that they are still on track and they give credibility to the clients that they will never run and hide and they will always be there.”

At the outset of the project the initial focus was building the marina, breakwater and marina town. This area is virtually finished apart from a few villas.

Jebel Sifah is open to the public and investors. The Muriya-owned and operated Sifawy Boutique Hotel is operating along with its associated Al Sabla Restaurant.

When CW visited the resort, guests were busy enjoying the facilities in the marina town, while elsewhere construction work was moving apace to finish the remainder of the phase one real estate zone.

Muriya’s senior director, design and engineering, Christa Diener said the firm has three years to hand over villas once a contract is signed with a buyer.

She said marina real estate/villas would not be built prior to this happening, however there are some buildings done to shell and core stage and would be finish once a deal is struck.

She added that Muriya is targeting the end of the year to have 50% of the shops and restaurants within the marina town rented out.

Four five-star hotels are earmarked for Jebel Sifah on top of the 54-room Sifawy Boutique Hotel which opened in September 2011.

The quartet of luxury hotels include the Hotel Missoni, Four Seasons, an as yet unnamed hotel and the Banyan Tree and Angsana, which will be built by a third-party developer.

Diener said that once phase one is finished focus would switch seamlessly to designing and building the Hotel Missoni that will be based next to the marina, as well as the “arid” 18-hole golf course.

“The big one will be the Hotel Missoni,” she said. As for the Four Seasons, the contract has been signed with the operator and more than 85% of the design is complete.

CW understands Muriya is open to an investor taking on the facility, which would mark a departure from its usual business model of building and owning the hotels.

Four Seasons and the Banyan Tree and Angsana will be located on the western side of the development where further on an area has been demarcated for “future extension”.

Another plot is known as “The Mansions”. Senior director, project management, Werner Matyas said The Mansions is a cordoned off area of land located at the top of the development close to the Hajjar mountains for clients who prefer more privacy. CW understands that at least one mansion has been sold and work will shortly begin to construct the shell and core.

Modelling of the earth for the golf course is currently taking place and this straddles both the first and second phases. The facility will also include a golf course hotel, club house and driving range when finished.

“I’m a huge believer in golf tourism,” said Selim. “I believe that this country is made for golf tourism.”

At the same time, all the infrastructure and external services work for the resort is being finished. Muriya has also developed a hiking and mountain bike path in the nearby mountains in order to make full use of the natural wonder and increase the offering of Jebel Sifah.

Ten natural wadis run through the development and Diener said they would not be altered; while plants are being grown in an on-site nursery. All recycled sewage water will be used for landscaping. In fact, ‘low density - low impacts’ are fundamental tenets of the Muriya philosophy.

A maximum of 25% of land within Muriya developments is zoned for building, with the remainder set aside for manicured gardens, golf courses, local wildlife preservation and the natural environment.

Property ownership within Jebel Sifah is on a freehold basis and upon completion of their purchase owners are granted Omani family residency together with the financial benefits that flow from residing in Oman including zero income, capital gains, inheritance and property tax.

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