Soudah Development eyes 2 million annual visitors over 3,000 meters above sea level: Year in Review

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Updated 05 January 2022

Soudah Development eyes 2 million annual visitors over 3,000 meters above sea level: Year in Review

  • The attraction is likely to contribute SR29 billion to Saudi gross domestic product by 2030

RIYADH:  It has been a busy year for Souda Development, after the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund said that a new firm would turn the mountain destination in the Asir region into a world-class luxury resort.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the move on Feb. 24, which will see the Soudah Development spend SR11 billion ($3 billion) to boost tourism in Soudah and parts of Rijal Alma’a governorate.

The move is a key driver of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 ambitions, which aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy and reduce reliance on oil.

Soudah mountain is the juniper- covered highest peak in Saudi Arabia, over 3,000 meters above sea level, which attracts about 1 million visitors a year. But the company targets 2 million annual visitors, to make the Soudah area an international tourist destination.

FASTFACT

1 million

The company announced during the Green Saudi Green Initiative in October that it would plant more than 1 million trees in Soudah and parts of Rijal Alma’a within eight years, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 4 percent.

SD forecasts the attraction will contribute SR29 billion to the Saudi gross domestic product by 2030, it also expects to create 8,000 direct and indirect jobs by that time.

The firm signed a memorandum of understanding with the Asir municipality in May to organize building permits and allow commercial activities of all kinds. The deal also defined the areas proposed by the municipality for investment.

The company announced during the Green Saudi Green Initiative in October that it would plant more than 1 million trees in Soudah and parts of Rijal Alma’a within eight years, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 4 percent. This will lift naturally protected areas to more than 30 percent of the Kingdom.

SD CEO Husameddin Al-Madani told Arab News at the green summit that $3 billion would be spent on transport such as primary, secondary and tertiary roads, with other invest ments going into energy and microgrid projects.




Soudah Development CEO Husameddin Al-Madani. (Supplied)

The company announced a deal with the Swiss in November to run scholarships for young people in Soudah and Rijal Alma’a to study at Switzerland’s best culinary, hospitality and business management schools.

The move will offer diplomas, undergraduate or postgraduate courses at four of Switzerland’s top schools — The Swiss Hotel Management School, Cesar Ritz Colleges Switzerland, the Culinary Arts Academy, and the Hotel Institute Montreux.

Also, in November the SD became a member of the UN’s Mountain Partnership, which aims to boost the sustainability of buildings in the region.

The development company also became a key partner in one of the world’s toughest endurance motorsports events, the 2022 Dakar Rally, which takes place across the Saudi Arabian desert, to promote adventure sports in the area.

The body finished the year strongly, by becoming an affiliate member of the World Tourism Organization in December, allowing it to work with more than 500 global companies, educational and research institutions, resorts, and Nongovernmental organizations.

SD will release its masterplan in the first quarter of 2022 after discussions with local and international investment communities.

“We have started demolition and our site preparation work on the ground in preparation for starting our large construction program by April 2022,” said CEO, Al-Madani to Arab News in an interview last year.

Next year, SD will release its masterplan in the first quarter of 2022 after discussions with local and international investment communities.

Just recently, the SD has been confirmed as an official partner of the ongoing motorsport Dakar Rally 2022.




Just recently, the SD has been confirmed as an official partner of the ongoing motorsport Dakar Rally 2022. (AFP)

The partnership will see Soudah present traditional live performances as part of the post-racing entertainment in camps set up for participants, stakeholders, and the media.

Hundreds of riders, drivers and crew will experience live traditional Asiri music and performances alongside the culture of Soudah and Rijal Almaa after completing a tough day’s racing.

These performances will take place during the Riyadh, Jeddah, Bisha and Ha’il stages of the rally.

The partnership, the company said, reflects its commitment to “promoting the Soudah and Rijal Almaa region as a destination for sports and adventure tourism,” as part of its wider goal to become a leading luxury mountain destination.

Now in its 44th edition, the Dakar Rally is organized by AOS in partnership with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), The Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation as well as other local authorities

More than 1,000 participants from 70 countries aboard over 600 vehicles will travel across Hail, Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Asir region as part of the race.

The Dakar Rally 2022 is the first sporting event sponsored by Soudah Development since its launch last February.

