Sharjah free trade zone to offer 'ultra-cheap' deals

Sharjah's Hamriyah Free Zone, home to more than 4,000 off-shore businesses, is planning to boost its marketing budget by 20 per cent next year.

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Sharjah's Hamriyah Free Zone, home to more than 4,000 off-shore businesses, is planning to boost its marketing budget by 20 per cent next year, according to its marketing director, Hadi Qasim. The marketing boost is part of the zone's broader strategy to capitalise on the global recession by offering ultra-cheap office space - one new recession-inspired package offers a year's space for $5,000 - and spreading the word that the Gulf is one of the few places in the world where the money is still flowing, said Mr Qasim.

He urged other marketing managers at the Marketing and Branding Congress in Sharjah yesterday to follow the zone's lead and resist the temptation to cut marketing spending during a downturn. "In a recession, marketing budgets get cut because it's easy," he said. "In any slowdown, the management looks first at the marketing department to cut the budget, and that is wrong, because the marketing money that you spend now will take you three or four years ahead."

While the free zone has not been immune to the effects of the recession, losing "a few" investors in the past year, it has maintained steady growth over the past decade, growing from 3,282 businesses last year to more than 4,000 as of June, he said. He expects this rate to continue, as the zone has targeted 32 countries in Europe, Southeast Asia, Asia and the MENA region for its marketing campaign focused on trade shows, trade press and chambers of commerce.

"We are receiving a lot of high-potential companies who are really encouraged by their governments to go out from the recession and look for opportunities, and where else can you find opportunities than in the Gulf region?" he said. "This is where the spending is. Government spending is what motivates the market." But while strong government spending and free zone incentives are expected to continue to draw foreign businesses interested in a foothold in the UAE market, things on the ground are still sluggish, according to several marketing managers at the congress.

Dr Nazem Jaber, the sales and marketing manager for Al Hanoo Holding, the developers of Nujoom Islands, Sharjah's largest commercial, residential and tourism development, said he expected to boost marketing spending next year, but not as high as previous levels - and probably not until the second half of the year. "I think starting from the second half of 2010, the market will start to change," he said. "The increasing of the market and the improving of the marketing will not be like what we saw before the crisis. It will go slowly, because already, the market's prices have reached the bottom, and now we are seeing only horizontal movement for the last six months. I think this horizontal movement will continue for another nine months."

But when the upturn comes, the property market will be a much more competitive place, and one much more in need of marketing than before, he said. Or as Dr Rashid Alleem, chairman of the Alleem Knowledge Center and director general of the Hamriyah Free Zone, put it: "Marketing has become a must now, after the credit crunch."