Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound

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Updated 23 May 2022

Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound

  • Kingdom’s hotels ‘enjoying higher occupancies of over 70% in most destinations’

RIYADH: Of all the industries impacted by the pandemic, the hospitality sector was the worst hit in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, as in all other territories.

In 2020, hotel occupancy rates declined to 49 percent in Riyadh from 60 percent in 2019. Likewise, Makkah witnessed a decline from 61 percent to 25 percent, and Jeddah from 58 percent to 37 percent, according to professional services firm Deloitte.

However, the Kingdom’s travel and tourism sector enjoyed an equally dramatic rebound. Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah witnessed revenue per available room recovery index rates of 88 percent, 85 percent and 56 percent, respectively, in 2021, as recently reported by the US-based hospitality research company STR. 

Furthermore, the pace of growth is set to gather steam as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program aims to attract 100 million annual visitors within eight years. 

The reforms will also focus on T&T outside the traditional destinations of Hajj and Umrah and in line with national gigaprojects such as NEOM and The Red Sea Development Company.

“There is a palpable excitement about Saudi Arabia – not just locally, but globally,” said Philip Wooller, area director, Middle East & Africa at STR.

“Despite the challenges of the last two years, the acceleration of Saudi Arabia as both a leisure and business destination has been remarkable, and the ambitious plans laid out in Vision 2030 are on track.” 

These remarks were echoed by Haitham Mattar, managing director of India, Middle East & Africa at UK-headquartered IHG Hotels & Resorts, the world’s third-largest hotel company, which has been active in the Kingdom since 1975. He expected the resurgence of Saudi Arabia’s T&T sector in the broader international context.

Too big to fail

“The global pandemic was a crisis that brought the industry to its knees for the first time,” Mattar told Arab News. “However, I always say the hospitality sector is too big to fail. We’ve gone through the 2008 financial crisis, foot and mouth disease, SARS and other global problems, and the industry always seems to bounce right back.

“Saudi Arabia’s hotel performance registered year-on-year gains in 2021, and the sector’s recovery is expected to persist throughout the coming year, with pent-up demand driving further improvements as COVID-19-related restrictions continue to ease.

“Our hotels are now enjoying higher occupancies of over 70 percent in most destinations from domestic and international customers.” 




Haitham Mattar, managing director of India, Middle East & Africa at UK-headquartered IHG Hotels & Resorts.

Mattar is an authority on Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector. He was a senior advisor to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism from 2019 to 2021, where he helped develop a national tourism strategy based on research into global markets, demographics, events, infrastructure, supply chains and identification of key tourism destinations.

Mattar credited the government of Saudi Arabia for helping the hospitality industry through the worst of times and bringing it back to its feet.

“The government supported the entire private sector, including the hotel industry, with subsidization of wages, reduced energy costs and flexible or deferred loan repayments, all of which helped our owners in their recovery plan.

“And today, the government of Saudi and the tourism ministry has been extremely active in bringing great events to the country, which generate demand both domestically and internationally. In addition, we’ve seen increased demand as the borders have started to open with the easing of restrictions.”

Evolving dynamics

According to STR, over 30,000 hotel rooms are currently under construction in the Kingdom.

“STR’s findings clearly point to ongoing and sustained recovery. We are looking forward to exploring the vast untapped potential of the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector,” said Danielle Curtis, exhibition director of Arabian Travel Market.

“Travelers today are seeking new destinations and new experiences, with sustainable tourism being high on their agenda,” Mattar said.

“And sustainability goes a long way. It’s not just about being environmentally friendly; it’s more about preserving wildlife, contributing to zero poverty, creating jobs, and protecting culture and heritage. That’s what travelers today want to associate themselves with.”

Mattar noted that the push for sustainable tourism is changing the very nature of hotel design in Saudi Arabia and worldwide.

“It’s critical to ensure that our hotels are designed with zero emissions, renewable energy and zero usage of single-use plastic.

“Also, consumers want to move away from large lobbies, conglomerates and queues at the reception. New designs will allow people access to their accommodation with minimal touchpoints with other people, for example, online check-ins and services.”

Technology impact

These technical advances are coordinated with the Kingdom’s wider harnessing of artificial intelligence and internet-connected smart devices as Vision 2030 drives it towards a more knowledge-based economy.

NEOM, The Line and TRSDC, all slated to be global tourist hubs, are implementing digital technology from the ground up, emphasizing sustainability.

