Pearls of the Persian Gulf; Dubai's Neighbours Are Set to Take the Region Upmarket, Reports Catherine Moye

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Byline: CATHERINE MOYE

FAST resembling a Middle Eastern equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses, the Gulf states of Oman, Qatar and Bahrain have all recently announced resortstyle developments to rival Dubai's.

Its neighbours have been mightily impressed by the scale of schemes there and, equally importantly, by international investors' eagerness to buy them.

If Dubai is frequently likened to a new Florida, Oman seeks to be the Monte Carlo of the Middle East and has just signed singer Michael Jackson as consultant to an entertainment business that will be the hub of its forthcoming Blue City development.

This multibillion-dollar resort, with golf courses, hotels, villas and apartments, will be situated along several dozen miles of sandy beaches on a peninsula overlooking islands which offer the best deepsea diving in the Middle East.

'Blue City is the largest tourism real estate project in the whole region,' says Chris Steel, head of Middle East operations at Hamptons International, which will be marketing the scheme on its release in May.

He points out that Oman is very different to Dubai, both topographically and in the buyers it wants to attract. 'Oman is one of the world's most aesthetically interesting countries - it is mountainous and very green,' says Steel, who has lived there for the past seven years.

Although it and Dubai are both turning to leisure and the holiday property markets to compensate for fast-diminishing oil reserves, Oman is after a very different clientele.

'Oman has seen how Dubai has lost much of its heritage in the drive to develop and has learned by those mistakes,' Steel explains.

'There will be no low-budget package tours or cheap property schemes. In Oman, all the developments and hotels will be very highend and top of the range.' Steel points to the Muscat Golf And Country Club scheme of 160 villas and apartments, of which just three remain, as an example of a high-class leisure resort. …