Spanish movie studio Minimo to invest $250m in Saudi joint venture
Minimo VFX will open a headquarters in Riyadh in early 2022
Minimo helped produce The Dark Knight, Avatar and Harry Potter
Updated 18 June 2021
RIYADH: Spanish film studio Minimo VFX plans to invest $250 million in the Saudi market through a joint venture with a local company, said CEO Felix Balbas.
“Our partnership with the Saudi Next Level Co. consists of opening a regional headquarters in Riyadh and localizing the film content industry, as well as training Saudis and empowering them globally,” Felix told Asharq on Thursday.
Minimo was involved in the production of films including The Dark Knight, Avatar, The Mission, Doom, and Harry Potter.
It will begin operations in Riyadh in early 2022 with a team of about 45 employees, offering production, logistical and advisory services for visual effects, long and short films, television shows and advertisements, he said.
Filmmaking and the screening of films is a recent phenomenon in the Kingdom after Saudi Arabia allowed the opening of cinemas in 2018.
The Gulf country will see modest hike in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 mbpd
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: Bahrain’s gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent year on year in the second quarter of 2022, posting the biggest annual increase since 2011, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Twitter on Sunday.
In the first quarter, the Gulf country’s GDP grew 5.5 percent year on year at constant prices. The country’s non-oil economy recorded growth of 7.8 percent in the same period.
According to the latest Economic Insight report for the Middle East, commissioned by ICAEW and compiled by Oxford Economics, Bahrain’s oil sector growth will be driven by higher oil production, despite a decline in the first quarter. Since 2015, the annual real growth of Bahrain’s oil sector has only expanded once relative to the previous year, in 2019. Based on the current OPEC+ agreement, Bahrain will see a modest increase in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 million barrels per day from 0.17 million bpd.
This small increase, combined with elevated prices, will return the oil sector to growth in 2022 before stagnating again as the government continues its diversification efforts. The forecast is for oil production to expand by 5.8 percent in 2022, compared to 2.4 percent in 2021.
Scott Livermore, ICAEW economic adviser, and chief economist and managing director, Oxford Economics Middle East, said: “The surge in oil prices and introduction of a 10 percent VAT is supporting Bahrain’s revenues and will help authorities come close to balancing the budget in 2022, two years earlier than the 2024 target set in the Fiscal Balance Program.”
The rise of inflationary pressures and rate hikes by the US Fed will force the Central Bank of Bahrain into more rate increases, beyond the 225 basis points cumulative increase in the key policy rate already this year.
Inflation averaged 3.4 percent in the first half this year, a level not seen since 2016, before rising to 3.9 percent in July.
ICAEW expects inflation to average 3.9 percent this year after prices fell annually in both 2020 and 2021.
Consumer spending is likely to be increasingly constrained going into 2023, leading to a GDP growth slowdown to below 2 percent by 2024.
As of now, the central bank has sufficient reserves to maintain the currency peg with the US dollar and is likely to follow policy moves by the Fed closely so it’s not expected to have significant pressure to devalue the dinar.
The current account returned to surplus in 2021 at 6.7 percent of GDP, the largest surplus since 2013. ICAEW expects the higher price of oil exports and a continued resurgence of international travel to push this surplus above 10 percent in 2022.
Saudi Arabia focuses on AI-driven economy, considers data the new oil: SDAIA
The technology will contribute billions to the Saudi national gross domestic product, says SDAIA's Mishari Al-Mishari
Updated 25 September 2022
Fahad Abuljadayel & Dana Alomar
RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is aiming to create a leading data and AI-driven economy and make Saudi Arabia one of the top countries in the technology, the agency’s deputy director said.
Mishari Al-Mishari, the deputy director of SDAIA, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global AI Summit in Riyadh that SDAIA was created to be the custodian of the national agenda on data and AI.
“SDAIA was created to have an entity that will be the custodian of the national agenda of data and artificial intelligence to create a leading data and AI-driven economy,” he said.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, he said.
“In this summit, we didn’t restrict it to the dialogues and the discussion; we emphasized the experience as well,” he added.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, Mishari Al-Mishari, deputy director of SDAIA, said.
Over 40 use cases designed by leading companies and institutes in AI were presented at the conference, allowing attendees to interact with, live, and experience AI and understand how it could improve their lives, Al-Mishari said.
During the event, SDAIA President Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi announced that the Kingdom is joining the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership.
“We share a common vision with the DDP. The partnership will bring together the public and the private sector and accelerate safe and inclusive digital transformation in developing countries,” said Al-Ghamdi.
He added: “I am confident we will make a real difference. I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.”
Al-Mishari said the initiative would help underdeveloped economies adopt AI for the benefit of their citizens.
The technology, according to Al-Mishari, will contribute billions to the national gross domestic product. In addition, it could boost the economy with jobs, investments and opportunities for the Kingdom.
