Dubai property expo prepares to open

The conference comes amid concerns about the world markets and the ability of Dubai property prices to keep climbing.

At least 60,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend Cityscape this year. Khalil Mohammed Edrahim, left, a sales advisor for Aldar, was inundated with queries at the Abu Dhabi exhibition earlier this year.

Abu Dhabi // More than 60,000 people, including nearly a third from other countries, are descending on Dubai today and tomorrow for Cityscape Dubai, organisers said. At a time of serious concerns about the world financial markets and the ability of Dubai property prices to keep climbing, the annual conference is being billed by analysts and developers as a crucial event for measuring the pulse of the regional property economy.

Rohan Marwaha, the managing director of Cityscape, said that one trend has already emerged in tandem with the headlines of the last few weeks. Registrations for the event have shown a major jump in attendance by Americans and Europeans. "More people have preregistered from the US than any other international destination," he said, adding that the number of people had increased by about 400 per cent compared to the 2007 event. "It's a very strong indicator that they are looking at international investments more than their own domestic market."

He said his conservative estimate for the conference was about 60,000 people, but the actual figure could be much higher. Big announcements are planned and over-the-top stalls have been designed to wow the hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of representatives of wealthy individuals, pension funds and other groups with liquidity that might be injected to the property market. Meraas Development, Dubai's newest developer, is a prime example of the big bang that companies are trying to make. Not only has it sponsored the VIP lounge and built a sushi bar, but it is planning to make a major announcement, Mr Marwaha said.

One announcement the developer is still deciding whether to announce is its supertall tower planned for Jumeirah Garden City, a new development in Satwa and Al Wasl. One advertisement on the Cityscape website shows a teaser image that is strikingly similar to the Atrium City Towers, a design by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill that would rise higher than the Burj Dubai. All this is happening despite less buyer-friendly mortgage rates, a credit crunch, construction delays and a corruption investigation by the Dubai Government that has led to the detainment of several senior executives in the property business world.

Nonetheless, the UAE and GCC property markets are gaining international attention for the fast pace and audacity of the projects, said Blair Hagkull, the managing director of the regional office of Jones Lang Lasalle. "What is happening in the Middle East is becoming increasingly relevant in the rest of the world," he said. While the arrival of envoys from the major funds and property companies of the US does not translate into increased sales in Dubai in the short term, it could augur greater investment down the road.

"So far, international direct foreign investment has not materialised as we expected," Mr Hagkull said. "International investors have a lot to digest in their home markets right now. But the sustainability of the market here speaks well for the future." One thing property analysts will be looking out for at Cityscape this year is sales activity. Cityscape organisers said the event was not supposed to be a sales event and that it had enacted safeguards to prevent this from proliferating, but as with Cityscape Abu Dhabi in May, many investors are likely to try and obtain properties at the conference.

Jones Lang Lasalle is also expected to announce the results of an investor sentiment survey with 150 leading world investors about Dubai's property market. One of the signs of health in the market in the months and years to come, he said, is the growing confidence of regional investors. Just yesterday, DIFC Investments, the investment arm of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), announced had launched a Dh10bn real estate fund that will invest in the UAE's real estate sector.

"The steady growth of the real estate sector in recent years and the great future prospects provide us with an excellent opportunity to diversify our portfolio. Historically, this sector has netted high returns for investors, and there is a lot room for growth and a lot of untapped potential in this sector, both in the short and longer term," said Omar bin Suleiman, the Governor of DIFC and Chairman of DIFC Investments. Announcements of the investments will be made in the coming weeks, he said.