Saudi travelers returning to America

Updated 07 July 2015

Saudi travelers returning to America

ORLANDO, Florida: More than 6,500 delegates from 73 countries, including over 1,300 international and domestic travel buyers and 500 media from the US and abroad, attended the US Travel Association’s 47th annual IPW, the travel industry’s premier international marketplace.
The event, the largest single generator of travel to the US, convened in Orlando, Florida earlier this month.
The Saudi delegation was more strongly represented than in recent years, with travel experts attending from around the Kingdom; while the US Consulate General in Jeddah sent their Travel and Tourism Specialist from the Commercial Service, Mai AbuDabat.
Travel from Saudi Arabia to the US has increased greatly since May 2015 when the US started facilitating visas for the Saudi market by issuing US business visitors five-year, multiple-entry visas, said Yasser Rafaat, events and groups manager for the Jeddah-based Attar Travels.
“Facilitating visa issues for the Saudi market has been a huge help for us,” Rifaat said. The US will see the positive impact of this in the next few years.
“Saudi nationals spend a lot of money when they travel, and are the biggest travelers to the US in the region.”
AbuDabat, commercial specialist, told Arab News: “Saudis’ attitudes to travel to the US are positive.”
AbuDabat added: “Many generations of Saudi nationals have a history here, especially with the King Abdullah Scholarship program, the KASP program, which is US-centric; 55 percent of Saudi students travel to US universities, and the rest go to the UK or Australia. We find that since so many Saudi students come to the US this results in generation after generation of Saudis who feel an affinity for the US.”
A first timer to IPW, Shehazad Ahmed, manager for Leisure and MICE (an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) for the Al Khobar-based ITL World, came “looking for new products, like Legoland, for our market.”
At IPW, he said that he found other “unique products” for his clients, such as Amtrak vacations “which is good, as we currently are handling Eurail trips in Europe.”
These fortuitous meetings are part of IPW’s success.
Over the course of three days, nearly 100,000 pre-scheduled business meetings took place between travel buyers and US travel organizations.
Aslam Pasha, general manager for the AlKhobar-based Almajdouie Travels, said he had a very positive experience, noting that “IPW is purely business, it is not a social gathering.”
To configure so many business meetings between so many people, IPW runs the 3-day convention like clockwork.
“I really admired the professionalism in managing the show,” said Pasha.
“Everything is well-run and tightly run. Here you learn how to manage time. Anyone who wants to succeed needs to learn how to value time. Here everything is perfectly organized: transportation, hotels, food, even the hotels selected to host the attendees.”
When asked how many of their meetings with American suppliers were positive in the sense that they felt it would lead to future business deals, they all said that they felt that between 50 percent to 70 percent of their meetings at IPW would lead to further business opportunities for them here.
The Saudi team did say there was some room for improvement.
“The negative we noticed here is that managers of IPW never talk about Middle East clients,” said Rafaat, who has been in the travel industry for over 23 years.
“They talk about Japan, Brazil, China and the UK but never mention us.”
This is unfortunate, as according to IPW President Roger Dow, Middle East tourists traveling to the US number 243,000 and spend $618 million annually.
Nonetheless, Ahmed appreciated what IPW did offer.
“The IPW show is very disciplined and the arrangements are good, and the meetings are serious and constructive.”
This is what IPW does best: bringing together travel professionals from every corner of the US, including representatives of hotels, destinations, attractions, museums, amusement parks and other travel businesses.
These professionals market themselves to the world’s top international tours operators and wholesalers that sell travel to the US.
Pasha praised the daily activities at IPW, including lunches, which he said “are fun and yet always focused on business outcomes.”
Pasha said: “A good example of how well-organized they are is that even the lunches are very energizing — which makes it easy to continue doing business after lunch, as opposed to Saudi Arabia.”
The lunch entertainment here is re-energizing, which is important, as we work so hard here, said Pasha.
“Business deals are easily made on the floor here.”
AbuDabat’s presence was useful working with the Saudi tourism authorities who attended IPW.
“Saudi companies can work through the US Dept of Commerce,” she explained.
“We link US suppliers with Saudi buyers, which creates more business for US companies. My role is to link Saudi buyers with US suppliers. We coordinate the introduction, and have offices all over the US.”
AbuDabat said: “So, if Yasser [Rafaat, Attar Travel] informs me that he wants to organize children’s trips to summer camps in the US, I send a mass e-mail to all our tourism teams in the US and explain the request. Then they reply with what they have to offer. We do this across many industries, not only travel.”
AbuDabat said: “We will try to increase Saudi delegates from 5 to 8 or 12. We’re the biggest market in the Middle East by demographics and income. Now that the visa entry process has improved, there’s very good working relationship between the two countries.”
IPW-initiated travel is expected to bring 8.8 million international visitors to the US, an independent firm, Rockport Analytics, recently published.
Overseas travelers will earn the $28 billion in total spending, and $4.7 billion in direct bookings to US destinations over the next three years.

Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

Updated 17 May 2022

Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

  • G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

RIYADH: Investors in crypto currencies should expect more difficult times ahead as tightening financial conditions around the world stoke appetite for safer assets, Bank of England Deputy Gov. Jon Cunliffe said on Tuesday.

Asked at a Wall Street Journal conference if rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on crypto currencies, Cunliffe said: “Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the US ... I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.” Cunliffe added that the conflict in Ukraine also had the potential to cause a renewed flight to safer assets.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November. 

However, it traded higher on Tuesday, up 0.2 percent to $30,418 as of 08:52 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $2,077, up 0.32 percent, according to data from CoinDesk.

G7 meeting

The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably ... discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

Grayscale to launch digital assets

Grayscale will list an exchange-traded fund in Europe made up of companies representing the “Future of Finance,” the world’s largest cryptocurrency asset manager said in a statement on Monday. 

The ETF, tracking the “Bloomberg Grayscale Future of Finance Index,” will be listed on the London Stock Exchange, Italy’s Borsa Italiana and Germany’s Deutsche Börse Xetra and begin trading on May 17. It is the first time that US-based Grayscale has listed a fund in Europe.

The index contains a mixture of companies involved in digital currencies including asset managers, exchanges, brokers, technology firms, as well as firms directly involved in cryptocurrency mining. “For us, the digital economy is primarily being driven through the proliferation of digital assets,” said Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein.


NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

Updated 16 May 2022

NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

RIYADH: NEOM, a project fully owned by Saudi Public Investment Fund, is “completely under Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and regulations,” the Saudi Press Agency reported early Monday, citing an official source.

The clarification came after NEOM's tourism sector head Andrew McEvoy made comments to media during his participation at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai about demographic status within the megacity, suggesting that residents within NEOM will have a special status, distinguishing them from others.

Read More: NEOM seeks to regenerate the area, offer ‘guilt-free’ vacations

NEOM City will have some special regulations related to investment reflecting its strategy as part of the Kingdom's Vision 2030, to make 'the city of the future' an effective driver in supporting the Saudi economy and the prosperity of the region, according to the company.

Economic legislation specific to the project area will be developed to achieve the best concepts of governance of economic zones in the world, making NEOM one of the most important attractions globally, SPA quoted the source as saying.

The point was underlined by Manar Al-Munif, chief investment officer of NEOM, while speaking at the Saudi-Thai Economic Forum in Riyadh on May 16.

She said the $500-billion future city will have its own regulations based on best practices from around the world that will allow businesses to grow and develop.

Al-Munif revealed that NEOM is the largest Environmental, Social, and Governance initiative in the world, and added that the project will create several investment opportunities for businesses. 

“We have identified a number of investment opportunities across 16 sectors in NEOM. These sectors represent the future, and we have outlined 150 investment initiatives. Each of these initiatives is going to have hundreds of opportunities regardless if it is a direct investment, joint venture, or merging,” Al-Munif added. 

She also said the NEOM project is trying to reinvent and introduce environmental factors, thus ensuring harmony with nature. 

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

Updated 15 May 2022

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

  • Publicly listed firms in GCC bourses are evaluation on their annual financial performance

DUBAI: Braving the setbacks they had faced during the pandemic, head honchos of top companies will be attending the Top CEO Conference and Awards to be held in the city from May 17-18 to celebrate leadership in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

According to the organizer’s statement, the Top CEO Awards are based on the financial performance, size and corporate governance of GCC-listed companies.

Julien Hawari, organizer of the TOP CEO, Special Edition, said in the statement: “All of the publicly listed companies in the Arabian Gulf stock markets are evaluated on their annual financial performance, and the ranking is not a result of a nomination by a jury relying on undisclosed metrics.”

The statement added that companies are evaluated if they are listed on any of the seven GCC stock markets. Moreover, Hawkamah Institute has provided corporate governance guidelines developed by the Top CEO in partnership with INSEAD Business School.

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards, the statement said, while adding that Arab News and Al Arabiya News channel were chosen as media partners of the event.

According to Hawari, the awards were created in 2012 to recognize those who created value and boosted the region’s economy while maintaining transparency and good corporate governance.


One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards.

The statement added that there are 10 categories of companies to be divided into, and the Top 10 CEOs in each category are recognized, totaling 100 awards.

The 10 categories are banking, energy and utility, financial services and investment, insurance, logistics and industrials, malls, real estate and construction, mining, metals and chemicals, retail, FMCG and consumer care, Shariah-compliant banks and financial services and telecom, tech and media.

Commenting on the event, Hawari said: “Global market forces are coming together in the post-pandemic economies to rebuild communities and businesses, and our region is no different.”

Compared to the pause of business in 2020 and slow growth in 2021, the first three months of 2022 saw Arabian Gulf stock markets increase by the most since the global financial meltdown.

Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

Updated 15 May 2022

Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

  • Petroleum products make up for 26% of Pakistan's overall imports worth $65.53 billion
  • Finance minister says he will talk to the IMF but refuses to withdraw energy subsidies

KARACHI: Pakistan’s oil and food import bills have swelled to $24.8 billion during the current fiscal year due to increasing global commodity prices and weakening national currency, according to official data and analysts. 

The oil and food import bills of the South Asian country, which is struggling with a worsening balance-of-payment crisis in the face of declining foreign exchange reserves, rose by 96 percent and 12.3 percent respectively from July 2021 till April 2022. 

Pakistan imported oil products worth $17.03 billion during this period, compared to imports worth $8.69 billion during the corresponding period last year. It contributed 26 percent to the country’s overall $65.53 billion imports, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 

The food import bill during the period stood at $7.75 billion against the $6.9 billion recorded during the same period last year. The import of palm oil worth over $3 billion alone made up for a major share of the import bill, which surged by 44 percent from July till April. 

“The surging global commodity prices are a major reason behind high oil and food prices, mainly due to the Russia-Ukraine war and revival of COVID-19 that have disrupted the supply and demand balance,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive officer of the Arif Habib Commodities investment firm, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“Inflation triggered by the import of energy and food items at higher prices will continue to persist as long as the rupee does not recover.” 

The Pakistani currency continues to hit new lows against the United States (US) dollar as the demand for import payments continues to build pressure on the rupee. On Friday, the rupee hit yet another historic low as the greenback closed at Rs192.53 in the interbank market.    

The US dollar has gained 6 percent or Rs10.98 against the rupee since April 16, when it was trading at Rs181.55.  

Experts believe the Pakistani currency will recoup some of the lost ground after Islamabad and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sign a deal for the revival of $6 billion loan program. 

“We see the dollar hitting Rs200 mark against the rupee before falling back to around Rs180,” Mehanti said. "We expect the rupee to recover after Pakistan signs a deal with the IMF next week." 

Pakistan and the IMF are currently negotiating the country's seventh review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which has so far disbursed $3 billion. Islamabad is expected to receive another $1 billion after the completion of the review.    

The review has been stalled since the previous government announced in February around $1.7 billion relief in energy prices while deviating from the objectives of the IMF program.  

“I am going to talk to the IMF and will find out the solution to the issue amicably,” Miftah Ismail, the Pakistani finance minister, said at a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday. 

“The government has no intention to further increase the petroleum prices. The prime minister has refused to burden the people further.” 

Pakistan’s imports of machinery also posted an increase by 20.5 percent to $9.5 billion from July till April as compared to $7.9 billion during the same period last year. Imports of telecom equipment jumped by 14 percent to $2.4 billion, while mobile phone imports rose by 7.4 percent to $1.8 billion.   

The South Asian nation imported vehicles worth $3.7 billion, which shows over 60 percent growth in 10 months of the current fiscal year.   

Pakistan suffered $39.3 billion trade deficit from July till April due to the highest ever imports of $65.53 billion. Experts call for addressing the situation by restricting the import of non-essential and luxurious goods.

SAEI’s new MRO village in Jeddah projected to bring $2.7bn in revenues in 10 years

Updated 15 May 2022

SAEI’s new MRO village in Jeddah projected to bring $2.7bn in revenues in 10 years

  • SAEI, the MRO arm of Saudi Arabian Airlines, will establish 11 hangars large enough to service four wide-bodied aircraft simultaneously

RIYADH: Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries is setting up a massive MRO village to fulfill Saudi Arabia’s growing demand for maintenance, repair and operations in the aviation space and to match pace with its expanding fleet of airlines.

In an interview with Arab News, Fahd Cynndy, CEO of SAEI, said that the village, measuring 1 million square meters, is set to be built at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and hopes to earn SR10 billion ($2.66 billion) in topline revenue within the next decade.

SAEI, the MRO arm of Saudi Arabian Airlines, will establish 11 hangars large enough to service four wide-bodied aircraft simultaneously.

This new arm in Jeddah’s airport has also spurred demand for maintenance engineers in the region, with the company sourcing trained mechanics from Prince Sultan Aviation academy to be later employed at the MRO village.

“We’ve been averaging 30 to 35 new mechanics that we train a year through Prince Sultan Aviation Academy training center. That number is now more than eightfold; we’re looking at 220 mechanics a year,” Cynndy told Arab News.

The company is also working on multiple agreements with aviation pioneers such as Airbus, who will soon be opening its business and service center in the Middle East, pointed out Cynndy.

The company plans to capture a sizeable share of the aviation market in the Middle East and North Africa once the MRO village is operational.

According to Cynndy, aviation specialists worldwide described this village as an “enclosed end-to-end solution that has not been seen before in the world.”