’˜Bigger and better’

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and its second largest city. It is one of the planet’s largest producers of oil and in 2007 was considered the richest city in the world. Anna Mitchell finds out how its wealth translates into opportunity.

Over the last few years Dubai’s rapid rise and its subsequent diminishing fortunes have made headlines the world over. But it is its neighbour and fellow Emirate, Abu Dhabi that has quietly and steadily developed and grown offering great opportunities for both local and foreign audiovisual integrators, installers and distributors. Much like the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, Abu Dhabi’s steady growth looks set to outstrip Dubai’s staggering yet perhaps hasty development.

Bond Communications, an integration firm with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Morocco, established its head office in Abu Dhabi 20 years ago. The city today would have been unrecognisable to owner, Nicholas Mobayed when he founded the company in 1989.

Jonathan Goodwin, is a technical director at the company, and says Mobayed and Khalid Al Hawari, the Abu Dhabi director, have told him many stories of the situation back then. “Bond first penetrated the market distributing and installing satellite TV systems, they never stopped distributing leaflets and marketing the business, even walking up and down every apartment block until they got firmly established. After installing the satellite the hotel would ask them to install a SMATV system, the audio system, then big screens etc.” In this way Bond evolved into the company it is today, an achievement that is not only testament to the hard work of the company’s founders but representative of rapid development throughout the UAE.

In Abu Dhabi, Bond Communications is currently active in multiple residential home automation projects as well as control room installations for the private sector. The company has just completed an installation at the Yas Hotel on Yas Island, including CCTV, audiovisual systems and digital signage. The complex is situated over the Formula 1 track, which hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2009. Furthermore the company has worked on projects at the luxurious Emirate’s Palace, recently installing a new sound system in seven star hotel’s ballroom.

“The AV demand in Abu Dhabi is increasing two fold every year with more and more new hotels, an extensive investment in public transport and mega projects such as Yas and Saadiyat Island,” says Goodwin. “New museums and cultural centres are highly encouraged by the government as well as lighter entertainment venues like Ferrari World and MGM Grand Project. The other great growth is in the security industry where we have seen massive investment in large format display walls and integrated control rooms. With thousands of cameras and number plate recognition systems being installed over the Middle East and Africa the audiovisual integrator has huge opportunities supplying LCD, LED and DLP projection systems [as well as] high end video conferencing and video storage systems.”

So while most of the world languished in economic misery throughout 2008 and much of 2009 what was Abu Dhabi up to? I was keen to find out whether the Emirate has remained unscathed. Goodwin says Abu Dhabi was largely protected but perhaps not completely immune. “All regions have been affected by the crisis. Abu Dhabi was more buoyant in the first year of the crisis but with the demand reduced for residential property they are reviewing each project and learning lessons from Dubai,” he says. Abu Dhabi wants to ensure it does not saturate the market with high-end properties to avoid the property crash that happened in Dubai.

Goodwin warns against writing off Dubai. “I believe a lot of people have got it wrong about Dubai, it’s not Dubai that has lost out, it’s the banks and investors that will have to wait for their returns. Dubai has now built a fantastic infrastructure and world class developments. Times are tough and getting payments [is hard] but most of the larger projects are complete and Dubai is an exceptional place to live and work. In a few years it will bounce back bigger and better with [the entire] infrastructure ready [and] now paid for by greedy bankers.

“Abu Dhabi has learnt a few key lessons from Dubai [with regards to] cost control,” he continues. “If you look at the developments they are partnerships with European companies; ‘Aldar, Besix’ and ‘Aldar, Laing O’rouke’ so the developer is working with the builder from day one to reduce costs. Abu Dhabi is also using a lot of design and build projects [to save] consultant costs. It’s new to the region so we will have to wait and see the results.”

Goodwin notes that the government is investing heavily in security, entertainment, cultural, health care, medical research and education projects. “Huge contracts have been issued in these sectors. The difference to the European AV industry is that these contracts are usually part of the IT and telecommunications budget so the AV contractor also has to offer structured cabling, security systems, IT and data networking systems in order to compete. If you only offer AV systems you will often be limited to taking a sub contract from one of the large integrators.”

So far, Bond has been involved in Yas Island’s Ferrari World and some of the smaller projects on Saadiyat Island. Goodwin says the larger projects on the Island will be released in 2011. Opportunities in the Emirate seem to grow by the day. “Abu Dhabi is every week increasing its event diary,” says Goodwin, offering the International Yacht Show, a military exhibition, an oil exhibition and conference, Formula 1, international sporting events, including football, golf and tennis by way of example.

As infrastructure in Abu Dhabi has grown, so too has its population. It is now estimated that 75 per cent of the population is expatriate and Goodwin says this is reflected in Bond’s workforce. “Bond is probably the most multi-cultural AV company in the world,” he says. “We have Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani, British, Jordanians, Omanis, Greek, Dutch, Filipinos, Palestinians, Egyptians, Iranians, Americans, etc working together. We are constantly looking for new people to join and develop the company’s skills and knowledge base. It is very hard to find locally trained people other than our IT and data networking staff.”

The development in Abu Dhabi is showing no signs of abating. Mindful that its oil reserves will not last forever the government is promoting finance and tourism and behind every sector that is enjoying success in Abu Dhabi is an active AV industry, providing business for integrators both in and out of the region.

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