“A hundred years from now, we will experience exactly the same natural treasures in the Red Sea,” said Najwah Hamzeh, senior smart destinations director at The Red Sea Development Co.

These initiatives will give the Kingdom an edge in the highly competitive global hospitality industry in the future. Still, according to Mattar, other attributes make it uniquely attractive to international travelers.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful and diverse landscapes, from snow-topped mountains to green mountains to beautiful, lush valleys, great cultural experiences, a rich gastronomy, and preserved authenticity, with 7,000 years of history,” he said.

“There’s a great opportunity for the Kingdom to be a global player in the global tourism arena. The government is working with us, the operators, to ensure that they deliver to their plans.”

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Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients

Updated 03 July 2022

Algeria to review gas prices with all its clients

  • Algeria’s oil and gas earnings are up 70 percent and have reached $21.5 billion in the five first months of 2022

ALGIERS: Algeria is negotiating with all its clients to review gas prices, state oil and gas producer Sonatrach’s CEO, Tewfik Hakkar, told reporters on Sunday.

Hakkar added that the review of the prices is not targeting a single company or country.

The statement comes almost a week after Spain began re-exporting gas to Morocco in reverse flow via the Gazoduc Maghreb-Europe pipeline, marking the first direct flow of piped gas from Europe to Africa.

Spain and Morocco agreed earlier this year to consider using the GME pipeline for reverse flow to the North African country with the gas to be sourced from the global LNG market.

On Nov. 1, Algeria, which has cut off diplomatic ties with Morocco, stopped supplying natural gas to its neighboring country through the GME pipeline.

Algeria is now supplying Spain using the Medgaz undersea pipeline with an annual capacity of 8 billion cubic meters, which does not go through Morocco.

Earnings up

Algeria’s oil and gas earnings are up 70 percent and have reached $21.5 billion in the five first months of 2022, compared to $12.6 billion in the same period last year, an executive at state oil and gas producer Sonatrach told reporters on Sunday.

Along with gas, Algeria is a large oil producer with 12.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. The country exports 540,000 barrels per day of its total production of about 1.1 million bpd. All proven oil reserves are held onshore, though offshore exploration is in the early stages.

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Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns

Updated 03 July 2022

Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns

  • Inflation is running above 60 percent and the peso currency is under growing pressure

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s economy minister Martin Guzman resigned on Saturday, a blow to a government beset by mounting economic crises.
Guzman, who led Argentina’s debt restructuring deal with the International Monetary Fund and creditors, posted a letter to his Twitter account announcing his decision.
“I write to you to present my resignation as economy minister,” Guzman said in a letter addressed to President Alberto Fernandez. He had been minister since late 2019.
The government is facing its lowest approval rating since taking office in 2019. Inflation is running above 60 percent and the peso currency is under growing pressure. Sovereign bonds have plummeted.
The resignation leaves the ministry leaderless just as Guzman was expected to travel to Europe to negotiate a $2 billion debt deal with the Paris Club of sovereign lenders.
Investors are skeptical about the economy and infighting in the governing coalition between moderates like Guzman and a more militant wing including Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Mariel Fornoni, director of the Management and Fit consultancy, said the resignation of a key ally was a reflection of President Fernandez’s loss of power since a painful midterm election defeat last year.
“It is the chronicle of a death foretold. Ever since the loss in last year’s legislative election,” she said, adding that a militant wing around the powerful vice president had been pushing to oust Guzman.
“(The president) has lost another piece of his board, perhaps the most important, and is increasingly alone,” Fornoni said.
Guzman tellingly posted his resignation letter while Fernandez de Kirchner was giving a speech commemorating iconic former Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron.
Guzman said “there should be a political agreement within the governing coalition” to choose his successor.
The president’s office said that it did not yet know when a replacement for Guzman would be announced.
A government source who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters that Guzman’s exit was due to what he felt was a lack of political support for his agenda.
Miguel Kiguel, former secretary of finance in Argentina, told Reuters that whoever takes over will have a tough time, noting that inflation could hit 80 percent this year and there is a gap of nearly 100 percent between official and parallel currency exchange rates.
“We don’t know who’s coming, but this will be a very hot potato,” Kiguel said. “Whoever comes is going to have a very complicated time.”