“Data is the new oil, and that’s our perception and belief of how much we could make out of data,” Al-Mishari said.
Public sector cloud
“SDAIA operates one of the biggest governmental clouds in the region, hosting approximately 140 governmental entities and providing 35 different cloud services,” Nawaf Al-Sahan, head of cloud computing at the National Information Center, told Arab News.
NIC has also been harnessing its governmental cloud DEEM, founded in late 2018, as a proof of concept and has grown rapidly since then.
At this point, NIC’s mandate is only to serve public sector undertakings, so he added that the DEEM exclusively serves public projects.
Their internal team, entirely made up of Saudi female and male engineers, developed the cloud.
“I am glad our team is all Saudis, young engineers, males and females. So that cloud is fully built by our Saudi talent,” Al-Sahan said.
When it comes to cloud security, NIC implements strict measures. Two teams are responsible for securing the cloud, a larger team entrusted with governance, risk, and compliance does the monitoring for them, and an internal team performs penetration testing and their daily security operations, he said.
Al-Sahan said that NIC is currently finished with its three-year strategy for 2025.
As part of that strategy or roadmap, external vendors and partners participate in the government cloud, he said.
“So, we’ll open up a little bit for trusted partners to be part of the government cloud and provide unique services to the government entities,” he concluded.
A 1-million-riyal idea
SDAIA, in partnership with the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Housing and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, announced “Smartathon — The Smart Cities Challenge” with prizes totaling SR1,000,000, according to Sattam Alsubaiee, assistant director for insights at NIC.
The competition is open for anyone globally, he said. SDAIA wants participants to develop AI models that detect visual pollution automatically.
“We give them the data, and everyone is invited to participate, take that data and build AI models that can detect the visual pollution,” Alsubaiee told Arab News.
Because humans have limited resources, SDAIA and its partners do not want to deploy a vast workforce to detect that visual pollution with their eyes.
“You cannot deploy thousands of inspectors trying to find all the visual pollution in all the cities. So, we want the machine to help us automate in solving that problem,” he added.
Alsubaiee cited graffiti on walls, poor-looking billboard signs and potholes as examples of visual pollutants.
SDAIA is publishing data they already have and collected to invite everyone to contribute and help them solve those problems, he said.
“We want to make Saudi Arabia one of the smartest countries in the world, not just at the city level, but at the country level,” he concluded.
Saudi Arabia’s refinery output down for third month in a row: JODI
Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021
Updated 25 September 2022
Hala Hisham Koura
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s refinery output has inched lower for the third month in a row, while oil product exports met the same fate, the Joint Organizations Data Initiative reported.
The Kingdom's refinery output decreased to 2.76 million barrels per day in July, from 2.85 million bpd in June, while oil product exports decreased from 1.60 million bpd in June to 1.43 million bpd in July, JODI revealed.
While production saw a 3.1 percent month-on-month decline from June to July, total oil exports experienced a bigger 10.6 percent decrease over the same period, distorted from their growth in the past two months.
Year-over-year, the Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021.
All components of refinery output decreased from June’s values, bar the production of motor and aviation oil where the 23 percent constituent remained almost unchanged at 628,000 bpd in July, from 626,000 bpd the previous month.
Gas or diesel oil — by far the highest contributor to refinery oil production at 43.4 percent —went down slightly by 1.8 percent, from 1.22 million bpd in June to 1.20 million barrels per day in July.
Moreover, fuel oil showed its second consecutive monthly decline of 6.2 percent from 503,000 to 472,000 million bpd. Fuel oil is a prominent proportion of total oil products as it makes up 17 percent of total refinery oil production.
Smaller components of total oil products like kerosene, which includes jet fuel, recorded a 6.4 percent monthly decrease in July 2022.
Naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas fell 3.2 percent and 30.8 percent respectively over the same period.
Oil products falling into the classification ‘other’ almost doubled over the year from 121,000 bpd last July to 237,000 bpd this year, fueled by their 75.7 percent growth in June, where they reached 246,000 barrels of production per day.
However, like most oil products, they contracted 3.7 percent in the transition between June and July this year.
Exports of refinery oil
Refinery oil exports were pushed down this month by reductions in all components apart from fuel oil.
Motor and aviation oil exports plummeted 23.2 percent from 280,000 bpd in June to 215,000 bpd in July — falling for the third consecutive month in contrast to their fixed output in production.
Gas or diesel, oil which comprises 48.7 percent of refinery oil exports making it the highest exported product, went down 5.9 percent from 740,000 bpd to 696,000 bpd over the same period.
Although Kerosene and Naphtha make up smaller portions of total oil exports, their decreases also brought down oil exports.
Fuel oil, the second largest contributor alongside motor and aviation, went up 12.2 percent from 198,000 bdp to 222,000 bpd, showing a growth in exports for the first time in four months.
