Asir ‘could be hotspot for global tourism,’ say travel bloggers
Flower Men Festival a hit with visitors
Season ends Aug. 31
Updated 04 September 2019
HUSSAM AL MAYMAN
AL-SOUDAH: Asir province has the potential to become a hotspot for international tourism, according to bloggers who were impressed by the events and activities on offer at Al-Soudah Season. Joshua Van Alstine, who shot to fame in Saudi Arabia with his YouTube videos, said the public and private sector were taking advantage of the area’s potential and would develop it to accommodate demand.
Van Alstine and his wife, who hails from the southwestern city of Tanomah in Asir, were driving to Abha from Riyadh and were invited to explore Al-Soudah Season.
“I loved it, I am so glad I accepted the invitation,” he told Arab News. “The best part of visiting Al-Soudah was trying out the bungee jumping.”
He also met his wife’s relatives. “We had dinner with them, they came to visit us in Al-Soudah and I gave them a tour and they really liked it. They could not believe this was happening in the region and I could not either. This is something so special, even as an American and we have had these events for years back home, this to me is something incredibly special.”
Al-Soudah has other attractions for thrillseekers in addition to bungee jumping. There is a ropes course, a slingshot, paintballing and paragliding.
Slightly more leisurely activities include trekking, cycling, enjoying performances of a local dance, and learning more about the distinctive traditions of the region’s Flower Men, a tribal group famous throughout the Kingdom for their floral crowns who live high up in the mountains.
I loved it, I am glad I accepted the invitation. The best part of visiting Al-Soudah was trying out the bungee jumping.
Joshua Van Alstine, YouTuber and blogger
“They did a great job,” said Van Alstine. “I am sure they had a lot of challenges moving up and down the mountain area into that valley. There are not that many places where you can walk into a town and see people singing, dancing and that is what happened when we visited. We walked into this old school village and people were laughing, dancing and the smell of food ... it was kind of like a barbeque.”
Travel blogger Paris Verra, who also visited Al-Soudah, said the region’s people were hospitable and welcoming. “The place is unreal, the beauty is just incredible,” she told Arab News. “Coming here I feel safe and there are many misconceptions of coming to Saudi Arabia. If people would open up there are so many great things about this country in general, especially in this region.”
Verra experienced four seasons in one hour. “I mean, it was like eating lunch in the clouds. Then there was rain, then there was thunder, and then clear blue sky ... and the Flower Men festival is on a whole different level.”
Al-Soudah Season runs until the end of the month and its programs are held across seven locations. The main area, called The Hub, is suitable for families. There is also the Kids Zone, where the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Foundation is holding educational workshops at the House of Qatt.
It is one of 11 festivals being held across the Kingdom to promote the country as a global tourist destination.
It also seeks to contribute to achieving goals within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to improve the quality of life, raise living standards, and create career and investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia.
Uzbek president performs Umrah during official visit to Saudi Arabia
The Uzbek president had arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday
Was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Updated 19 August 2022
MAKKAH: The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev performed the Umrah pilgrimage on Thursday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The president was received by several officials from the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and from the Special Force for the Security of the Grand Mosque upon his arrival.
Mirziyoyev’s official press service shared photos from the president’s pilgrimage on Twitter.
The Uzbek president had arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday, where he was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The pair held a meeting and discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields, in addition to reviewing a number of issues of common interest.
IMF sees Saudi inflation contained at 2.8% as GDP growth hits decade-high
Increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy, says IMF
Saudi Arabia is taking impressive steps to improve the business environment - says global lending body
Updated 18 August 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow at the fastest rate in almost a decade at 7.6 percent with inflation likely to remain at 2.8 percent in 2022, the International Monetary Fund’s Article IV Consultation report has predicted.
Saudi Arabia is rebounding strongly from the pandemic-induced recession, driven by the Kingdom’s pro-business reforms and higher oil prices, it said.
Despite higher prices for imported commodities, the inflation rate in the Kingdom will be contained at 2.8 percent in 2022, as the central bank tightens policy in line with the US Federal Reserve, the report added.
“Liquidity and fiscal support, reform momentum under Vision 2030, and high oil prices and production helped the economy recover with robust growth, contained inflation and a resilient financial sector,” the IMF said in a press release.
