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.
How tech solutions are shaping Saudi Arabia’s clean energy transition
Adopting sustainable approaches to energy will be critical to achieving net zero, experts tell Arab News at LEAP23
Kingdom can maintain its energy leadership through development, sustainability and innovation, says Saudi official
Updated 07 February 2023
RIYADH: Technology could provide the sustainable solutions required to combat climate change and drive forward an inclusive clean energy transition, experts said on the sidelines of the LEAP23 Conference in Riyadh on Monday.
Governments and businesses worldwide are responding to rising global temperatures by pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, many experts believe these commitments can only be realized through the adoption of new technologies.
At the second edition of LEAP, a four-day annual tech convention, climate scientists rubbed shoulders with industry leaders to explore how technology can help mitigate, or even reverse, the effects of climate change.
Dr. Gasem Fallatah, deputy program director of the Oil Sustainability Program at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy, believes an equitable energy transition can be achieved through inclusiveness with collaborative approaches between governments and industry.
“The key word [for energy transition] is inclusiveness,” Fallatah told Arab News on the sidelines of LEAP23.
“We need to consider that when we are moving towards that transition and allowing every nation, geography, and economy to go for what is best suited for them, yet deliver on what you are supposed to deliver.
“In Saudi Arabia, inclusiveness is vital because we cater for all sources of energy: We are not tilted to one form or another. We are very much balanced when it comes to providing energy within the energy mix that we have got, but very much, also, committed to where the transition is and delivering on it.
“And this is why working with an Oil Sustainability Program allows us to find ways and means to continue to utilize our resources in a sustainable way that will enable us to make sure that we are taking advantage of our resources. Yet, we are also meeting our commitments to an energy transition that the world is morphing towards.”
• The Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives integrate environmental protection, energy transition and innovative sustainability programs to achieve a green future.
• Under the umbrella of the two initiatives, Saudi Arabia aims to leverage its expertise, champion scientific innovation, and share best practices with the world.
The program’s focus on three domains — development, sustainability, and innovation — places the Kingdom in a position to move quickly in its energy transition process.
In terms of innovation, the program has been very active in driving new technologies, either by improving the technology readiness level of these applications or scaling it when it is ready for application.
Fallatah added: “We are very active in understanding trends governing or driving the energy ecosystem as we are adamant about not letting go and finding every opportunity to help sustain oil, but also to keep that leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when it comes to that transition.
“We have the legacy of a number of years and we would like to maintain that leadership by contributing to that transition. How do we do it? We do it through development, working on sustainability, but also working on innovation.”
Saudi Arabia has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. The country has undertaken $1 billion in climate change initiatives as part of the Saudi Green Initiative, which seeks to establish a regional carbon capture and storage center, an early storm warning center, and cloud-seeding programs as part of its efforts to create a greener future.
The Saudi Green Initiative includes plans to plant 450 million trees and rehabilitate 8 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030, reducing 200 million tons of carbon emissions with additional initiatives to be announced in the years to come.
Saudi Arabia has launched and built several major renewable energy projects, taking advantage of its natural potential in solar and wind. It aims to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030, with the remaining 50 percent coming from natural gas.
The Kingdom also aims to become a world leader in hydrogen power and is investing in nuclear energy.
Although achieving a net-zero economy within 30 to 40 years may sound daunting, dozens of renewable energy breakthroughs are on the horizon, with many now making their way onto the market, as firms make their own net-zero pledges and invest in clean energy technologies.
For the transition to remain technically and economically feasible and beneficial, policy initiatives must steer the global energy transition toward a sustainable energy system.
Sustainable transition strategies typically consist of three significant technological changes: Energy savings on the demand side, generation efficiency at the production level, and fossil fuel substitution by various renewable energy sources and low-carbon nuclear.
Large-scale renewable energy adoption includes measures to improve the efficiency of existing non-renewable sources, which still have a substantial cost-reduction and stabilization role.
Experts warn that failure to act on emissions and the energy transition would be catastrophic.