Dubai firms board the metaverse to improve customer engagement

Updated 03 July 2022

Dubai firms board the metaverse to improve customer engagement

  • Realty major Damac has invested up to AED367 million to develop and monetize a metaverse

DUBAI: Top Dubai-based companies are racing against time to build metaverse or immersive virtual worlds to bolster their sales prospects and disrupt customer experiences in their respective industries.

Realty major Damac has invested up to AED367 million ($100 million) to develop and monetize a metaverse that could allow potential customers to check into their luxury properties virtually, choose an apartment, explore furniture options and toy with the paraphernalia on offer.

Called D-Labs, the metaverse platform will create digital replicas of their top projects, including Damac Hills, Damac Lagoons, Safa by De Grisogono, and Cavalli Tower in Dubai. It will also host other notable projects such as Damac Tower Nine Elms in London and the upcoming Cavalli Residences in Miami.

So, how does this work? First, a potential customer in any part of the world can meet up with the sales agent of Damac Properties inside the metaverse instead of connecting over a Zoom call. Then, inside the metaverse, the prospect can tour the apartment and pay for the unit during the checkout.

“We sell around AED100 million monthly over Zoom calls without any immersive technology. With the metaverse, we can sell AED700-800 million a month to any customers in California, New York or Miami,” Ali Sajwani, general manager of operations at Damac and CEO of D-Labs, told Arab News.

The company, which has been annually clocking a business of $5 billion in real estate, expects to rake in $6.5 billion a year using the metaverse, added Sajwani.

We sell around AED100 million monthly over Zoom calls without any immersive technology. With the metaverse, we can sell AED700-800 million a month to any customers in California, New York or Miami.

Ali Sajwani, general manager of operations at Damac

Potential to disrupt

Metaverse owes much of its success to its disruptive nature that displaces traditional ways of looking at a category and creates a new business model. Gone are the days when real estate buyers would close deals based on brochures and project plans.

Instead, they are not only engaging in real-time with the property, but they now have the option to shop for things during their virtual tours. In the case of D-Labs, customers could also pick a host of non-fungible tokens or scarce digital objects on offer and sell them for a better price on a future date. The company, for instance, will soon be offering a variety of NFTs, including digital wearables and jewelry.

“The idea is you own your real estate and virtual assets. As part of our De Grisogono relaunch, we will also be offering digital jewelry. However, the goal is to convert that customer into an owner of real assets, not just digital ones,” Sajwani said.

According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., more than $120 billion have been globally invested in building metaverse technology and infrastructure in the first five months of 2022. That’s more than double the $57 billion invested in 2021.

The company recently surveyed more than 3,400 consumers worldwide and found two-thirds are excited about transitioning everyday activities to the metaverse, especially when it comes to connecting with people, exploring virtual worlds, and collaborating with remote colleagues.

“Our bottom-up view of consumer and enterprise use cases suggests it (metaverse) could generate up to $5 trillion in impact by 2030,” said Eric Hazan, senior partner of McKinsey in the study.

Strategy in motion

To make this groundbreaking concept a reality, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum recently announced the Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which aims to increase the contribution of the metaverse sector to the emirate’s economy to $4 billion by 2030.

Given the government’s proactive role, companies are now looking at ways to develop metaverse platforms that could launch pilot activities, study consumer behavior, learn from the real-time interactions and nurture the business model.

Emirates Airline, another early adopter of the metaverse, also announced that it would soon offer a slice of immersive technology, where the customer could virtually relish the travel experience aboard the premium airline.

“These projects will allow customers to transform their entire processes, whether it’s a business operation, training, or sales force, into an interactive experience in the metaverse,” said Emirates Chief Operating Officer Adel Ahmed Al-Redha during a press roundtable.

These projects will allow customers to transform their entire processes, whether it’s a business operation, training, or sales force, into an interactive experience in the metaverse.

Adel Ahmed Al-Redha, Emirates chief operating officer

As part of its metaverse offerings, the customer can tour the aircraft and experience economy, business, and first class, besides selecting their seats and the food and beverage of their choice.

“The customers can also tour the airport, do their duty-free shopping and buy their items while sitting at home, which can be delivered to them at home or in the aircraft,” he added.

It wasn’t a new idea for Emirates to digitize. Still, they did not have the technology to do so and are currently cooperating with different technology companies “to ensure we get the right thing,” Al-Redha said.

Al-Redha is among the league of forward-looking business executives reaping the fruits of the first-mover advantage. It will be interesting to see how they use this fresh produce technology to disrupt their business models and create newer avatars of consumer engagement.