“We have started demolition and our site preparation work on the ground in preparation for starting our large construction program by April 2022,” said CEO, Al-Madani to Arab News in an interview. 


NFTs losing luster as cryptocurrencies crash

Updated 23 May 2022

NFTs losing luster as cryptocurrencies crash

  • Fraud a major reason cited for the downturn, with amounts lost to scams described as "eye-watering"
  • At least 80 percent of NFTs on leading exchanges OpenSea and LooksRare found to be fake

PARIS: A slew of celebrity endorsements helped inflate a multi-billion dollar bubble around digital tokens over the past year, but cryptocurrencies are crashing and some fear NFTs could be next.
NFTs are tokens linked to digital images, “collectable” items, avatars in games or property and objects in the burgeoning virtual world of the metaverse.
The likes of Paris Hilton, Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams have boasted about owning NFTs and many under-30s have been enticed to gamble for the chance of making a quick profit.
But the whole sector is suffering a rout at the moment with all the major cryptocurrencies slumping in value, and the signs for NFTs are mixed at best.
The number of NFTs traded in the first quarter of this year slumped by almost 50 percent compared to the previous quarter, according to analysis firm Non-Fungible.
They reckoned the market was digesting the vast amount of NFTs created last year, with the resale market just getting off the ground.
Monitoring firm CryptoSlam reported a dramatic tail-off in May, with just $31 million spent on art and collectibles in the week to May 15, the lowest figure all year.
A symbol of the struggle is the forlorn attempt to re-sell an NFT of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet.
Dorsey managed to sell the NFT for almost $3 million last year but the new owner cannot find anyone willing to pay more than $20,000.

Molly White, a prominent critic of the crypto sphere, told AFP there were many possible reasons for the downturn.
“It could be a general decrease in hype, it could be fear of scams after so many high-profile ones, or it could be people tightening their belts,” she said.
The reputation of the industry has been hammered for much of the year.
The main exchange, OpenSea, admitted in January that more than 80 percent of the NFTs created with its free tool were fraudulent — many of them copies of other NFTs or famous artworks reproduced without permission.
“There’s a bit of everything on OpenSea,” said Olivier Lerner, co-author of the book “NFT Mine d’Or” (NFT Gold Mine).
“It’s a huge site and it’s not curated, so you really have no idea what you’re buying.”
LooksRare, an NFT exchange that overtook OpenSea for volume of sales this year, got into similar problems as its rival.
As many as 95 percent of the transactions on its platform were found to be fake, according to CryptoSlam.
Users were selling NFTs to themselves because LooksRare was offering tokens with every transaction — no matter what you were buying.
And the amounts lost to scams this year have been eye-watering.
The owners of Axie Infinity, a game played by millions in the Philippines and elsewhere and a key driver of the NFT market, managed to lose more than $500 million in a single swindle.

“As soon as you have a new technology, you immediately have fraudsters circling,” lawyer Eric Barbry told AFP.
He pointed out that the NFT market had no dedicated regulation so law enforcement agencies are left to cobble together a response using existing frameworks.
Molly White said strong regulation could help eliminate the extreme speculation but that could, in turn, rob NFTs of their major appeal — that they can bring quick profits.
“I think less hype would be a good thing — in its current form, NFT trading is enormously risky and probably unwise for the average person,” she said.
NFTs are often likened to the traditional art market because they have no inherent utility and their prices fluctuated wildly depending on trends and hype.
But Olivier Lerner suggested a different comparison.
“It’s like the lottery,” he said of those seeking big profits from NFTs. “You play, but you never win.”

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World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

Updated 22 May 2022

World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

  • This year’s meeting will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers

LONDON: The World Economic Forum has announced that the theme of its annual meeting for 2022 will be ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’ in its return to an in-person conference since the pandemic forced it to go virtual since 2020.

“The Annual Meeting is the first summit that brings global leaders together in this new situation characterized by an emerging multipolar world as a result of the pandemic and war,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman.

This year’s meeting — which is happening in the spring rather than its usual January slot — returns after a two-year hiatus and will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers.

“The fact that nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and media come together in person demonstrates the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to confront the issues in a crisis-driven world,” Schwab said.

