Umrah pilgrims offered high-speed train service between Makkah and Madinah
Haramain Express travels between Makkah and Madinah at speeds of over 300 kph
Updated 16 September 2022
RIYADH: A high-speed train service makes it possible for pilgrims to travel between the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in just two hours and 20 minutes.
The Haramain Express, which travels at a top speed of over 300 kph, is part of the Kingdom’s integrated transport network.
The train can accommodate over 400 business and economy class passengers, with tickets priced between SR40 and SR150 ($10.60-$40). The service also stops at Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City.
People from all over the world are permitted to perform Umrah during their stay in the Kingdom thanks to the visa scheme provided by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
Offering a trouble-free cultural and religious experience for Umrah pilgrims is in line with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.
Pilgrims wishing to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah are advised to use the Maqam platform — maqam.gds.haj.gov.sa/ — where they can make all of the necessary travel arrangements and select from a package of services.
Family and personal visit visa holders can perform Umrah easily by booking an appointment through the Umrah app.
Umrah pilgrims are required to have comprehensive health insurance, including cover for the cost of treatment for COVID-19.
Why corporate optimism in Saudi Arabia and UAE remains widespread despite global economic headwinds
Survey suggests businesses are drawing confidence from governments’ ambitious blueprints
Climate change and sustainability issues high on the agenda for businesses in both countries
Updated 02 December 2022
LONDON: A new survey of business leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE reveals widespread corporate optimism in the two countries about the coming year, despite the uncertainties and challenges that have plagued the global economy in 2022.
Overall, 70 percent of 250 decision-makers representing a wide range of sectors expressed optimism about the prospects for the global economy in 2023, with 46 percent declaring themselves to be very optimistic.
The survey was carried out for Gedeon Mohr & Partners, a newly formed Dubai-based consultancy focused on the retail, entertainment, destinations, and hospitality sectors, all of which are set to play an increasingly important role in transforming the economies of the Arab Gulf region.
“It is hugely positive to see a majority of business leaders across the UAE and KSA being so optimistic about the future of the economy, recognising the vibrant business ecosystem and opportunities in the region,” said Maria Gedeon, CEO and founder of Gedeon Mohr & Partners.
There were, she said, several reasons for the robust picture of regional optimism that has emerged from the survey.
“Obviously, we’re lucky to have had an increase in oil prices, so naturally the economy is in better health than anywhere else in the world right now. Also, geographically the region is far from the Russia-Ukraine war, and less affected than Europe by higher prices and so on.
“But overall, I think the sentiment is better because of the amount of work that the two governments are putting into developing the economies, increasing quality of life, and attracting foreigners and expatriates to this part of the world.”
The survey also showed that overall 29 percent of business leaders in the two countries — 22 percent in the UAE, rising to 37 percent in Saudi Arabia — were slightly or very concerned about what the new year might bring.
“I would assume that these are probably working for global organizations, because they’ve had layoffs and a lot of financial issues, and slowdowns in growth, and so on,” said Gedeon.
Businesses in the two countries are drawing guidance and confidence, she said, from the ambitious blueprints set out by governments.
“Both of these countries have published their visions, the Kingdom for 2030 and the UAE for 2031, and in Saudi (Arabia) especially the mega-projects, such as NEOM, the Red Sea project and Qiddiya, and the massive investments in infrastructure, are tremendous economic catalysts.”
In November the International Monetary Fund predicted that GDP growth in Saudi Arabia would be 7.6 percent for 2022, placing it among the top five high-growth economies in the world.
Gulf Cooperation Council policymakers as a whole, said the IMF, had “managed to quickly mitigate the economic impact of the twin COVID-19 and oil price shocks.”
Even though global commodity prices had surged, it added: “The outlook is more positive for GCC countries, with new challenges linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and tighter global financial conditions expected to have a limited impact on GCC economies.”
The IMF also offered a cautionary note, warning that even as the GCC states benefit from “higher, albeit volatile, oil and gas prices, numerous risks still cloud the outlook — notably, a slowdown in the global economy.
