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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ABU DHABI: Property companies should use technology to stay in touch with a fast-changing market or risk being left behind, an Abu Dhabi forum heard.
“The ability to access data is essential,” Jonathan Goldstein, CEO of Cain International, a private real-estate investment firm, told the first day of the Milken Institute’s 2020 Middle East and Africa summit.
Speaking in a session entitled “Being the disruptor, not the disrupted: Innovators shaping real estate,” Goldstein said: “What we are finding across our business is that by using data sensibly, we are able to understand want our customers want, what they look for.”
He said that millennials, who make up a quarter of the global population, “look at the world differently.”
“We need to reflect that mindset,” he said.
Referring to the role of data and modern technologies in the real-estate industry, Goldstein said the more a company knows its customers, the better its chances of success.
Hussain Sajwani, founder and chairman of Dubai-listed Damac Properties, told the forum that the company has been aggressive in incorporating technology in its operations.
“We have been going digital. We are moving very fast in adopting new technologies for customer relations and for sales,” he said.
Sajwani said that technology has given Damac a greater understanding of its clients, allowing it to focus its spending strategy on customer acquisition and retention.
Only 1 percent of spending last year went on TV ads, while 90 percent went toward digital expenses, he said.
“A lot of companies are going through disruptions. The risk is very high,” Sajwani said, adding that some retailers have gone bankrupt because of their inability to compete with the technology-driven rise of e-commerce.
While physical assets are still important, their value can be enhanced through the application of technology for sales and customer relations, Sajwani said.
“It is amazing how big Damac’s data is for us to be able to monetize it in the interest of the company and customers ... but not to sell to third parties,” he said.
Sajwani’s comments came as Damac reported its first full-year loss in almost a decade and a 28 percent drop in revenue.
Full-year revenue fell to $1.2 billion, Damac said, as it “selectively launched fewer projects in softer market conditions to avoid adding new commitments and focus on selling complete and near completion inventory.”
Banks in the UAE are bracing for more write-downs from the real-estate sector amid a downturn, especially in the Dubai property market.
Fitch Ratings recently said that a weakening property market is likely to put more pressure on the asset quality of the UAE banking sector.
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