Civil society will be represented by more than 200 leaders from NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academia, labour organizations, faith-based and religious groups, and at least 400 media leaders and reporting press. The Annual Meeting will also bring together younger generations, with 100 members of the Forum’s Global Shaper and Young Global Leader communities participating.

Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and geo-economic challenges, the meeting convenes at a strategic point where public figures and global leaders will meet in person to reconnect, exchange insights, gain fresh perspectives and advance solutions.

Topics that will be discussed at the annual meeting range from COVID-19 and climate change to education, technology and energy governance.

These include the Reskilling Revolution, an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030; an initiative on universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism; and the One Trillion Trees initiative, 1t.org, to protect our trees and forests and restore the planet’s ecosystems.

The programme will have six thematic pillars, including fostering global and regional cooperation; securing the economic recovery and shaping a new era of growth; building healthy and equitable societies; safeguarding climate, food and nature; driving industry transformation, and finally; harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

Updated 22 May 2022

Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

  • Capital Economics says it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 10 percent this year, driven by increased activities in the oil and non-oil sectors, according to a recent note from Capital Economics.

The London-based independent research firm said it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens.

Capital Economics expects the Kingdom to achieve the projected 10-percent growth due to a  significant increase in oil output combined with an expected loosening of fiscal policy that is set to encourage growth in the non-oil sector.

This projection follows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

In regards to performance on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the growth is attributed to a 2.9 percent rise in oil GDP due to increased output on the back of the OPEC+ deal and a 2.5 percent growth in non-oil activities.

The increase in energy prices, which has been the largest since the 1973 oil crisis, together with the war in Ukraine — which altered the global patterns on trade, production and consumption — have contributed to this record GDP growth.

SPEEDREAD

The projection by London-based Capital Economicsfollows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

Though Saudi Arabia still hasn’t met its OPEC+ quota, it is one of the few members raising produc- tion significantly. With other member countries struggling to meet their quotas and an expected decline in Russian output, Capital Economics predicts the Kingdom will increase oil production faster than anticipated under the current OPEC+ agreement.

According to the World Bank, energy prices are expected to rise more than 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023 and 2024.

As oil prices remain elevated, policymakers are expected to relax fiscal policy to stimulate non-oil activities, with a reduction in the value-added tax a possibility, the note from Capital Economics pointed out.

The Kingdom’s non-oil sector has also expanded at the fastest rate in over four years, according to the Saudi Arabia PMI survey.

This has been due to new business and activity that boosted sharply as client demand recovered after COVID-19.

The increase in business also came in line with Vision 2030, a reform plan that aims to diversify the country’s economic resources.

The 10 percent figure projected by Capital Economics is much higher than recent projections from the IMF, which predicted the Saudi economy to grow by 7.6 percent in 2022, as mentioned in its World Economic Outlook released in April 2022.

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Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

Updated 21 May 2022

Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

  • The new office will be a stand-alone; it will create jobs for Saudi citizens: CEO

Flash Entertainment plans to open a stand-alone office in Saudi Arabia within 3 months as the Kingdom is becoming a hotspot for events and leisure.

The entertainment firm, based in the UAE, is one of the Middle East’s leading live entertainment companies known for organizing some of the biggest global events, including several Formula One Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the FIFA Club World Cup, UAE National Day, the AFC Asian Cup — arguably the biggest event in the region prior to the upcoming Qatar World Cup — and even Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE in 2019, which saw over 180,000 people in attendance.

“The new office will be the Saudi headquarters, it’s a stand alone, it’s not a branch,” the company’s CEO John Lickrish told Arab News. “We have a branch office in Dubai but here we wanted to set up our own office.” The new office will create 25 jobs for Saudi citizens. Lickrish who was in Riyadh for the fourth edition of the Saudi Entertain- ment and Amusement Expo this week was attending the event to touch base with the local commu- nity in the sector.

“I’m here to touch base with the local community suppliers and decision makers and try to make people aware that we’re entering the market,” he said. “We have done events here but now that we’re establishing an office, we want to integrate the GCC into a network of reliable promoters and suppliers that we can count on, and that’s the real goal of this.”