“In this context, the reform momentum established in previous years should be maintained … to ensure equity between generations and a smooth energy transition out of fossil fuels.”
This, said Gedeon, was exactly what was happening, as Saudi Arabia works to diversify its economy and open up its society. As a senior manager with the UAE’s Majid Al-Futtaim Group, the malls to hotels, retail and entertainment giant, she had direct experience of the ongoing program of social and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia when she worked on the introduction of the group’s Vox Cinemas chain in the country.
Both of the Gulf states “will keep investing in oil, but they are keen to diversify,” she said, and one clear way ahead is “driving significant tourism to very beautiful countries.”
One thing that emerges strongly from the survey is that climate change and sustainability issues are rising to the top of the agenda for businesses in both countries. Asked how important sustainability was to their business, 90 percent of respondents in the UAE and 85 percent in Saudi Arabia said it was very important. Overall, only 2 percent said it was not important.
Climate change was also seen as the biggest threat to business in 2023 by 11 percent of respondents in the UAE, and 18 percent in Saudi Arabia.
However, more surprising, and concerning, says Gedeon, is the attitude that emerges from the survey in both countries toward the thorny corporate issue of ESG, or environmental, social and governance, a metric increasingly valued by investors and consumers as a measure of how companies impact upon, and interact with, society and the environment.
In its recent 2022 Social & Governance Report, PwC Middle East concluded that “embedding environmental, social and governance principles across all areas of economic and social evolution is essential to realizing the ambitions of our region, enabling it to become a leader on the global sustainability stage.”
In the new survey, says Gedeon, “sustainability and business growth top the agenda, yet what is clear is that while leaders care about climate change, there is still a great deal of work to do around ESG, which provides an opportunity for sustainable growth.”
The bottom line, she says, is that increasingly “consumers want to purchase from and be associated with brands that have a solid purpose, and that are doing good for the planet and the organization.
“Consumers will no longer buy a product from a company or brand that is not respecting all of these sustainability and ESG pillars, and companies that aren’t doing so will just become obsolete if they’re not transparent about their policies and procedures, about how they’re offsetting their carbon footprint.”
Again, government initiatives are likely to force the pace. The staging of COP27 in Egypt last month, and the fact that the next Conference of the Parties will take place in the UAE next year, has put environmental and social responsibility issues front and center in the thinking of governments, businesses and individuals throughout the region.
It is also hugely significant that the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest oil producers, have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and 2060 respectively — ambitious targets that will demand the collaboration and cooperation of businesses across every sector, and will almost certainly be legislated for.
One issue of concern that slightly overshadows the overall confidence identified by the survey is the recruitment and retention of the talent necessary for companies to perform at their best.
While overall 62 percent of business leaders felt they had the right talent in their business going into 2023, there were significant concerns about workforce challenges in the year ahead. Overall, 18 percent were worried about being able to attract talent, and 10 percent about retaining the talent they already had.
Despite the generally positive experience of remote working during COVID-19 lockdowns, a quarter of all respondents also saw hybrid working as a challenge in 2023. One reason, said Gedeon, was because of the unique nature of many of the big projects underway, especially in Saudi Arabia.
“A lot of these projects are truly remote and you need to be there, watching the project grow,” she said.
“If you’re developing on the Red Sea, it’s going to be very difficult to manage the project operating from New York, London, or even Dubai.
“So, there’s an eagerness to have people on site at projects such as NEOM, and they are building staff accommodation and even schools, making it exciting for people to work so far away from the capital and other cities.”
Red Sea to be ‘leading global marine sports destination,’ say industry experts
Updated 01 December 2022
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline is destined to become a major global marine sports destination, according to a panel of leading industry professionals.
The sports committee of the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia (AmCham Saudi Arabia) joined private and public sector leaders on Wednesday at Al-Marsa Yacht Club, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to share knowledge and best practices as part of the Kingdom’s rapidly growing sports and recreation sector.
The main aim was to link local and international industry experts with key stakeholders, as well as promote investment and partnership opportunities in the sports sector.