The proportion of Saudi women in work has doubled in the past four years to 33% in the first quarter of 2022.
83 percent of the adult population now own a bank account as of 2021, up from 71 percent in 2019.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Amine Mati, assistant director of the IMF, predicted that Saudi Arabia is expected to attain a budget surplus of about 5.5 percent of its gross domestic product, as its surplus in the second quarter hit $21 billion.
Mati elaborated that effective utilization of the Kingdom’s growing surplus will be achieved by making sure that the budget allocations are respected. He added that social spending should remain in line with the increase in surplus, which would then be re-injected into the economy.
“Implementing a fiscal rule will help sustain a fiscal anchor over the medium term and integrated asset liability management framework will help the government assess Saudi Arabia’s fiscal stance and position,” said Mati.
The IMF report added that the increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy.
When addressing the rising inflationary pressures, Mati stated that “the exchange rate peg to the US Dollar continues to serve Saudi Arabia.”
“Inflation is contained, despite increased international commodity prices, because of low pass through,” said Mati. “The external position is expected to strengthen substantially, with the current account surplus reaching levels not seen in a decade.”
The IMF report added that the increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy.
Mati explained that the increase of the value-added tax from 5 percent to 15 percent in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic was essential in promoting non-oil revenue growth, and noted that tax administration measures also help sustain and accelerate tax revenues.
According to the report, the Public Investment Fund should focus on high return projects with private involvement, as it continues to implement giga-projects.
The report added that Saudi Arabia is taking impressive steps to improve the business environment, which will attract foreign investments.
It further stated that the proportion of Saudi women in work has doubled in the past four years to 33 percent in the first quarter of 2022, exceeding the 30-percent target set under the Vision 2030 plan.
Improvements in tax policy and revenue administration to raise more taxes from non-oil activities will help support fiscal consolidation in the Kingdom.
“Priorities to foster a more inclusive and green economy include increasing further women labor force participation, making sure PIF interventions play a catalytic role, strengthening governance, and rolling out the Saudi green initiative,” the IMF said in the report.
The impressive pace of digitization in the Kingdom has the potential to boost productivity and overall growth, it added.
“The surge in digital account openings and online mobile financial transactions during the pandemic has helped in improving financial inclusion — 83 percent of the adult population now own a bank account as of 2021, up from 71 percent in 2019,” it said.
Speaking at the conference, Mati stated that the advancement of digitalization translates to a more educated workforce that is better equipped for following up on future developments, which positively impacts the future of FDI.
According to the IMF, the Saudi Green Initiative, which was launched in 2021, requires policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support greener growth.
The report concluded that Saudi Arabia’s economic outlook is strong, and the Kingdom’s long-term prosperity strongly depends on sustaining the reform momentum.
Saudi-US military exercise ‘Native Fury 22’ continues in the Kingdom
The exercise, involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps, began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu
It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations
Updated 18 August 2022
RIYADH: Native Fury 22, a military exercise in the Kingdom involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps that began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu, continued on Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said.
It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations. It also includes communications, field medicine, a life-saving combat exercise, shooting with live ammunition, and supply and evacuation operations.
The exercise is hosted by the Kingdom with the participation and support of several ministries and other official organizations. The aim is to give personnel an opportunity to practice and train in the implementation of bilateral military, operational and logistical plans; strengthen Saudi and American military coordination and partnership; improve joint-working capabilities; and gain experience in the use of the Kingdom’s military bases and road networks, the ministry said.
“It also aims to train in the integrated government work to implement mixed military exercises,” it added.
Native Fury 22 is one of several military exercises conducted by the Saudi Armed Forces throughout the year with allies to raise levels of combat efficiency, gain field experience, and work on standardizing military concepts and terminology among the participants.
INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News
Saudi Vision 2030 plan and ‘New Uzbekistan’ road map have many similarities, says Furqat Sidiqov
Sidiqov spoke to Arab News in Jeddah ahead of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s state visit to Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 August 2022
JEDDAH: There are striking parallels between Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms agenda and the Uzbek government’s bold transformation plan, New Uzbekistan, according to Furqat Sidiqov, the Uzbek deputy foreign minister.
Speaking a day before the arrival on Wednesday of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the Kingdom for a state visit — the first by a leader of the country since Islam Karimov’s visit in 1992 — he said that these shared visions augur well for the future of bilateral trade and cooperation.
