Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

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Updated 27 September 2022

Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

  • The free tools, available in Arabic and English, provide insights that can help destinations and hotels quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly

DUBAI: Google unveiled two new tools on Tuesday, World Tourism Day, designed to help travel-related businesses in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Destination Insights and Hotel Insights, which were launched on the Travel Insights With Google website, aim to help businesses quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly. They are free to use and available in English and Arabic.

For example, in the past eight months internet users in Saudi Arabia searched for information about many countries, including Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Thailand, the UAE and the UK, according to Google Trends. In addition, searches for “booking tickets” increased by 153 percent in the Kingdom compared with the previous year.

Over the same period in the UAE, people searched for local entertainment destinations including the Dubai Fountain and Dubai Butterfly Garden, along with hotels in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The number of searches for “ticket prices” in the UAE increased by 122 percent compared with the previous year.

“From our continuous conversations with travel partners around the region, we heard that timely insights are very much necessary for the travel industry at this period, especially with many local and regional events coming up,” said Anthony Nakache, managing director of Google MENA.

“This is why we’re very excited to bring a new insights portal for the region’s travel and tourism sector, to help businesses reach regular and new travelers.”

Google said its Destination Insights tool provides travel businesses, governments and tourism boards with a clearer picture of the leading sources of demand for a destination, and the places and attractions within their countries that travelers are most interested in visiting.

It also allows businesses and authorities to explore the ways in which tourism demand is changing compared with previous months or years, and adjust their marketing campaigns accordingly.

According to Google, the Hotel Insights tool provides businesses with in-depth information about interest in their accommodations, aiding understanding about the sources of that interest and how best to attract new guests by creating a stronger digital presence.

The launch of the tools comes as the travel industry begins to bounce back following a challenging few years as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The value of the travel and tourism sector in the Middle East alone is expected to reach $246 billion this year, based on a recent study, Nakache said.

Google said it will continue to develop tech-driven tools that can help businesses in the travel and tourism sector better engage with customers.


Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

  • Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel editors and publishers said the indictment threatens freedom of the press.

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked 12 years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then-American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals, and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director, Mike Pompeo, over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Updated 29 November 2022

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

  • American sports reporter Jenny Taft said, ‘I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” while pulling a sarcastic and smug face
  • Lama Alhamawi explained that gender-segregated gates reflect respect for personal boundaries, and that journalists have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or biased rhetoric

LONDON: A Fox Sports reporter whose post on TikTok poked fun at gender-segregated entrances and security-searches at World Cup venues in Qatar deleted her video after being challenged by an Arab News reporter on Monday.

“I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” Jenny Taft of Fox Sports said in the video while pulling a sarcastic and smug face.

Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi took the opportunity to explain to Taft the reason for this and promptly put the American reporter firmly in her place.

“As a fellow reporter, as a fellow journalist that’s years younger than you, that’s traveled to different countries covering various topics around the world, I’m going to give you some advice,” Alhamawi said.

“As journalists, we have a responsibility to uphold. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence to fully understand and investigate a topic before spreading any information, misinformation or biased rhetoric, as you did in this video.

“Now, let’s talk about the special gate you talked about … It’s a matter of one word that perfectly explains the special gate: respect. It’s a matter of respecting someone’s boundaries, their beliefs, their religious beliefs. A woman does not want to be searched by men, a man does not want to be searched by a woman.

“It’s a matter of respecting someone’s religious beliefs and boundaries and making them feel comfortable as they’re entering this country. Now, you hinted at the idea that it was based on discrimination or sexism. But it’s far from that: It’s a level of respect. The best word to describe it is respect.

Alhamawi told Taft it is about providing a level of respect and not aimed at being discriminatory. 

“Now, judging by the way you conducted your video and executed it, that’s a word that’s foreign to you and something that you maybe don’t quite understand.”

Alhamawi garnered praise and support for calling out the veteran sports journalist.

“Absolutely spot on! I’m sick of seeing ignorant people judge,” one user wrote.

“Thank you Lama, for shedding light on this and for replying to it the best way possible,” said another.

Someone else wrote: “Beautifully said. Thank you for educating everyone with such grace.”