Maxwell Andrews, operations lead at KAUST, moderated an interactive session on “Marine Sports and Tourism” that included panelists Hassan Alkabbani, chairman of the Saudi Sailing Federation; Rosanna Chopra, executive director of Red Sea Global; Hussain Assaggaf, vice president of strategy and business intelligence at the Red Sea Authority; and Oliver Rees, general manager of the Jeddah Yacht Club.
Topics discussed included sustainable development and management models to build the best services for yachting, boat owners and those involved in water sports.
The session also discussed strategies to protect the Red Sea coast, promote eco-tourism, and to address regulations encouraging the marine and water sports industry.
Chopra highlighted Red Sea Global’s achievements and major projects, while also focusing on private yacht tourism.
During the panel discussion, she announced Red Sea Global’s involvement with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros. Discovery to help promote the round-the-world challenge and to drive awareness of the importance of “ocean health” to an international audience.
“Through such platforms, we aim to collaborate more, be transparent and learn from each other to reach our objectives further and faster,” Chopra said.
Panelists also shared their views on the initiatives to create jobs and opportunities in the marine sports industry.
Mohammad Tafesh, vice president of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Today’s program represented one of the best opportunities I’ve seen short of a major exhibition that brings together key stakeholders in one of the most important pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 ‘Enhanced Quality of Life.’”
Saudi Arabia is aiming to increase its appeal to “sport tourists” who will either visit the country for a major sporting event or to take part in recreational sports.
In line with the National Tourism Strategy, the Kingdom has ambitious goals to ensure that the sector contributes 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, with 1 million jobs created along the way, and sports contributing to at least 1 percent of the economy.
“Through this event, we were able to find out how and where the private and public sectors can get involved and contribute to the Saudi sports industry,” Tafesh added.
Rola Osta, director of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Our key speakers shared valuable insight on what the future will look like for the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. From high engagement in water sports to opportunities for tourists and locals to enjoy the sea in various ways, the projects in the works will allow everyone to take part.”
She said that the plans will enhance business opportunities between Saudi Arabia and the US, increasing employment opportunities for all.
“This was evident this evening during Red Sea Global’s announcement about joining forces in new innovative partnerships with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros.” she said.
Osta described the AmCham Saudi Arabia platform as “a great place for business leaders to meet, explore partnership opportunities and expand their knowledge in various sectors.”
UNESCO adds Saudi Khawlani coffee, Camel Heda’a oral tradition to intangible cultural heritage list
11 of Kingdom’s historical practices, items recognized
Arabic music, art, dance registered with world body
Updated 01 December 2022
RIYADH: UNESCO on Wednesday added Saudi Khawlani coffee, and the skills and knowledge associated with its cultivation, and Camel Heda’a to this year’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The decision was taken in Morocco during the annual meeting of the UN’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The Kingdom, in cooperation with Oman and the UAE, led the joint application to register Camel Heda’a, which is an oral tradition where herders communicate with their animals. The communication includes guiding camels to safety during sandstorms, instructing them to open their mouths to feed and having them drop onto their knees to be mounted.
The registration of Saudi Khawlani coffee involved the efforts of several bodies including the Heritage Commission, Ministry of Culture, the National Committee for Education, Science and Culture, the Permanent Saudi Delegation to UNESCO, the Culinary Authority, and the Saudi Society for the Preservation of Heritage.
Khawlani coffee is one of the most luxurious and famous types in the world and has been cultivated in the south of the Kingdom for more than eight centuries. It is associated with the customs, poetry and songs of the people of the region.
With these new additions, Saudi Arabia has now registered 11 cultural elements with UNESCO including the Majlis, Arabic coffee, the Najdi Ardah dance, the flute, falconry, the Asiri cat, the palm tree, the Sadu weaving craft and Arabic calligraphy.
This registration forms part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 that aims to document the nation’s rich heritage for future generations locally and abroad.
Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state
Opening season of the two developments will include a vibrant public program of events, performances, and activities for all visitors
Visitors to UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif will get a chance to savor Bujairi Terrace’s eagerly awaited culinary district
Updated 30 November 2022
RIYADH: The first phase of an aspirational project conceived five years ago, with the aim of showcasing the history of the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has come to fruition according to plan.
Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit.
Delegates from around the globe, Saudi public figures and DGDA staff joined together to witness a momentous development as Diriyah opened its doors to the international community.
“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. “We are celebrating two big milestones.
“For the first time in the history of the Gulf, the Kingdom is welcoming the World Travel and Tourism Council, all the ministers of tourism, CEOs of hotel companies, CEOs of airline companies — it’s 5,000 people coming to the Kingdom to see what’s going to be one of the great tourism countries in the world.”
Inzerillo described what it means to him, personally, to see the fruit of the labor of his team in Diriyah on display before the eyes of the world.
“It makes my heart pound because the thing that I am most proud about is that we are 1,600 staff now: 85 percent Saudi, 36 percent Saudi superstar women, 16 percent of which are in management, and 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah. My heart and soul are my team and that’s the thing that I am most proud about,” Inzerillo said.
Prudence Solomon Inzerillo, Inzerillo’s wife, said: “I think the changes are profound and I think the whole devotion and commitment to celebrating culture, heritage, history art … I think it’s such an incredible gift, it’s really important.
“I think that everyone should appreciate the history and the culture that you have. It’s so rich and diverse and I think that it is a real privilege and a pleasure to be here to witness the changes that have happened over the last four-plus years that we’ve been here and it’s extraordinary.”
The festivities began at the birthplace of the Kingdom, and the first ruling base of the Al-Saud family, the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif. In front of Salwa Palace, a 10,000 square meter complex the original parts of which were built by Mohammed ibn Saud, the first ruler of the First Saudi State, tour guides stood waiting to show visitors around the site, moving along walkways once trodden by early Saudi rulers.
Every handmade mud brick in the ancient buildings of At-Turaif has a story to tell, every wall holds the secrets of power struggles, and every corner conceals a tale of hospitality and unity.
The visitors from around the world saw not only the modernity and luxury of the present-day Kingdom but were able to take a step back in time as they watched live performances of traditional ardah dance and walked narrow pathways that paint an atmospheric picture of the Kingdom’s past.
The guests at this private event that marked the official opening of Bujairi and At-Turaif represented a diverse assemblage of visitors from numerous countries
Guadalupe Galvan Hernandez, for example, was visiting from Mexico City to attend the World Travel and Tourism Council summit.
“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. “I have seen many things. Diriyah is amazing; it is all history. When we arrived we saw so many structures and it’s a blend of modernity and traditions.
• At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will open their doors to the public on Dec. 4.
• The Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council is taking place for the first time in Saudi Arabia.
• At-Turaif will offer 75-minute guided walking tours in both Arabic and English that will take visitors through the original seal of power of the Al-Saudi family.
“The people are very kind, they are very nice people. Sometimes when you come from a country like Mexico it’s hard to understand some things and it makes you fear, somehow, the way you will be treated and they (the Saudis) were really, really kind and nice people.”
Following the tours of At-Turaif and the performances there, the guests made their way to the gates of Bujairi Terrace, where Inzerillo and Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb gave inaugural speeches. Inzerillo began by praising the Saudi leadership.
“I want to praise and give thanks to our dynamic prime minister, our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been instrumental in every single detail of the Vision 2030 master plan for Diriyah,” he said.
“And thanks to his support we are one of the giga projects that tonight — on this historic night, in the birthplace of the Kingdom, the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancestral house of Al-Saud — we open assets of 2030 in 2022.”
Al-Khateeb said: “Today we are celebrating the opening of phase one, (which is) just 1 to 2 percent of the total project, and we thank you for being with us today.
“This is a testimony and proof that Saudi Arabia started its planning and now we are in the execution phase and you will see an opening in all of the giga projects every year. Diriyah is a good example, with the opening of Bujairi Terrace.”
Many DGDA employees could not hide their emotions as the doors of Buajiri Terrace opened to welcome the world.
