Branson tempted by little corner of England in Dubai
Clarence Michael in Dubai
Dubai's iconic projects, which have stoked the interest of a growing list of the rich and famous, seem to have attracted British entrepreneur Richard Branson as well.
After arriving in Dubai on the inaugural Virgin Atlantic flight last Tuesday, Sir Richard visited The World, a series of man-made islands in the shape of a world map that feature 300 super-luxury developments.
The off-beat tycoon planted a Red Box telephone booth on the US$33 million, 1.07 million sqft island of Great Britain. In a typical publicity stunt, he emerged from the phone booth dressed in the colours of the Union Flag.
The World is being developed by Nakheel, a company with real estate developments worth more than US$30 billion, including Dubai's Palm Islands.
'The World is one of the most innovative developments I have ever seen and I admire the vision behind it,' Sir Richard said.
He added that he had been offered the chance to buy a piece of the land but did not disclose his decision. He already owns an island in the Caribbean.
Those who have booked properties in The Palm development nearby include David Beckham, Michael Schumacher and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.
The World, lying 4km off the coast of Dubai, is about 9km wide by 7km long and covers more than 593 million sqft.
A collection of homes, apartments, resorts, restaurants and retail outlets are planned.
According to the Middle East Real Estate Society, the Dubai government expects real estate investment by the year 2010 to exceed US$50 billion.
Total investment in Dubai's real estate currently stands at US$45billion.
Assisting the development will be the new property law announced by the Dubai government recently, which gives non-Gulf Co-operation Council expatriates the right to acquire freehold and 99-year lease property in designated areas.
The designated areas are yet to be announced.