Following Alhamawai’s video and the barrage of supportive comments it attracted, Taft deleted her video.

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Updated 29 November 2022

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

  • Jakob Mejlhede Andersen co-founded the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer
  • The executive team also includes Phil Rostom, a 15-year veteran of the industry in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, former chief content officer of MBC’s streaming platform Shahid, has teamed up with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer to launch The Yard Films, a regional production and development company.

The executive team behind the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also includes Phil Rostom, an industry veteran who has worked across the Middle East and North Africa for more than 15 years.

The founders said the new company will develop and produce original scripted and non-scripted content for local and international markets, targeted in particular at millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Andersen, who was involved in the production of more than 200 Nordic and Arabic scripted and non-scripted projects during his tenures at Shahid and Stockholm-based streaming service Viaplay, said: “It’s our ambition to produce and deliver groundbreaking content for the buoyant Arabic streaming market.”

“We aim to work in partnerships with the excellent local creative scene across the entire MENA region.”

Hammer said that the company’s team believes “in partnerships within the region and internationally.”

She added: “There is a wealth of stories across the Middle East that have a strong interest not only from local but also international platforms.”


Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

  • Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies

DUBAI: Iran has barred filmmaker Reza Dormishian from leaving the country. 

Dormishian was due to travel to the International Film Festival of India in Goa, where his film “A Minor” was scheduled to play.

On his arrival at the airport, his passport was confiscated. It is unclear if he was arrested and, if so, what the charges will be.

However, it is understood that the authorities’ action is the result of his recent social media posts about the Iranian government.

“Throughout the nationwide protests in Iran, Dormishian shared various posts on his Instagram account to show support for the significant developments,” sources close to him said, according to media reports.

In his most recent post, Dormishian had said: “I would die for a hair strand of Iranian people.

“I would die for the youth who are gone with the wind, from Balochistan to Kurdistan.

“What is my curfew worth?”



Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies.

In July, acclaimed director Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve a six-year jail sentence, handed down a decade ago, after he attempted to find information about fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had been detained earlier.

Last month, Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi was prevented from leaving Iran to attend the BFI London Film Festival, where his latest film “Subtraction” was being screened.

And earlier this month, co-directors Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian were barred from traveling to the Netherlands for the International Documentary Film Festival where their film “Silent House” had its world premiere.

Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and produced by Dormishian, “A Minor” played in India on Thursday and Friday last week.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

Updated 28 November 2022

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

  • Her show will feature reports on Iran, examine government efforts to free British prisoners

DUBAI: British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who spent six years jailed in Iran, has been chosen as one of seven guest editors of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, as part of BBC Radio and BBC Sounds Christmas plans.

In an annual tradition, for the last 19 years, the program has invited high-profile guests to take over the show in the week between Christmas and new year.

Owenna Griffiths, editor of the “Today” program, said: “For nearly 20 years the guest editors have transformed Christmas on ‘Today,’ creating some of the most memorable moments in the program’s rich history along the way.

“This year is no different and I’m enormously grateful these guest editors have given up their time to bring new stories, unexpected perspectives, and a little festive cheer to the ‘Today’ audience.”

Each guest will edit Radio 4’s “Today” program between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 and each show will include an interview with the guest editor.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in an Iranian prison after being accused of spying in 2016.

Following a long-running campaign and negotiations between the British and Iranian governments, she returned home to the UK in March.

In September, she posted a video showing her support for the ongoing protests in Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

In the clip, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen cutting her hair and it ends with her saying, “for my mother, for my daughter, for the fear of solitary confinement, for the women of my country, for freedom.”

Her show on Dec. 28 will explore how people can hold onto their freedom in difficult times and feature reports about Iran and the UK government’s efforts to free British prisoners.

Other guest editors include ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus; chef Jamie Oliver; Jeremy Fleming, director of the UK’s intelligence, cyber, and security agency Government Communications Headquarters; Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis Partnership; former cricketer Ian Botham, now a member of the British House of Lords and UK trade envoy to Australia; and Anne-Marie Imafidon, technologist, author, and chief executive officer of Stemettes, a social enterprise promoting women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.