Religious tourism: Stake in first five-star hotel in Karbala up for grabs

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: A Dubai-based real estate developer is looking for investors from Pakistan for the first five-star luxury hotel and residences project in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq.

Talking to The Express Tribune before a press conference, Range Hospitality Business Development Director Shafaat Rasool Hashmi said Al Rawdatain residences and hotel project currently under-construction was a good investment opportunity for those Pakistanis who wanted to put their money in global projects of religious tourism. “It’s a niche market, which has remained unaffected by wars and the global recession.”

Launched in August 2010, the hotel and residences project with 624 apartments is expected to be completed by next year. Managed by Shaza Hotels, it will be a ground-plus-12 hospitality project spread over an area of 65,000 square metres. The project is located less than a kilometre away from the holy shrine.

According to a conservative estimate, Hashmi said, the number of pilgrims who visit Karbala every year is 12 million. “As per the data of 2008, there’re 112 one-star hotels, 22 two-star hotels, 60 three-star hotels and three four-star hotels in Karbala. There’s no five-star hotel there,” Hashmi said, adding only 35,000 rooms are available for 12 million pilgrims who visit the holy city annually.

Addressing the press conference later, Hashmi said Range Hospitality had divided the Islamic calendar into four seasons, namely low, medium, peak and super peak.  Dividing the properties in eight categories in view of their size, facilities and location, Range Hospitality provides potential investors with the opportunity to invest in Al Rawdatain residences and hotel project on a Shariah-complaint “fractional ownership basis.”

Describing the concept of fractional ownership, he said one could own a studio suite for one week per annum during the low season for the next 50 years by paying $6,325. The buyer is supposed to pay 30% upfront with the remaining amount paid upon getting the possession of the suite in the fourth quarter of 2013. This payment will include all overheads and services charges. The property can be rented out and its ownership transferred, gifted or sold, he added.

Given the gap in demand and supply of residences near the holy shrines in Karbala, Hashmi said the property was likely to fetch high rents. The current per-night rate charged by two-star hotels in Karbala is approximately $300, he said. “In view of current market trends, you can expect a net return on investment of up to 20%. Moreover, you are likely to recover your total investment within the first five years,” he said.

He said Iraq was returning to normalcy quickly after the withdrawal of the US military.

“In short, Iraq is a good country to invest in right now,” Hashmi added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 24, 2012.


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