“There will be no jobs on a dead planet. If we want prosperity for our people, we need to ensure prosperity in a land that thrives,” Dr. Paul Toyne, Grimshaw SD practice leader and expert adviser on environmental and sustainability goals, told Arab News at LEAP23.
“We do know that climate change is one of the largest or biggest threats to our planet and to our livelihoods, but we also know that if we solve climate change, we don’t necessarily solve the other issues that happened. So once we have a climate crisis, we also have a biodiversity crisis.”
Although governments are looking into ways of transitioning from oil and gas to renewables, Toyne stresses that the process will take some time, even with the right planning and investment.
He said: “We need to make our cities resilient to climate change and recognize that it will get worse, and adapt to create resilience.
“If we tackle the climate change solution with technologies and we flip over to renewables very quickly and restore the equilibrium in terms of carbon pollution, how do we restore the other ecosystems that we need?
“All of these economies and sectors need to go through a self-correction, which needs to be driven by the right policies and governance and financing of regenerative sectors.
“This takes us into a space of the unknown, but as a society we have more tools at our disposal, digital tools and breakthroughs in science, to provide solutions.”
Putting the world on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050-60 requires a substantial increase in capital-intensive clean energy assets.
Some believe this could hamper the energy transition process due to cost, but climate finance professionals such as Gerhard Mulder, CEO and co-founder of Climate Risk Services, believe this is not necessarily the case.
“There are upfront costs to a transition to a low-carbon economy, and numbers that are being thrown around in the trillions and, yes, in that sense it is very costly,” he told Arab News.
“However, if you look at electricity, for example, in more than half of the world, solar and wind are already more cost efficient than most fossil fuel-powered forms of generation.”
At a time when many countries face macroeconomic crises, due in part to the disruptions caused by the conflict in Ukraine, Mulder believes innovations will help stabilize energy, even in times of volatility. Indeed, by transitioning to low-carbon economies, “we’ll have more stable societies,” he said.
“The key word is building resilience and that means you are preparing yourself for an unstable future, preparing for unpredictable events, so that you can manage multiple scenarios,” he added.
Although the climate challenge at times feels insurmountable, Mulder claims he has never felt as optimistic about humanity’s response as he does today.
“When I first started working [in the climate field] many denied the science,” he said. “Today, nobody can. Many said that it’s a future problem, but the problem is here already. We have a finite amount of time, which is the bad news, but this is the decade we need to do it.
“There’s plenty of money available and plenty of technology available to invest in disruptive technologies, and we can already do so much with existing technologies by creating new markets so we can scale up the process.”
Logitech survey unveiled at LEAP23 reveals hybrid working creates an uneven playing field
59 percent of those polled agreed their input would be valued more if they were physically attending a meeting
However, 52 percent of respondents said they would prefer a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement
Updated 07 February 2023
RIYADH: Logitech on Monday announced the results of its hybrid meeting survey at LEAP 2023.
The survey, polling more than 500 white-collar workers, examined the state of current working arrangements, the impacts of hybrid work on meetings, and the challenges that business leaders and employees face in this new way of working.
As employees returned to physical office spaces, the report revealed that 52 percent of respondents would prefer to work either in a hybrid or fully remote work arrangement.
“The Kingdom is placing great emphasis on digital transformation in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to unlock its vast economic potential. Furthermore, as companies prepare for the future of work, technology will be the game changer, closing the gap between traditional and hybrid workplaces and creating a smarter, more agile, and creative local workforce,” said Loubna Imenchal, head of enterprise business at Logitech, Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia.
The hybrid meeting survey revealed that 39 percent of respondents who have joined a hybrid meeting virtually felt that they had fewer opportunities to build rapport with other participants. Additionally, 59 percent agreed that their input would be valued more if they were attending the meeting physically instead of virtually, and 40 percent felt less included as compared to in-person meeting participants.
While 73 percent of respondents agree that hybrid meetings would be more productive if all participants had an equal chance to speak and contribute, 61 percent of those who participate in hybrid meetings in-person shared that they tend to engage more with participants that are in the same room.