The Kingdom’s closing stocks of all oil products decreased by less than one percent, due to declines in gas or diesel oil, motor and aviation oil, and kerosene.
The total closing stock was equivalent to 92.13 million barrels by the end of July, down 700,000 from 92.83 million barrels in June.
Hospitality training programs step up to support Saudi youth
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector continues to grow, with the Kingdom expecting to attract 100 million annual visitors and creating one million jobs by 2030, building a resilient hospitality industry has become a core focus.
The hospitality sector has risen up to the challenge by ensuring that there is enough qualified manpower to handle the ever-increasing demand by providing training programs for nationals to develop their skills across all career levels. The intention is to equip young Saudis with essential skills in the hospitality, tourism, and travel industries through programs supported by the world’s best tourism training schools.
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs that emphasize resource efficiency and provide globally recognized qualifications.
In August, the Radisson Hotel Group launched a training program, A Brilliant Journey of Advanced Development Programme, aimed at developing Saudi talent. The program targets supervisors and equips them with the expertise to fill managerial positions across its portfolio of 26 operational hotels.
“All the programs that we have launched target Saudi employees. And that works well with Vision 2030 offering new jobs for Saudis,” Managing Director of RHG Saudi Arabia Basel Talal told Arab News.
Talal added that 14 Saudis, over half of them women, are in the program at supervisory and assistant managerial levels.
According to him, the group remains committed to upskilling Saudi nationals working in the hospitality sector as part of its expansion strategy in the Kingdom.
Talal said that the initiative aligns with the Saudi 2030 Vision, which aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the domestic product to 10 percent.
Among the group’s initiatives is the Concierge Navigation to Success program, which aims to provide Saudis working in the hospitality industry with the tools and resources they need to advance their careers and ultimately enrich customer experiences.
Talal said that five males and two females are currently enrolled in the concierge program.
The NTS program was launched as a response to COVID-19, Talal said, adding, “As a result of the lack of visitors and business during COVID-19, the Ministry of Tourism advised all hotels to focus on concierge services.”
The programs will be offered twice a year, “The idea is that we repeat the program every six months, twice annually,” he informed.
To cover certain core elements or pillars, RHG partners with training programs like Atton or Maximus: “We’ve seen that there are parts or gaps in the training program that require us to reach out to third parties,” Talal said.
With those programs, RHG improves employee retention and creates more loyalty to the brand, and to the unit as a whole. “Higher retention or improved retention will only result in a better quality of service, and reduce cost because you don’t get any employees to train them, you just work with the existing employees,” he said.
RHG employs over 450 Saudi line employees and another 200 are supervisors and managers, he added.
RHG also has a follow-up process for graduates on their progress, their skill set, and how to improve, which is reflected in their annual performance reviews, Talal concluded.
Leading the way
The Red Sea Development Co. is also leading the way in establishing undergraduate and postgraduate hospitality programs.
TRSDC, in partnership with the University of Prince Mugrin and the École hôtelière de Lausanne, offers scholarships to high school graduates who are interested in studying international hospitality management, Fadi Alaseri, TRSDC’s associate educational director told Arab News.
“TRSDC’s transformative education programs are designed to develop the brightest minds in the tourism and hospitality fields, by equipping young Saudis with the needed skills and competencies, allowing them to realize their full potential,” Alaseri said.
There are two tracks available in the program: Fast Track, which is a four-year program with no preparatory year, and Full Track, which is a five-year program with a preparatory year, which qualifies students to begin the major.
TRSDC and its partners will provide suitable job opportunities to graduates upon successful completion of the program, he added.
“The program aims to prepare leaders and specialists in international hospitality management by providing a curriculum that combines theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences based on Swiss and international hospitality standards,” Alaseri said
There were 2,653 applicants for the scholarship, 1,883 of whom were males and 770 were females. However, only 26 were selected, of which 14 were males and 12 were females.
“Our talents will run the ground-breaking luxury, regenerative tourism destination in alignment with the Saudi labor market needs within our destination,” Alaseri said.
“TRSDC reshapes educational opportunities by opening new doors and empowering young Saudi professionals with the required skills and knowledge to excel in the hospitality field and tourism sectors,” he added.
Upskilling Saudi youth
In order to provide students with job opportunities at Hilton Hotels in Saudi Arabia upon graduation, the group entered into a partnership with Bunyan Training Academy in July 2022.
The training program, which is accredited by the Saudi Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and certified by the EHL, is available to select young Saudi talent, Hilton Group’s Senior Director of Human Resources for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Levant Fawaz Moumina told Arab News.
“This is the first time in Saudi that an international hospitality provider such as Hilton is collaborating with EHL to offer this program,” he added.
Students will receive sought-after theoretical and practical lessons across various functions of the industry, Moumina said.