HIGHLIGHTS

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

The SEA Expo, held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, is the first trade event dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning entertainment and leisure industry, with sellers from around the world showcasing the latest and greatest advances in the sector.

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

“The office will mostly have people from KSA,” Lickrish said. “We are going to be training them in our systems and processes, but they need to be here on the ground. Right now, we’re looking at 25 (local hires) based on our business plan for the next three years. From there, the sky is the limit.”

Flash Entertainment covers everything from event ideation, event management, marketing and communications, ticketing and sales, talent procurement and full operational and production delivery, as well as managing a portfolio of assets, including the Etihad Park and the multi-purpose state-of-the-art Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

A location for the office has yet to be decided, however, with Jeddah and Dammam as potential cities to set up the shop.

“This is a big populous, so for us, that’s interesting, and it’s an emerging market in the region as well.” Lickrish said. “I think what is important for us now is really setting the foundations, making sure that the country and the region is represented as not only capable but excelling in this field. And then we’ll go on to the regional talent and develop the local markets.” According to Lickrish, the company created the first citywide integrated enter- tainment program for Formula One in 2009 that has since been emulated with subsequent grands prix around the world. “So that was an innovation that we brought into the global market.”

Lickrish himself has been in the entertainment business for over 30 years and in the region for 14. He hopes to bring his exper- tise to Saudi Arabia that plans to invest $64 billion in the devel- opment of the entertainment industry over the next decade as part of Vision 2030.

“My goal is to see a self- sustaining, vibrant, regional business that has international recognition and ultimately a footprint globally,” he said. “We want to be giving them a unique experience, as well as a cultural and international experience.”


FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

Updated 21 May 2022

FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

  • The institute is investing $527,515 in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement
  • Timbeter provides an AI-driven photo-optics app that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter

LONDON: The Future Investment Initiative Institute hosted a summit in London about Environmental, Social and Governance in emerging markets, involving world leaders, global CEOs, international investors, thought leaders and heads of sustainability.

The event unveiled a new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology to inform and accelerate investments in emerging economies.

The new methodology aims to give unbiased ratings for companies in emerging markets who currently receive less than 10 percent of ESG flows, despite being home to nearly 90 percent of the world’s population and roughly half of global GDP.

ESG rating agencies are one of the main barriers to increasing investment in emerging markets. Currently, mainstream rating agencies employ key perfor- mance indicators not relevant to emerging markets. The existing frameworks focus too much on disclosure and ignore year-over- year performance improvement.

The new framework, developed with the support of Ernst & Young, values performance improvement over time more than breadth of disclosure, emphasizing sectoral challenges rather than country risks, to ensure fair competition between companies in both emerging markets and developed markets.

The FII Institute is investing €500,000 ($527,515) in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement. Timbeter provides an artificial intelligence-driven photo-optics application that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter.

Timbeter is a software as a service workflow management solution for the timber industry, founded in 2013 at the Nordic Hackathon by Anna-Greta Tsakhna, its CEO, and Martin Kambla, CTO.

Forestry continues to be an important and controversial issue, with world forests decreasing by a third in size over the last century due to reckless practices.

This technology is key to a more proactive management of forests and a more sustainable sector.

Meanwhile, the ESG white paper is designed to encourage greater ESG investment in emerging markets. It calls on investors to publicly commit to raising the portion of capital allocated to emerging markets from less than 10 percent today to a minimum of 30 percent of committed and invested capital by 2030. It also calls on governments to encourage emerging market-headquartered companies to become more proactive at disclosing relevant information through their normal reporting channels.

Richard Attias, CEO of the FII Institute, said: “Central to our work at FII Institute is to increase awareness about the weaknesses in current ESG standards and their impact on global sustainability prospects, and to advocate for an inclusive and equitable application of ESG through driving real action by key players globally.

“ESG has been one of the fastest-growing investment strategies over the past few years, accounting for one-third of all assets under management. But this growth is not even. Working with our partners at EY, we identified and removed the barriers to ESG investment in emerging markets, which are often overlooked,” he added.

“By launching the Inclusive ESG Framework and Scoring Methodology, investing in a global sustainable solutions company, and publishing our recent ESG white paper — we are making tangible actions to create a better future for humanity. And we are confident that our partners around the world will help us drive those actions further.”