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Exxon signals operating profits could double over Q1

Updated 02 July 2022

Exxon signals operating profits could double over Q1

  • Energy prices have shot up this year with oil selling for more than $105 per barrel

HOUSTON: Exxon Mobil Corp. has signaled that skyrocketing margins from fuel and crude sales could generate a record quarterly profit, according to a securities filing.

Energy prices have shot up this year with oil selling for more than $105 per barrel and gasoline at about $5 per gallon in the United States. The enormous earnings are likely to ignite new calls for windfall profit taxes.

The largest US oil producer projected a sequential increase of about $7.4 billion in operating profits compared with the first quarter. In the first quarter, Exxon posted an $8.8 billion profit, excluding a Russia writedown.

The filing indicates a potential profit of more than $16 billion for the second quarter. The company’s peak quarterly profit was $15.9 billion in 2012.

The filing showed Exxon expects higher oil and gas prices will add about $2.9 billion to results. Margins from selling gasoline and diesel will add another $4.5 billion to operating profits.

“High energy prices are largely a result of underinvestment by many in the energy industry over the last several years and especially during the pandemic,” Exxon said in a statement on the profit gains.

Analysts tracked by IBES Refinitiv forecast a per share profit of $2.99, up from $1.10 in the same quarter a year ago. Official results for the period will be released on July 29, according to a summary of factors influencing the period disclosed late Friday.

Exxon’s profits led US President Joe Biden last month to say the company and other oil majors were capitalizing on a global oil supply shortage to fatten profits.

The company said it is investing more than any other producer in the US to expand oil and natural gas production, including in the Permian, the country’s largest unconventional basin.

US Representative Ro Khanna said Exxon’s record-breaking profits reinforce his call for Congress to pass a windfall tax on Big Oil.

“Big Oil companies should be providing relief to their customers, not pouring billions into stock buybacks to enrich their investors,” he said in a statement.

Exxon’s shares closed up 2.2 percent at $87.55 on Friday.

Exxon, which lost more than $22 billion in 2020, has been using the extra cash from higher energy prices sales to pay debt and raise distributions to shareholders. It plans to buy back up to $30 billion of its shares through 2023.

Despite losses during the pandemic, Exxon continued to invest in additional production and expects to increase output in the Permian by 25 percent in 2022, the company’s spokesperson said.

The second-quarter results will be the first quarterly earnings report since Exxon decided to report results by four business units, giving a more detailed breakout of its petrochemical operations. The snapshot showed that margins in its chemical and specialty products units were flat in the second quarter compared with the first.

The company estimated the impact of exiting Russia would cut oil and gas profits by about $150 million compared with the first quarter. Exxon wrote down $3.4 billion in Russia assets earlier this year.

Exxon also signaled a contribution of about $300 million from asset sales in the quarter.

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Stuck bags add to tangles at Paris airports amid travel boom

Updated 02 July 2022

Stuck bags add to tangles at Paris airports amid travel boom

  • Union activists said many more passengers flew without their bags
  • The scene at Charles de Gaulle on Saturday was busy but typical for the first weekend in July

PARIS: Airlines worked Saturday to deliver luggage to passengers around the world after a technical breakdown left at least 1,500 bags stuck at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, the latest of several tangles hitting travelers this summer.
The airport’s baggage sorting system had a technical malfunction Friday that caused 15 flights to depart without luggage, leaving about 1,500 bags on the ground, according to the airport operating company. The airport handled about 1,300 flights overall Friday, the operator said.
Union activists said many more passengers flew without their bags, apparently because of knock-on effects from the original breakdown.
It came as airport workers are on strike at French airports to demand more hiring and more pay to keep up with high global inflation. Because of the strike, aviation authorities canceled 17 percent of flights out of the Paris airports Friday morning, and another 14 percent were canceled Saturday.
Passengers on canceled flights were alerted days ahead of their flights. The scene at Charles de Gaulle on Saturday was busy but typical for the first weekend in July, when France’s summer travel season kicks off.
Unions plan to continue striking Sunday but no flights have been canceled so far. They have threatened to renew the strike next weekend if negotiations with company management don’t succeed in finding a compromise.
Until now, French airports had been largely spared the chaos seen recently at airports in London, Amsterdam and some other European and US cities. Airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up with soaring demand as travel resurges after two years of virus restrictions.

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