Respondents said that technical issues are the most significant challenges with hybrid meetings, with connectivity issues (43 percent) and poor audio quality (40 percent) ranking amongst the top concerns.
In addition, 34 percent of respondents also shared that having to repeat themselves due to participants not being able to hear them clearly also was an issue they experienced during hybrid meetings.
Other common issues such as participants not paying attention (30 percent), poor video quality (29 percent), participants being late (33 percent) and getting talked over by other participants during meetings (29 percent) were also cited as challenges in hybrid meetings.
To improve on these issues, organizations in the Kingdom must ensure that employees have access to critical technology, including network connectivity and video conferencing devices. Video collaboration technology should be a part of organizations’ digitalization plans to be successful in the future of work.
In fact, the survey revealed the critical role of video conferencing technology in solving the meeting equity problem. More than 7 in 10 respondents (62 percent) agreed that hybrid meetings are more engaging when video conferencing systems with high-quality audio and video output are used.
Organizations should implement enterprise-grade tools and solutions to bridge the gap in hybrid meetings such as meeting room devices, personal collaboration devices such as headsets and webcams to ensure overall quality and experience of video meetings.
In today’s increasingly hybrid-based work environment, there are several key aspects companies must consider to enable seamless collaboration, foster engagement, and place virtual meeting participants on equal footing with their counterparts in the conference room:
Equip: Provide teams with enterprise-level equipment such as in-room video conferencing systems, webcams, microphones, and earbuds. This enables organizations to build a consistent, reliable experience that is natively integrated with its ecosystem of choice. Video conferencing systems also provide remote participants with a full view of everyone in the office meeting room through multiple cameras with different perspectives, placing them in the best seat in the room and help them feel more included, leading to more engaging, collaborative meetings.
Simplify: With employees constantly switching between in-office and home work environments, creating an easy employee experience by ensuring that the home office closely resembles their office set-up will emerge as a top priority for organizations. Companies will have to identify pain points for both in-office and virtual meeting participants when setting up internal hybrid meeting systems, considering factors such as usability and complexity of equipment and meeting set-ups.
Empower: Fostering meeting equity requires facilitators and organizers to take an active approach to empower and encourage engagement from virtual participants. They have to practice active facilitation, minimize visual and audio clutter, and minimize side conversations.
The mix of remote and in-person participants, especially in hybrid work arrangements, create unique challenges for companies wanting to run inclusive and participative meetings. Nevertheless, modern video conference technologies such as those from Logitech allow meeting organizers to make the world of work more equitable and productive.
Saudi Arabia pledges $9bn to support tech, startups, digital entrepreneurship at LEAP23
Investments intended to enhance the Kingdom’s position as the largest digital economy in the MENA region
Minister says Saudi Arabia leads in terms of manpower, with 340,000 people working in the tech sector
Updated 07 February 2023
RIYADH: Riyadh’s LEAP23 Conference on Monday announced more than $9 billion in investments to support future technologies, entrepreneurship, and tech startups to enhance the Kingdom’s position as the largest digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The investments were announced by the Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha.
He added: “The LEAP23 Conference has become an annual occasion that brings together the most important international technology experts.”
Al-Swaha said that the financial backing included Microsoft’s $2.1 billion investment in a global super-scale cloud in the Kingdom; Oracle’s $1.5 billion aimed at expanding its MENA business by launching new cloud areas in Saudi Arabia; Huawei’s $400 million toward cloud infrastructure for its services; and the launch of a Zoom cloud area in the Kingdom, in partnership with Aramco, worth $434 million.
He added that an additional $4.5 billion had been invested in global and local assets across multiple sectors.
Al-Swaha said the investments were part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s empowerment of the technology sector, adding that the Kingdom continues to lead when it comes to manpower, with more than 340,000 people working in the sector.
He added that the country is also witnessing exceptional progress in female participation in the telecommunications and information technology sector, as it stands now at 32.5 percent — a rate higher than both the EU and Silicon Valley.
