The Red Sea is preparing a new breed of Saudi hospitality professionals as its hotels to open early 2023

The company’s main task is to develop and promote a new international luxury tourism destination that will set high standards for sustainable development and bring about the next generation of luxury travel. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 May 2022

The Red Sea is preparing a new breed of Saudi hospitality professionals as its hotels to open early 2023

  • The company is committed to becoming an employer of choice, says top official

RIYADH: A few years ago, it was a bit inconceivable to see tourists in large numbers swimming in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea or marveling at the breath-taking natural habitats in the nearby islands.

Frankly, the Kingdom was never on the radar screen of potential European, American and Asian tourists as most of these visitors preferred to spend their vacations in more popular tourist destinations.

However, this is about to change.

The Saudi government, which is keen to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil as the primary source of revenue, has embarked on an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan to turn the Red Sea into a significant tourist attraction.

To achieve this goal, the Kingdom set up The Red Sea Development Co., which was incorporated as a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The company’s main task is to develop and promote a new international luxury tourism destination that will set high standards for sustainable development and bring about the next generation of luxury travel.

According to the company, the development will offer unprecedented investment options and allow visitors to explore the five untouched treasures of the west coast of the Kingdom: the archipelago of over 90 islands with stunning coral reefs, dormant volcanoes and pristine nature reserves.

The new destination, which covers an area of 28,000 sq. km, is located between Umluj and Al Wajh, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Oasis of relief

The company’s executives are upbeat about the future and feel confident that the first wave of tourists will come to the Red Sea at the end of 2022 with first three hotels to open by early 2023.

“We are gearing up to welcome the world’s most discerning travelers to The Red Sea Project by the end of this year when our first hotels will open. We have marked significant progress to ensure we remain on track,” Anton Bawab, head of operations at TRSDC, told Arab News. 




Anton Bawab, head of operations, TRSDC

Bawab said the company has identified the hotel brands and partners and announced nine of them last October.

These include leading world brands such as Jumeirah, Six Senses, EDITION, St Regis, Fairmont, Raffles, SLS, Grand Hyatt and InterContinental.

“These offerings will form part of the 16 hotels that we planned for the first phase of development by 2023. Upon full completion, we will host 50 resorts offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. The destination will also include an international airport, luxury marinas, golf courses, and entertainment and leisure facilities,” Bawab explained.

Bawab hoped by 2030 the number of visitors to the Red Sea would reach one million.

“By 2030, annual visitors will be capped at one million to ensure we provide an exclusive experience while mitigating environmental impacts and protecting the local heritage, nature, and culture for future generations.

“Access will drive visitors, and visitors will drive access. To that effect, we are working hand in hand with regional airlines to ensure that our international airport is accessible with frequent flights at guest-friendly timings,” he noted.

According to the estimates of TRSDC, by 2030, TRSP will contribute SR22 billion ($5.9 billion) per year to the local gross domestic product, while construction and 10 years of steady-state operations will generate cumulative revenues of SR464 billion by 2044.

Nurturing local talent 

The work of TRSDC does not stop here. The company has also created a talent team to groom young Saudi nationals to work on the project to create more jobs in the market.

One of the key people behind this team is Zehar Filemban, senior talent development director of TRSDC.

“Our commitment to injecting the local market with 70,000 jobs while engaging with the public, private, and start-up sectors, will reenergize a thriving economy. Our mission is to redefine the relationship between luxury and sustainability while inviting the world to witness previously undiscovered local treasures. This will spotlight the country’s credentials as an ambitious nation on the global tourism stage,” Filemban said. 




Zehar Filemban, senior talent development director

To achieve these strategic imperatives, the company is taking great care and caution to produce economic, environmental, and social co-benefits for the entirety of the tourism value chain.

“The overarching nature of the tourism industry means we are inspiring growth in supporting economic sectors like renewable energy, clean transportation, low-impact building and construction, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, and wildlife management,” Filemban said.

He emphasized that TRSDC is committed to becoming an employer of choice by recruiting, developing and retaining exceptional talent, promoting Saudization and supporting diversity and inclusion.

“In this pursuit, we will continue to facilitate knowledge transfer within the local, regional, and international industry; enhance professional development opportunities and develop young Saudi talent,” Filemban said.

Preparing for the future

Filemban added that the company is creating the changemakers of tomorrow through robust learning and development courses such as the annual Elite Graduate Program, preparation programs in local towns, community workshops, and advanced training and mentorships opportunities.

“We do this in close partnership with industry leaders like National eLearning Center, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Human Resources Development Fund, Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation, Saudi Entertainment Academy, the University of Tabuk and the University of Prince Mugrin.”

Filemban also supervised different departments to harness the abilities of the young Saudi nationals and prepare them to assume new responsibilities in the future.

“Over 600 students are currently enrolled in educational programs that support the provision of high-quality education and improve the learning experience to meet the needs of all employees and students. Programs that vary between vocational training and scholarships, under a wide range of tracks including hospitality management, airport services and technical services,” he added.

Filemban insisted that people are the company’s greatest assets and are the center of its organizational development, supported by its education and learning systems.
On May 19, TRSDC achieved another key milestone geared towards upskilling young Saudi talent through signing the second agreement with the Human Resources Development Fund to deliver high-quality training programs. General Manager of HRDF Turki Aljawini visited the site to sign the new agreement and get introduced to the project site.

This partnership will create a substantial pipeline to support and equip 1,000 young Saudis with the knowledge and expertise needed to start successful careers at TRSDC spanning across various areas such as hospitality, tourism security and information technology.

Eager to learn

Students also shared their company experience and closely followed the progress of work.

Lojain Labban, a student at the University of Prince Mugrin under a TRSDC scholarship program, learned about the program through a Twitter personality that had advertised the hospitality scholarship, and it triggered her interest. 




Lojain Labban, scholarship student

“I honestly had no idea what I was going into, I didn’t know much about the major, but it seemed like a fantastic opportunity with one of the biggest companies in the Kingdom,” Labban said.

She expressed her admiration for the project and was even more impressed by the determination of officials to attract tourists to the Red Sea.

“I love that they are developing areas of Saudi soon to be one of the top places for tourism; they are creating a tourist hotspot right here. One does not need to look far to see luxury places to holiday in. It is helping the whole and the Saudi citizens themselves to truly explore and appreciate the beauty of the Kingdom,” Labban said.

Abdulrahman Hamid Alshithiwani, a high school student at Umluj, was also among the young Saudis who saw work progress at the Red Sea.

“First of all, I am proud of this most wonderful achievement because they set a very ambitious goal, and it is in my region that I was born and grew in. And to know that I am part of a giga-project that will draw the world’s attention by 2030,” Alshithiwani said.

He believes that these projects will offer massive numbers of job opportunities in many fields such as hospitality, renewable energy, aviation, the environment and much more.

“This project will take us to another level that will enable us to compete and excel in these markets,” Alshithiwani concluded.


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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