Among the guests at the inauguration was Helena Zakade Inzerillo, the teenage daughter of the DGDA CEO. In 2019, at the age of 12, she spoke to Arab News during King Salman’s inauguration of the Diriyah Gate project and told how proud she was of her father and his mission to transform the city “with his heart and soul.”
Three years later, she was delighted to be at Bujairi Terrace to see her father’s passion and ambitions come to life.
“When I first came four years ago and saw Diriyah I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “I mean, this is an absolutely beautiful place that nobody really knew about outside of the Kingdom.
“I really believe that people should be seeing this place, people should know about this place and the significance of it.
“To see it come to this, to see the success, to see so many people come from around the world, and to see people’s perspectives completely change upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, and seeing the hospitality of the people here and seeing the significance of our country here, it means so much to me.”
Helena said she truly believes in her father’s mission to spread to the world the message and meaning of Diriyah and its importance to the Kingdom.
“This means so much to me, to my family as a whole,” she added. “We have seen the process over the past four years, the amount of hard work, the tireless hours of my dad’s work for the past four years here in Saudi.
“And we have seen the transformation of Riyadh, of Diriyah, and the passion of the place that my dad has spread and how much he loves this place.”
The scent of bukhour filled the air and the sounds of ardha music echoed through Wadi Hanifah as history and modernity merged in the form of the many luxury dining experiences. Following a gala dinner in Bujairi Terrace, a light show illuminated the pathways and walls of At-Turaif.
The laser and firework display lit up the Najdi architecture of Salwa Palace, and the sky above it, with the words “The city of the earth,” “Only one Diriyah,” and simply “Diriyah.”
“As a 2030 giga project, we are already opening assets in 2022,” Inzerillo said. “So Turaif, all redone; Bujairi district, 20 new restaurants and after tonight we will take a few days and open to the public in a few days; 2 km of the Wadi Hanifah; new sales centers; welcome centers; community centers. So 2030 is now 2022.”
At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will officially open to the public on Dec. 4, and Inzerello outlined what is next in store.
“After tonight we are going to open up a lot of assets,” he said. “We have the first hotels under construction that will open next year, the first museums that will open next year, we have already planted 6 million trees on our way to 50 million trees, plants and bushes.
“Every year now we will open assets, we will ground-break assets and we will announce assets every year until 2030.”
Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world to give visitors a taste of the past and a glimpse of the future.
World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia
The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh
The accomplishment is part of collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients, Aramco
Updated 29 November 2022
A consignment of blue ammonia has left Saudi Arabia for South Korea, representing a new milestone in the development of decarbonization solutions.
The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, and Vessel Seasurfer, carrying 25 kilometer-tons of low-carbon blue ammonia, is expected to reach its destination between Dec. 9 and 13 in the world’s first commercial shipment of its kind.
The accomplishment, which is an alternative to conventional gray ammonia, is part of a collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients and Aramco.
Lotte Fine Chemical, which has a long-standing relationship with SABIC AN, will receive the low-carbon “cradle to gate” blue ammonia.
Abdulrahman Shamsaddin, SABIC AN CEO, said: “This shipment is another milestone in our journey toward carbon neutrality.
“We are proud to be a part of this pioneering solution, paving the way for further decarbonization efforts.
“Looking to the future, we are constantly working on breakthrough solutions to decarbonize our assets and deliver low-carbon solutions to our customers.”
Yong Suk Kim, LFC CEO, said: “We are delighted to enter this meaningful agreement with our long-term supplier, SABIC Agri-Nutrients, to receive the world’s first certified blue ammonia cargo.
“Building on our shared history, we are looking forward to moving forward together into a new era for ammonia. We believe that this shipment of blue ammonia will help lay the foundations for a global supply chain."
Earlier this year, SABIC AN and Aramco received the world’s first independent certifications, recognizing blue ammonia and blue hydrogen production, from TUV Rheinland, a leading independent testing, inspection and certification agency, based in Germany.
The shipment of blue ammonia to South Korea will be the first to capitalize on this major certification achievement.
The new developments are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on low-carbon fuels, products, solutions and clean energy.