Furthermore, participants will be able to pursue bachelor’s degrees based on the variety of professions they will be trained in, including culinary, F&B, front office, and housekeeping, if they choose to do so, he said.
This program aims to identify more than 30 Saudi talents who are interested in pursuing a career in hospitality. “Following a meticulous selection process, Bunyan Training Academy carefully selected applicants with Hilton’s input,” Fawaz said.
In 2024, students who complete the program will receive a diploma accredited by both the Saudi TVTC and EHL, he said.
As part of its efforts to mobilize the nation’s labor force, Moumina said the group has also established close ties with the King Khalid Foundation, the International Youth Federation, King Saud University and ministries and governmental organizations like the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Fawaz stated that Hilton has 2,400 team members in Saudi Arabia across 16 hotels, to reach 10,000 by 2030 — half of whom will be Saudi nationals.
First metaverse project 2117 launches in the UAE inspired by Dubai ruler’s vision
The metaverse is aligned with Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center’s layout for Mars
Updated 25 September 2022
DUBAI: The UAE-based Web3 pioneer BEDU launched the country’s first metaverse project under the name 2117, inspired by the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s vision to build the first colony on Mars.
BEDU’s CEO Amin Alzarouni told Arab News that the metaverse’s name, 2117, comes from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s announcement in 2017 that the first colony on Mars would be built a hundred years from then.
“So that’s why we call the metaverse 2117, inspired by that vision,” he said.
The newly launched metaverse is aligned with Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center’s space layout for Mars, and BEDU plans to build a full world on it that includes residential buildings, hotels, entertainment centers, schools, universities, and healthcare facilities, Alzarouni informed.
According to him, millions of dollars have been invested in the metaverse project without providing a specific figure.
Besides claiming that the firm’s name is derived from the Bedouin term, Alzarouni added that the firm’s mission is to follow the nomads’ footsteps and discover the next planet.
“They [nomads] basically discovered the land here, discovered Earth, and now we are going to continue discovering different areas, and the next destination is Mars,” he said.
According to the CEO, millions of dollars have been invested in the metaverse project. He says the firm’s mission is to discover the next planet.
He explained that 2117 is an immersive digital world that exists in parallel to reality. It will take 95 years for the Mars vision to become a reality in the real world.
The main focus of metaverse 2117, according to Alzarouni, is the value of humanity, regardless of its apparent space orientation.
“We are focusing a lot on humanity and the values of humanity, which is how people can live together with tolerance, with no differentiation between religion, culture and race,” he said.
Alzarouni explained that 2117 is an immersive digital world that exists in parallel to reality. It will take 95 years for the Mars vision to become a reality in the real world, but BEDU is already achieving it in the metaverse right now.
Aside from providing BEDU with the space layout, MBRSC also provides the data required to create a metaverse that is as real as possible, Alzarouni said.
Alzarouni said that in the metaverse, companies can scale up much faster and easier, which could result in more jobs being created.
There will be new jobs to fill in the metaverse five to 10 years from now, he said.
“One of the jobs that I foresee being created in the future is a combination of an architect with the programming skills that exist in the metaverse,” he said.
As a result, he added, a new skill set could be created by introducing a curriculum in universities where students would graduate with an architect mindset and software programming skills to be able to fulfill a role in the metaverse.
As a concept, the metaverse already exists in different verticals, and games like Roblox and Fortnite have already briefly incorporated it into society, the CEO said.
“The concept of digital twin exists in the manufacturing business, automobile business, and the real estate business, which is one aspect of how the metaverse could help,” he said.
However, he added that the world is in its early stages of integrating the metaverse into reality. “It will take a bit of time, depending on the adoption rates,” Alzarouni said. The implementation of the metaverse into society could take five to ten years, he continued.
BEDU’s main objective and strategy is to become the next unicorn in the Web3 sector, Alzarouni said.
“At the moment, we are all equal. Nobody can claim that they are ahead of the game, not Meta, not Microsoft, not any other metaverse project, and not even us,” he said.
In metaverse 2117’s vision, people will be able to work in the metaverse, go to school, and enjoy concerts, he said. 2117 timeline
The journey will begin in “2117” with a take-off from Earth, taking users through space for seven months until they land on Mars. It is estimated that the journey will begin this December, Alzarouni said.
The public will be able to participate in the metaverse starting in October and it will close at the beginning of December 2022.
Alzarouni said the sale would be open for two periods. The first sale, which will be private, will amount to 0.2117 ETH. In the second sale, which is for the public, the price will be 0.25 ETH, he added.
Web3 users with digital wallets will be able to connect their wallets and gain access to 2117 using their crypto, he said. “So, it’s as simple as any e-commerce experience that people have nowadays,” he added.
Upon BEDU’s release by the end of October, people will be able to access the 2117 metaverse via a link shared by the firm, he concluded.