2018 Preview: The Middle East’s consultants will take on new roles this year

GCC construction consultants’ role is set to change in 2018 as client requirements evolve based on market trends

Mega events such as Expo 2020 Dubai, as well as government mandates  including UAE Vision 2021 and Saudi Vision 2030  are among the top factors driving construction activity in the region, Marques says.
Mega events such as Expo 2020 Dubai, as well as government mandates including UAE Vision 2021 and Saudi Vision 2030 are among the top factors driving construction activity in the region, Marques says.

Evolving property trends in the Gulf, particularly in the UAE, are supporting the growth of construction consultants in the region, and experts say they expect the uptick to continue in 2018.

For instance, Rahim Banizaman Lari, founder and managing director of Abdul Rahim Architectural Consultants (ARACO), says the distinct demands of both luxury and mid-level accommodation developers are reiterating – and reshaping – the typical construction consultant’s role in the region.

“Demand has continued to be high for consultancy services across the Gulf because of the changing landscape of construction, in line with government policy, market trends, and industry developments,” Lari tells Construction Week.

“As an example, the movement towards resort-style living that is combining luxury hospitality brands with renowned real-estate giants across the region is a new market trend and industry development. Market trends are also moving toward matching the medium income population categories, where more incentives and easier payment plans are offered from real estate developers.”

Lari says these new demands mean consultants are now “requested to precisely and carefully control the cost of the project”, while also increasing design efficiency to boost project profitability, and boost the property’s value to its customers.

Indeed, a major makeover appears to be underway within the Gulf’s construction community, and Ermis Marques, regional director of Aurecon’s Middle East operation, says this is a significant opportunity for the GCC’s consultants.

“There is always a demand from clients for good consultancy services; clients are looking for the best expertise and innovative ideas that can deliver the most value to them,” Marques tells Construction Week.

“However, it is important to note that, with progress, clients’ expectations will keep rising and what is innovative today can quickly be commoditised tomorrow.  So, it is important for consulting engineers to constantly raise the bar and to not be complacent about the value they bring. This is what I find most exciting and fun about the Gulf’s construction sector.”

Consultants that share Marques’s opinion will find that there is much to be excited about in the Gulf this year. As client awareness about customer perception increases, consultancy houses are becoming the convergence point for developer ambitions to meet achievable building programmes, Lari explains.

“Real estate developers, especially medium-scale family businesses, are becoming more acquainted with the importance of creating an added value for the customer, which means they ask to provide more advantages within the building to overcome the competition – here is where consultants appear,” ARACO’s founder says.

“Tenant retention, especially in this highly competitive market, is getting more attention from developers. The consultant is requested to think of every single tool to retain the consumer. For something as new as this [approach] in the region, consultancy services are sought out to understand demand, returns on investment (ROI), feasibility, and intricate details of the project.”

However, the consulting sector faced its fair share of challenges in 2017. Marques – whose team has worked with regional powerhouses such as Dubai World Trade Centre, Emaar, and Dubai Properties – says global economic uncertainty, and the restructuring of the Gulf’s economies, “led to delays in decision-making”.

He adds: “This has an impact on our ability to assess our project pipeline and, therefore, the allocate staff and resources to deliver the projects. This affects both consulting engineers and contractors.

“However, as deadlines loom closer for event-driven projects like Expo 2020 Dubai, there are opportunities to provide expertise to help these projects get over the line. We believe that despite uncertainties, there are always opportunities in the market.”

ARACO’s Lari expresses the same sentiment, adding that increased competition in the region has been an opportunity for the company to showcase its expertise and experience: “Some of the best market opportunities we have had within the UAE involve the design and supervision of residential and mixed-use buildings in strategic and up-and-coming areas in Dubai, such as Jumeirah Village Circle and Al Satwa.

“Additionally, in Dubai Production City, we have been signed on to design a twin-tower building spanning almost one million square feet.”

Indeed, as the Gulf works towards the achievement of ambitious national schemes such as UAE Vision 2021 and Saudi Vision 2030, it appears that regional consultants will have plenty to work on even after Expo 2020 Dubai has concluded – and a slow, but steady rise in activity could be visible as early as this year. Lari says that the implementation of value-added tax (VAT) may pose a new challenge in the new year, until it is completely “understood across […] the industry and markets”, adding that change management will be a key tool towards the transition to the tax.

“Stability is the name of the game, and this is what is widely expected across the Gulf region,” he continues, commenting on the consulting sector’s prospects in 2018.

“Opportunities that we expect surround the implementation of government policies mainly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also private-sector investment in real estate and community driven retail spaces.”

Marques, meanwhile, believes that 2018 could be a defining year for project-team relations: “There is also the opportunity to rethink how we organise ourselves to deliver projects.

“The way we continue to structure project delivery creates unnecessary inefficiencies, reduces clients’ ROI, and reduces profit margins for key players. I would like to see a more collaborative approach where the working relationship is based on professionalism, integrity, and trust.”

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