Japanese keen to invest in Saudi entertainment, tourism sectors

The Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum held in Tokyo is yet another step toward strenghtening ties between the two countries in all sectors. (AN photo)
Updated 24 October 2019

Japanese keen to invest in Saudi entertainment, tourism sectors

  • ‘Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s main target countries when it comes attracting tourists’

TOKYO: There is a genuine interest among Japanese companies to invest in Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing entertainment and tourism industries, with some planning to set up their own operations in the Kingdom soon, according to Saudi officials.

Avex, a major Japanese company in the entertainment industry, is planning on “launching its own office in Saudi Arabia and start its own entertainment calendar for it,” Muhannad Abanmy, general manager for entertainment infrastructure development at the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), told Arab News Japan in an exclusive interview.

“We’ve locked a meeting with Avex (on Thursday) to seal (the deal) with them to open their office in Saudi Arabia,” Abanmy said on the sidelines of the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Avex is one of Japan’s top entertainment conglomerates, founded and led by Max Matsuura. It specializes in the audiovisual business as well as anime, video games, live music events and fireworks, among other entertainment-related industries.

Matsuura, who attended Wednesday’s event, spoke of the successful collaboration between Avex and Saudi authorities during the Saudi National Day in Jeddah, and said the company plans to expand its efforts in the Kingdom.

FASTFACTS

● Total trade volume between both countries is $38 billion.

● The Saudi entertainment industry to generate up to $67 billion in 10 years.

● The Kingdom plans to attract 2 million visitors by 2022.

● Thousands of e-visas have been issued since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s tourism e-visa in September.

Saudi officials are banking on the good relations their country has with Japan, including economic ties. 

They say the size of business cooperation between them can grow further with the new entertainment and tourism sectors opened.

Total trade volume between both countries is $38 billion. But “Japan has a lot to offer in terms of expertise,” Sultan Mofti, deputy governor for investment attraction at the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), told Arab News Japan.

“Looking at the size of investments in Saudi Arabia by Japanese companies tells you that there’s a lot of room to grow,” he said.

“The creation of the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 program, the inauguration of the Riyadh office and the launch of the Tokyo office will help a lot in bridging the gap in communicating opportunities to Japanese businesses,” he added.

“That’s what we offer at SAGIA, by offering a portfolio of 20 services to Japanese businesses that are willing to invest in Saudi Arabia,” Mofti said.

“Investors won’t come until they know the return on their investment is high,” but it will be very rewarding to invest in Saudi Arabia, he added.

The Kingdom has great potential in terms of its purchasing power, with nearly 7 million people residing in each of two cities: Riyadh and Jeddah.

One entertainment event saw nearly 400,000 people attend, to the extent that the organizers had to refuse entry to many due to congestion, said officials. 

They expect the entertainment industry to generate up to $67 billion in 10 years and create hundreds of thousands of jobs as it grows.

Despite being the new kid on the block in the entertainment industry, Saudi Arabia has managed so far to create a buzz worldwide with jaw-dropping festivals and star-studded events. But as with all new things, challenges are bound to emerge.

“It’s challenging because it’s new, but the future is there,” said Abanmy, adding that the few handicaps that have been faced, including lack of regulation at one point, usually get sorted by the GEA.

The Saudi government is adamant on supporting its adolescent entertainment industry and the tourism sector, sparing neither cash nor effort to achieve the goal of becoming a global tourist destination.

Some SR5 billion ($1.33 billion) have been spent over the past two years to launch and support the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia, attracting millions visitors from within the Kingdom and the wider Arab Gulf, said Abanmy.

Sports events are part of the attraction. In December, Saudi Arabia will host the world heavyweight boxing championship.

A world-class tennis tournament will follow suit in mid-December, which has generated a lot of interest among tourists from near and far, Abanmy said. “Recently, we had some 3,600 tourists arriving at King Khalid Airport at the same time,” he added.

This would not have happened had the Saudis not opened up their country to attract investors, officials say.

Thousands of e-visas have been issued since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s tourism e-visa in September, Majid Al-Ghanim, tourism and quality of life managing director at SAGIA, told Arab News Japan on Wednesday.

