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Fit-out firms talk retrofitting demand in the UAE

Industry experts tell Paromita Dey how the refurbishment market in the UAE has gained prominence with the advent of Expo 2020 and the increase in new demand trends

ISG Middle East carried out the $100m refurbishment works at Kempinski MOE.
ISG Middle East carried out the $100m refurbishment works at Kempinski MOE.

With Dubai’s Expo 2020 approaching quickly, the country’s infrastructure is undergoing a complete overhaul. Along with a slew of new real estate projects, refurbishment of existing structures has also gained prominence – still considered as one of the most challenging tasks in the construction industry.

For a hospitality project, it is always economically difficult to close down the hotel for a long time, whereas for a residential one, the tenants and owners will face a difficult time. But with the falling oil price, many developers in the region are looking forward to providing a facelift to their existing project structures to meet new demands and people.

Local fit-out contractor ISG Middle East recently completed the $100m renovation of the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, the first property of the hotel chain in Dubai. The refurbishment began in 2012 and was done in multiple phases, including the complete renovation of the public and dining areas, and 373 rooms and suites, followed by the upgrading of the conference facilities.

The firm’s newly appointed managing director, Steve Ramsden, points out that they have their hands full with many refurbishment projects in the country, especially hotels. “It is quite well known within the industry that a number of five-star hotels, in Dubai in particular, are up for refurbishment.

“Clearly, many property owners and hotel operators see the value in refurbishing their assets to stay up-to-date and be able to compete with new hotel rooms coming to the market, especially in the lead up to important events, such as Expo 2020.” The contractor, shortly after the completion of its works on the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates, has started the refurbishment of another established four-star hotel in Dubai.

Ramsden says: “We are also involved in a number of corporate office upgrades for blue-chip companies and international clients. We are doing significant technology upgrades and engineering-led work for these clients.”

ALEC Fitout, a subsidiary of the UAE-based Al Jaber Group, has successfully delivered projects across retail, leisure and hospitality sectors for key clients in the UAE and Qatar, according to its business development manager, Tom Gilmartin. He says: “Although there are prevalent challenging conditions in the construction and fit-out industry, 2016 has been a solid year for ALEC Fitout.

“We have successfully delivered projects across retail, leisure and hospitality sectors for key clients in the UAE and Qatar. We have also secured large-scale hospitality and residential projects, which will ensure that our order book for 2017-18 is looking good.

“We will continue to focus on successful delivery of projects for key and repeat clientele and maintain our strong relationships with consultant teams and supply chain partners in the region and internationally.”

The contractor has recently completed works at the new Dubai Festival City food court as part of the Project Salsa 2 Dubai Festival City Mall Refurbishment. Covering over 8,000m2, the scope of work included marble flooring, gypsum ceiling, and columns finished in corian and fixed joinery. Also included in the scope was the fit-out of new washrooms as well as refurbishment of existing ones.

Gilmartin continues: “Our team has also just completed the fire rectification works at Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT). The works here consisted of replacing the façade of the building; a considerable amount of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) equipment, which was situated externally at the top of the building; major and minor internal repair works to the apartments; and minor repair works to the external areas of the building."

To date, the team at ALEC Fitout have successfully delivered a number of refurbishment projects in the UAE, including the One & Only Royal Mirage in Al Suffouh (phase 1 and 2), the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (phase 1), Pier Chic at the Madinat, VIDA Hotel Downtown, as well as a number of packages at Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Owners of existing structures, whether residential or commercial, nowadays are under pressure to optimise the value of their projects by refurbishing them. Some of the buildings in the country are quite old and renovation and refurbishment is needed in order to maintain their market value.

But the main challenge emerges when the property is completely occupied and the fit-out company has to continue working on it without creating any disturbance. Ramsden of ISG says: “Planning, phasing and programming are all essential aspects while undertaking large-scale refurbishment projects. Flexibility, at the fit-out contractor’s end, is also fundamentally important, to be able to accommodate any last minute changes to the design or the project timeline, which almost always happens with all large projects.

“Also, we believe that the whole process has to be a consultative one, involving all project stakeholders to ensure that the best outcome is achieved for all parties.”

Gilmartin of ALEC Fitout says that a key factor for any asset owner of a large-scale project is how the refurbishment will impact their ability to generate revenue while the work is being delivered on time.

“Deciding whether to keep the asset operational or to close for the refurbishment is a major decision to make. Working closely with the client and consultant team, we always try to advise and execute the best possible refurbishment strategy to reduce lost room or operational revenues while ensuring a high-quality finish in the most efficient time.”

With the current slowdown in the market and the fast-approaching dates for Expo 2020, developers and consultants are bound to turn their attention towards providing high-quality refurbishments to their existing projects, in turn fuelling the demand for fit-out contractors in the country.

It will definitely be interesting to see how these fit-out contractors come up with new and creative technologies in order to meet the growing demand.

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