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Malaysia, Best Location For Arab Investors, Tourists, Says Developer Print E-mail
Sunday, 25 January 2009 19:29

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 (Bernama)-- Arab property developer, Hesham El Din Fathi Mohamed has visited Malaysia more than 50 times, during which he has made comparisons with other nations across the globe.

Nothing compares to Malaysia especially when it comes to attracting investors and tourists from the Middle East, he says.

Hesham, an Egyptian said he worked in the Middle East for 15 years, and having studied the world situation, which currently is dogged by the financial meltdown, he has come to the conclusion that Malaysia is the best and right spot for investment.

"Our vision of the Gulf was that this area would definitely go down very fast. The past few days have confirmed that. By going out first, we would have a bigger chance than anybody else," said Hesham, who is a managing director of Golden Corporate Heritage Sdn Bhd, which is the developer of the proposed Arab City in Jalan Ampang.

Incepted six months ago, Golden Corporate Heritage Sdn Bhd is a joint venture between Dubai, Saudi Arabian and Malaysian partners. The company has branch offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia with diverse interests in real estate, trading and oil and gas.

Malaysia has a special appeal to the Arab world. What has attracted Arabs to Malaysia all these years is its safe, steady and friendly environment. It has been lauded as a modern, moderate and progressive Muslim nation.

"Having studied the world market, we find Malaysia is the only good spot we can invest in. The Malaysian culture can accept any foreigner easily, has good infrastructure, is blessed with natural resources and further strengthened by stability.

"We have never heard of violence in Malaysia. In all aspects, we find Malaysia the right place to start our investment," he said.

"When we thought of coming to Malaysia, we didn't have a specific project in mind. I came to Malaysia as a tourist more than 50 times before I made the decision. After looking at the society, I decided that this is the right place to invest," said Hesham in an interview with Bernama recently at his office at Menara Ambank in Jalan Yap Kwan Seng here.

While in Kuala Lumpur, he visited the Arab Street in the Bukit Bintang. area. Malaysia has the distinction of having many such enclaves in the various cities and major towns, such as the Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Little India in Klang and the Portuguese Colony in Melaka. These are all tourist attractions.

"Hanging out around the Bukit Bintang area made me discover that Arabs are focusing here. But unfortunately, the place is not suitable for Arabs who come here with their families. Arabs choose Malaysia because they want to bring along their families. It is a family destination," said Hesham.

A survey conducted by the company on Arab tourists along Jalan Bukit Bintang revealed that they had problems with food and could not find a place in Kuala Lumpur which was safe for them to spend with their families.

He said that not many Arabs were willing to return for a second visit as they saw very little improvement in the tourism sector catering to their community.

Arabs, said Hesham, tend to enjoy their own cuisine and it was difficult to find a truly authentic Middle Eastern restaurant in the city.

While more than 1.2 million Arabs come to Malaysia each year to shop and spend time with their families, these are not the same group of visitors from the Middle East, he said.

Because of all these factors, including the absence of a similar enclave like Chinatown and Little India, he decided to propose the development of an Arab City in Malaysia, and when completed, it will be the first in the world.

He said after several meetings, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman took only two weeks to give the company conditional approval for the project to be located in Jalan Ampang, which is in the golden triangle. It is also next to Saloma Bistro and Theatre Restaurant and the Malaysia Tourism Information Centre (Matic).

However, the company is still awaiting approval for its request for a 33-year lease on the piece of land from the Federal Land and Mines department, he said.

He said the project, sited a few hundred metres from the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, will be a retail, business and lifestyle hub with a display of rich Arab food, culture and tradition in the heart of the city.

He said the development cost of the project is estimated at RM35.4 million while operating cost is over RM150 million.

The proposed Arab City enclave, which will be equipped with state of the art security systems, will have a two-storey complex with 337 parking bays. Among the facilities are an exhibition and convention centre which will host events throughout the year, ten restaurants, two coffee houses, bakeries and a supermarket.

The bazaar area will have more than 150 shops of international and local fashion brands, a multi-purpose hall, prayer rooms, beauty salons and a theme park for families with children.

The project is expected to provide job opportunities for about 1,000 Malaysians while 200 Arabs are expected to run the business.

Citing figures from Mastercard, he said Arabs from the Gulf states spent US$1.5 billion on shopping abroad during the last summer break.

"Rather than elsewhere, we want them to spend their money here.But we need to make them feel comfortable during their stay," he said.

Following the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the United States, many Arabs have avoided that country and Europe. The situation in Lebanon, which used to be a popular tourist destination for the Middle Eastern tourists, is also not stable arising from the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

"There are no other options for the Arabs. For instance, Saudi Arabian's by law cannot go to Thailand," he said.

Many Arabs make Malaysia their first choice destination each year for the long summer holiday.

Hotels in Malaysia during the Arab summer break, register a 100 percent occupancy with air frequency increased from 35 flights per week to 45 between here and the Middle East, with Arabs families usually having a month-long holidays.

"We are testing the waters here. To invest, we need an assurance and the Arab tourists who come here, want to feel that they are comfortable," Hesham said.

He also said Malaysia should tap opportunities from the credit crunch in the Gulf with more Arab investors expected to flow into the country given the attractions here.

"But greater efforts and incentives should be provided for, to create a more conducive environment for the Arabs," he added.

Analysts said early predictions that the Arab states of the Gulf would be largely protected from the international financial crisis have proved misplaced. As the turmoil spread, the Gulf has been hit by its own liquidity squeeze -- largely because foreign funds that had wrongly bet on a revaluation of local currencies pulled out suddenly once the financial crisis hit.

For him, the global crisis should not be an obstacle to doing business.

"You can't shrink and stay at home, waiting for the crisis to go away. Each country has its own crisis. What's happening in US does not have to affect India for instance, unless they are connected. I have been hearing a lot of the crisis and no one can explain why.

"We are here, we have the money. There is a project and there is a market. How is the crisis going to affect us?

"We see things as being wonderful.We see the economy as beautiful. We want to do something, at the least. Let us be more optimistic. I came to Kuala Lumpur not to leave.

"I have my home, my family here but no Malaysian passport or nationality. But maybe I have a Malaysian heart.

"I am living here with friends, family. There is a future for my kids. What is strange is, I am working for the country to be better. I am here to stay forever," Hesham said.

-- BERNAMA

By Salbiah Said



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