The Kingdom plans to attract 2 million visitors by 2022, and to see revenue generated from the sector reaching $2 billion by 2030.

Up to 1 million jobs from direct and indirect tourism-related businesses will be available to Saudis in the next seven years, said Al-Ghanim.

This is part of the sustainability approach that the government is planning and that helps increase employment, he added.

Nearly “75 percent of those jobs will be in the private sector, while the government can fulfill the rest,” he said.

Like Abanmy, Al-Ghanim said the Kingdom is targeting Japanese nationals and investors, adding: “Japan is one of the main target countries when it comes to tourists. We’d like to attract tourists from Japan to Saudi Arabia. We want to target and attract the Japanese.” The two countries share similarities in terms of heritage and tradition, he added.

From tourism visas to fun-filled and adrenalin-generating adventures, the Kingdom can offer it all and much more, said Al-Ghanim.

He added that Saudi Arabia is one large open-air museum, offering a testimony to past civilizations, 2,000 years of human heritage and a diverse ecology.

This is manifested in its “large formation of rocks,” archaeological sites, traditional markets, mild weather on one side of the country and a desert on the other, Al-Ghanim said.

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Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

Updated 28 min 56 sec ago

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

  • Renowned for its reputed health benefits, the pomegranate is a point of pride for Afghan farmers
  • In Kandahar province, the prized crimson fruit could grow to the size of small melons

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Pomegranate farmers in southern Afghanistan — where growing the juicy fruit is an important alternative to opium poppy production — say they are feeling the squeeze this year, with business blemished by chilly weather, pests and export woes.

The prized crimson fruit, globally renowned for its reputed health benefits, is a point of pride for Afghan farmers, particularly in Kandahar province, where luscious pomegranates the size of small melons dangle from trees.

Every autumn, Afghans start drinking pomegranate juice as the fruit bursts into season. Vendors pile carts high with gravity-defying pomegranate pyramids and offer fresh-squeezed beverages.

Haji Abdul Manan, who has been growing fruit in southern Kandahar for about 30 years, said a springtime cold snap damaged pomegranate flowers, impacting about 40 percent of his crop.

Problems also came from “lice, flies and a fungal disease,” he added, likening a type of greenfly to a natural disaster that had ruined more than 100 of the orb-shaped fruits daily.

“It is the duty of the Afghan government to spray all the gardens in Kandahar and to protect the pomegranates from diseases, but the government is not doing anything,” Manan complained.

Apart from its sweet flavor, fans point to pomegranates’ purported health benefits including high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that are said to help protect the body.

“Kandahar’s pomegranates are the world’s best for flavor, color, and several times Kandahar’s pomegranates came first in competitions abroad,” Nasrullah Zaheer, the head of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, told AFP.

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that.

Zaheer and several other farmers claimed Pakistan has this year imposed hefty tariffs on pomegranate imports, which, despite a drop in yield in some parts of Afghanistan, has led to an oversupply in the domestic market and sharp price drops.

But the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul denied such a drastic measure had been taken, saying Pakistan had raised duties only slightly because “Afghan exporters consistently understate the value of pomegranates and fruits.”

Muhammad Hafeez, a fruit and vegetable seller at a market in Islamabad, said the pomegranate supply from Kandahar had not been impacted.

“The supply is in bulk and the quality is good,” Hafeez told AFP.

Abdul Baqi Beena, deputy director of the Kandahar chamber of commerce, said about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of pomegranates were exported annually, including to India, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

For years, Afghanistan and international donors tried to wean farmers from growing opium poppies by encouraging alternatives such as fruit crops.

But those efforts often failed as drug smugglers offered lucrative prices that normally far exceed the income from traditional agriculture.

The US Agency for International Development previously supported the farming of high-value crops, including pomegranates, as an alternative to opium production, but in recent years has shifted its focus to helping build export markets and supporting Afghan farmers that way.

“There is strong regional demand for high-value Afghan products that generate sufficient profit to justify export cost,” Daniel Corle, USAID team lead for development outreach and communications, said in an email.

“These include pomegranates, pine nuts, apricots, spices, gems, marble, and carpets, among others.”