While I do not minimise the hardships endured by many millions all over the planet or the economic devastation wrought by a virus that respects no borders, I am optimistic that once the plague is tamed most economies built on stable foundations, including that of my homeland the United Arab Emirates, will experience spectacular economic rebounds. People everywhere are anxious for their lives to return to normal and I can only imagine the celebrations once the threat is lifted.
This plague will be beaten like all others before it which is why my eyes are firmly fixed on the future. Headquartered in Dubai, my group has always prioritised investing in the United Arab Emirates not only because it is home but also because of its solid fundamentals and its ability to reinvent itself to overcome obstacles strewn in its path from the outside. However, in recent decades my group’s hospitality and real estate divisions have expanded its reach into Europe and the United States, adding several iconic properties to our hotel and real estate portfolio.
It goes without saying that decisions on whether or not to proceed with asset purchases abroad are largely based on feasibility studies. Businesses need to make profits. But profit is not the only factor that guides me; I need to feel a personal connection with the country in question, its people and, most crucially, its decision-makers.
Since I started investing in Budapest with my acquisition of Le Méridien Budapest in 2012 (now the Ritz-Carlton) everyone I met from top government officials to ordinary folk made me feel welcomed and appreciated. Hungarians are friendly, hardworking, respectful and genuinely helpful. They are a proud people eager to do everything in their power to place their country high on the global investment and tourism map.
I have never met a single person in Budapest, whether Hungarian, foreign resident or investor that has anything to complain about. They seem to know where the country is coming from and where it is going.
Nowadays I always look forward to visiting Budapest not just from a business perspective but also to meet up with some of my dearest friends. Hungarians love to socialise and it is a joy to spend time in their company. I will always appreciate the special welcome organised by two of the most fun loving when I landed at the airport some years ago. To my surprise and great pleasure, there to greet me was a lively gypsy band.
I love Hungarians’ positivity and enthusiasm. Like us Emiratis they place great importance on maintaining close family ties. Many share my passion for tennis, and I have enjoyed lively conversations with well-known tennis players during my visits to the Hungarian capital.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán may not be popular in the halls of Brussels due to his decisions designed to serve his people and the security of his country above all else, but under his administration, Budapest has grown into a beautiful cosmopolitan city widely recognised as the most attractive tourist destination in the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.
I was privileged to meet him when he accepted my invitation to the launch of the newly-renovated and branded Ritz-Carlton Budapest. I felt an immediate connection to this man who exudes strength and a deep love for the soil of his country and its people.
One of the Prime Minister’s greatest achievements is his decisive handling of COVID-19. He instituted a variety of sensible measures without fully paralyzing the nation. Citizens were educated how to deal with the disease and acted responsibly. The result is that Hungary boasts one of the lowest caseloads worldwide and has lifted the state of emergency besides opening-up its borders to some of its neighbours.
Despite the toll the virus has taken on the economy the nation’s central bank predicts modest growth this year while a strong recovery is anticipated next year thanks in part to foreign direct investment encouraged by Hungary’s pro-business, low-tax climate.
Located in the heart of Central Europe, Hungary presents investors with great opportunities with substantial returns. The economy is stable and growing. The government is working hard to create jobs and to open the nation to the world.
I consider Hungary to be one of the world’s most attractive investment destinations offering great tourist potential. It is one of the cleanest and most beautifully landscaped cities in Europe. For me it represents the perfect combination of enlightened strong leadership, friendly people, a rich history, amazing architecture, nature’s blessings, good weather, diverse cultural, entertainment and sporting events – and last but not least a delicious spicy cuisine that apart from the famous Hungarian Goulash has largely gone unrecognised.
History buffs know that Hungary has a rich and fascinating history on par with Britain, France and Austria and Budapest, a green and peaceful city through which the Danube meanders is peppered with historic monuments. Whenever I drive around the country it is often a voyage of discovery; there are so many interesting places begging to be investigated along the way.
By now you will understand that I have fallen in love with Budapest and I would encourage everyone to visit with a view to investing or simply to take in the sights, soak in the natural hot baths, savour the cuisine and the unforgettable warm ambience. It is a destination not to be missed!
By Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor