The face is half covered. The elongated visor of the cap also protects it when the sunset has already reached Liscia di Vacca, on the opposite side of the «water front» of the richest port in the Mediterranean. Shy, reserved, handshake strong enough to carve the fingerprints on the hand of others. The facial features of this businessman, with a nationality straddling Kuwait and Canada, could easily confuse him with the Sardinians of Sardinia. Lively and curious eyes, like those of a sniper who studies the interlocutor from a distance. He, Waleed Al-Ghafari, in the register of professions declares himself a “business developer”. In reality he lives on a plane, between Dubai, Modena, Canada, half the world and now Porto Cervo. Not really a vacation for him.
In this hot summer as never before, the long-eyed gentleman, between a circumnavigation of the coast and a swim in the turquoise waters, “sells” cars. Not exactly normal. And, above all, not for everyone. If you are not a sheikh, nabob or billionaire in that jewelry box, in front of the yachts of a thousand and one nights, it is better not even to go inside. This is not for the curious. Here the ultra-luxury “small cars”, and above all unique pieces, are worth figures with many zeros. Ares, the brand that designs the most luxurious cars in the world like in a high fashion atelier, is the toy jewel that he shares with his partner Dany Bahar. Headquarters and exclusive “tailoring” in Modena. Here the famous cars enter, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, and Ares, unbridled luxury, comes out. The 170 men of this company with just 8 years of life dismantle bodies and interiors, sometimes even the engines, to transform those cars into unique, exclusive pieces, for the use and consumption of the billionaire dreams of those who dare to ask for true luxury. The meeting is scheduled at his headquarters in Porto Cervo, but he does not even think for a moment to talk to me about his machines, he quickly understands that it would be a waste of time.
From Dubai to Porto Cervo
In everyday life, over the 45 days of Costa Smeralda, for at least 30 years, it has been beating the most disparate markets, from telecommunications to technology, from hospitality to the real estate sector. He does not like borders, the business view for him is global, from North America to Europe, necessarily passing through the Middle East. He is the one who founded “Dubai Pearl”, a world-renowned $ 3.3 billion real estate project in the heart of the Emirati capital. Also in the city-state, all rich and luxurious, he was President of the “Dubai Pearl Hotel Company”, the core business of high-end tourism development and Technology Park. In the United Arab Emirates nothing was missing, not even the foundation of the Dubai Film Festival, all money, films and even Oscars. On vacation, however, he is here, in the exclusive land of Gallura granites.
The uncle and the sculptures
He first got there 34 years ago. An uncle brought him. He intrigued him by telling him about “a land where the best sculptures in the world have been carved”. He says: «When I found myself in front of those works of art sculpted by the sea and the wind, I realized that paradise was here, in Sardinia. A surprise every day. Wherever you turn your gaze you are enchanted. A diversity of landscapes without equal in the world ».
From Piscinas to the Blue Zone
“I went around the island, I saw the spectacular” desert “of Piscinas in the south of the island, I passed in front of the Blue zone of Ogliastra, I was speechless in front of such an immense natural heritage and everything within reach but no”. Marketing and business man, when he talks about Sardinia he has no doubts: «It’s a brand that promotes itself. If one thinks of this island, of the thousand facets of this diamond, one immediately understands that we are talking about a luxury brand. For us, being here is a natural choice, luxury goes where there is a high level, whether it is a territory or a tourist offer ». In his reasoning, between Sardinian similarities and world-wide comparisons, a cyclopean “but” bursts, the one that insinuates doubts and future scenarios.
September, it closes
«We are in the third year in Porto Cervo and every season we sell more and more. This year we have sold more luxury cars than last year. But there is a question I ask myself: why aren’t we doing everything possible to extend the season? ». The finding is almost self-evident, were it not for the fact that it has always remained a chimera: «In September, for example, there is less mass flow and there could be much more” tourists “with a” high net worth “who come to Sardinia. And, on the other hand, there is now the well-known certainty that here, from 25 August, everything is starting to close. Just when the tourist offer for luxury could be even more attractive, here it closes. Yet Sardinia has unique characteristics, starting from the climate, which would allow a much more extended season. Years ago it was much wider, in reality now it does not go beyond two months ».
2 months are not enough
For Waleed it is more than a worry, inexplicable for a businessman who sees potential at 360 degrees: «The big luxury hotel chains are not attracted if the season lasts only two months. The reason is simple, they can never offset the investment costs. If the season were four months, the ability to attract investors could already double. Of course, there are already luxury structures here, but not as many as a place as luxurious as this one should have ».
Sardinia & Mykonos
The vision of the world of tourism ranges between islands: “The comparison does not hold up, in Sardinia there is much more, but in the Greek island of Mykonos, for example, they make a great worldwide publicity to say that it remains increasingly open”. He almost gets upset in the face of torpor: «Sardinia is not a Greek island. It is so much more. It’s unique. Half an hour from Porto Cervo there is everything and more ». The analysis becomes structural: «The Costa Smeralda has a great history behind it, the process of adapting to the new needs of the world luxury tourism market is, however, very slow. The necessary qualitative leap has not been made. There has not been an in-depth study on the type of seasonality to offer and pursue. It ended up not attracting investors. The reality is that there is a lot to do, precisely because there is enormous potential here, much more important than anywhere else in the world ».
Services, the real bet
«All entrepreneurs would have a great advantage if the Olbia airport and port hub could expand and attract new investors. All this virtuous process can only take place if there is an improvement in the airport, ports, services, connections that rotate in transport, from the access roads to the tourist areas to those inside the island. Investors only arrive if there is an increase in services and seasonality. This is the first goal to change gears“.
All in one Island
For him, the man of ultra-luxury machines, all you need is the means to get there, the content of this land is marked by spearheads that alone can constitute a world-class attractor: “An incomparable diversity of scenery, there is no nowhere else in the world so varied, all enclosed in an island. With a thousand shades of colors of the sea and green. There are the desert dunes of Piscinas, an exclusive natural heritage everywhere, and there is, for example, one of the five “blue zones” in the world. If I may dare: that is a unique attractor of universal value. The rich and not only look for places to live longer and better. In Sardinia, there is, but it is not valued at all ».
Blue Zone, other than Dubai
It is no coincidence that the man who builds machines in the image and likeness of the sheikhs’ portfolio has very clear ideas about the next excursion to the land of Sardinia: «I want to see Ogliastra. Many do not even know that there is one of the five world “blue zones”, where longevity, the environment, the food that determine it, can represent an extraordinary attraction, not only for tourism, on a world level “. The gaze is doubled, on one side Sardinia on the other Dubai, where he lives: «The problem is all here: in Dubai there is nothing, net of super skyscrapers, it has no particular contents, Sardinia, on the other hand, has everything. Unlike Dubai, however, it doesn’t have branding.
Strategic master plan
The contents are all there, but the promotion and enhancement tools are decidedly under dimensioned compared to the potential of Sardinia. From the 70s to today, Dubai has had an amazing growth program, a clear offer plan for investors, from how to live to the strategy for the future. A program that made a difference. Here, however, all this is missing: there is no organic program. We need a strategic and marketing master plan. There are many extraordinary places that not even Sardinians know about. It doesn’t have to be a master plan just for tourism. We need a plan that addresses the world: to those who, for example, might decide to come and live in Sardinia. They did it in Marbella in Spain, but there is no comparison here, you can do much more and better. It must be a plan that attracts “self-suspenders”, those who have a “high net product”. A service and attraction improvement plan that must be valid for Sardinians, for those who live there and for those who want to come and live in Sardinia ».
Past, nothing for the future
«The Costa Smeralda is celebrating its first sixty years. It’s okay to celebrate the past, however, we also need to think about what needs to happen in the next few years. Dubai has no history, no past: but it attracts 55 million passengers. It is evident that an investor earns much more by investing a million dollars in Dubai than in Sardinia. In Dubai that million earns him income for 12 months a year, here only for two months ». For Waleed Al Ghafari we need a global vision. He explains: «In the capital of the Emirates they built the museum of 2074. An exhibition on what the future will be like. To the investors they say: tomorrow we will be like this ».
Everybody likes it
He doesn’t let go: «Here we celebrate the past, but we have not planned the future. This land has an advantage that no one else has: everyone likes it, the young, the not so young and the elderly want to come ». Porto Cervo comes alive in the after yacht, for Waleed it is time for commitments: «I make a commitment: I will take a tour inside the island with our special cars, I want to discover it in its deepest intimacy. We will make a movie. Sardinia is there, unique and exclusive, you just need to make it known to the world ».
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