“Saudi Arabia has the capabilities to achieve its Vision 2030 goals,” Sidiqov told Arab News ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the Saudi-Uzbek Business Council, hosted by the Uzbek consulate in Jeddah.
He added that the reforms and road maps the two nations have developed are similar, representing clear visions for progress, as are the young and dynamic populations of the countries.
“Both nations are working closely and moving forward in joint cooperation within the framework of our strategies,” Sidiqov said. “We are closely following the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategy and we support its bid for Expo 2030.”
Over the past five years, he explained, Uzbekistan has implemented a domestic development strategy aimed at easing its transition to a market economy, which has offered fertile ground for the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises and a more diversified economy.
He said the strategy echoes that of Saudi Vision 2030, which has opened up the Kingdom’s economy to capitalize on new sectors beyond hydrocarbons and actively encourages entrepreneurism, along with the development of technical skills and creativity among its young population.
For decades, Uzbekistan relied heavily on just a handful of staple exports, including cotton, gold, oil and gas. Eager to diversify its sources of revenue, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors.
On Wednesday, in keeping with their complementary visions, Uzbekistan and the Kingdom signed more than 10 investment agreements worth SR45 billion ($12 billion).
Among them was a 25-year deal, worth $2.4 billion, for Saudi utility developer ACWA Power to build a 1,500-megawatt wind-power project in Uzbekistan, to help the country achieve its goal of sourcing 40 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2031.
Uzbek officials said that in recent years, Saudi investments in various sectors of the Uzbek economy have increased significantly. There are now 38 joint ventures, 20 of which involve direct Saudi investors. Still, Sidiqov said, there is the potential for even closer business cooperation, particularly in food processing and distribution.
“The numbers don’t reflect the capabilities of the two countries,” he said. “We’re working with the Kingdom to raise the number of joint ventures.
“Agriculture plays an important role in Uzbekistan’s economic development and we’re one of the top nations in food production, food security and we have the capabilities to export food products, organic fruits and vegetables to the Kingdom.
“The plan is to have the Kingdom become a midway station for food processing and packaging, to ready them for export to other countries.”
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Although they do not share a border, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have been linked by religion, knowledge and culture for hundreds of years. Among the historical figures who traveled and studied across the Arab and Muslim worlds are four who hailed from places that are part of modern-day Uzbekistan: physician Ibn Sina, mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, and Islamic scholars Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Al-Tirmidhi.
The exchange of ideas and cultures continues in the modern era thanks to the expansion of air travel between Uzbekistan and Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, and more flexible visa rules.
“To further boost the exchange of cultures, direct flights will begin in October, via Flynas and Uzbekistan Airways, and Saudis will be exempt from entry visas for a 30-day stay,” said Sidiqov.
Present-day Saudi-Uzbek cooperation extends far beyond trade and cultural exchange into the diplomatic sphere, guided by shared interests in security and humanitarian efforts across the wider region.
In the year since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal from the country, regional powers such as Uzbekistan have sought to engage with the new government in Kabul to assist the Afghan people in their time of hardship.
“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is among the highest priorities and our government has set up various initiatives and programs to support Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.
“In the spirit of neighborly solidarity, we ensured that our relationship is of continued support. By working closely with the government, we want not only to provide humanitarian assistance, but also help them provide job opportunities to their youth and to be a gateway for Central and South Asia.”
He added that in the southern Uzbek city of Termez, for example, the government has established centers to help young Afghans receive an education and develop their skills to prepare them for the job market.
“We’re working to help reconstruction programs and developing its economy to help turn it into a country of opportunities,” said Sidiqov. “Our allies are helping us and supporting us in this endeavor.”
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, took part in an international conference titled Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in July last year.
In July this year, a Saudi delegation also attended the international Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development conference, also in Tashkent, during which the Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation.
In June, Saudi Arabia announced a $30 million grant to support the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund, which operates under the umbrella of the Islamic Development Bank in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which both the Kingdom and Uzbekistan are members.
“As a neighbor to Afghanistan, our main aim is to provide safe passage of aid to those in need in Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.
“We are working closely with the Afghan government to develop a food-security road map and to provide youth job opportunities. We serve as a broker between the world and the Taliban, and as ‘the voice of Central Asia’ we have encouraged the Afghan government to commit to their promises.”
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