Outcomes of the conference will contribute to diversifying the economy, according to Al-Swaha.
It has now become one of the most important annual global technical events, connecting people with entrepreneurs and decision-makers, creating scores of opportunities.
Meta announced on the conference’s first day the opening of the first Metaverse Academy in the MENA region, headquartered in Saudi Arabia.
WEO Technology and Camel Lab announced the launch of Hektar, a multi-content social media app; and MENA Communication and STC publicized the launch of Beem, a new application for instant messaging, high-quality voice and video calls, and business features.
The conference is expected to attract more than 250,000 visitors from around the world.
Saudi Arabia says tech giants to invest more than $9 billion in kingdom
US giants Microsoft and Oracle Corp are building cloud regions in the kingdom
Saudi officials have pressed international companies to move their regional headquarters to Riyadh
Updated 06 February 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has attracted more than $9 billion in investments in future technologies, including by US giants Microsoft and Oracle Corp, which are building cloud regions in the kingdom, a government minister said on Monday.
Saudi Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha said Microsoft will invest $2.1 billion in a global super-scaler cloud, while Oracle has committed $1.5 billion to build a new cloud region in Riyadh.
"The investments... will enhance the kingdom of Saudi Arabia's position as the largest digital market in the Middle East and North Africa," Alswaha said at LEAP, an international technology forum taking place in Riyadh.
Alswaha did not give details on the timeframe. Oracle told Reuters the investment will be made over several years.
Saudi officials have pressed international companies to invest in the kingdom and move their regional headquarters to Riyadh in order to benefit from government contracts.
The kingdom has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into an economic plan, known as Vision 2030, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the aim to diversify the economy away from oil.
The minister said China's Huawei will also invest $400 million in cloud infrastructure for its services in Saudi Arabia and another cloud region in partnership with oil giant Aramco.
An additional $4.5 billion was invested in global and local assets across multiple sectors at the forum, Alswaha added.
Tonomus, a subsidiary of the $500 billion signature NEOM project of the crown prince, said last year it invested $1 billion in 2022 in AI, including a metaverse platform.
Increased demand for cloud computing has pushed technology companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet's Google to set up data centres across the world to speed up data transfer.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-tech platform Footlab to launch in Saudi Arabia
Saudi entertainment company Confrontation Entertainment has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Footlab
At the platform, players can train, compete and keep track of their real-time performance data in a digital ecosystem
Updated 06 February 2023
Saudi entertainment company Confrontation Entertainment has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Footlab, a partnership by Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa.
Footlab, a cooperation between the Portuguese football legends through Ronaldo’s tech company 7EGEND, started from an idea to bring to life a blend of e-gaming, real-life football and technology. It is headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal, and opened in 2018.
At the platform, players can train, compete and keep track of their real-time performance data within different stations in the park, which are all connected in a digital ecosystem.
Footlab was designed with the next generation of football players in mind, providing players and trainers with the tools they need to measure and track performance in real time and use that information to create personalized development.
The technology behind it was developed in-house by Sports Scientists, a team of software and hardware engineers, UX designers, AI and data experts, to deliver the world’s leading football data-driven experience.
Luis Parafita, Footlab world CEO, expressed his gratitude for entering the Saudi market through this agreement. “Sports is an integral component of Saudi Arabia’s transformative Vision 2030, and we are thankful for the unconditional support of our partners and the perfect timing to launch Footlab in all (of the) Kingdom, having Cristiano here and world attention for what lies ahead.”
“Footlab aspires to change the game in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he pointed out, “with elite facilities and coaching staff dedicated to the analysis and development of players, empowering teams and groups of friends with challenges, to test and improve their cognitive, physical and technical skills.”
Ahmed Madani, Confrontation Entertainment CEO, said the growth of the sports and entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia made this an ideal time to introduce innovative projects such as Footlab in the market.
He said this partnership was aligned with the Quality of Life Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 realization projects “which encourages the private sector to contribute to the development of the entertainment and sports sector, by offering an abundance of new experiences that contribute to raising the quality of life.”