Umrah and Eid Al-Fitr revive GCC region’s hospitality industry

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Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism worked on raising pilgrim capacity in Makkah and Madinah ahead of the holy month to meet the growing demand for accommodation during the season. (SPA)
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Over 9 million pilgrims were reported to have performed Umrah during the first 10 days of Ramadan. (SPA)
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Updated 24 April 2023
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Umrah and Eid Al-Fitr revive GCC region’s hospitality industry

  • Saudi Arabia’s hotel sector witness significant resurgence due to the huge surge in demand

RIYADH: The holy month of Ramadan is a period of self-reflection and spiritual growth for Muslims all around the world. This year was no different.

Other than increase in worship, giving charity and helping others in need, one practice that tends to increase manifold during the month of Ramadan is the performance of Umrah, a pilgrimage to Makkah that can be undertaken at any time of the year.

During the first 10 days of Ramadan alone over 9 million pilgrims were reported to have performed Umrah, according to Gulf News. This was reflected in Saudi Arabia’s hotel sector which witnessed a significant resurgence.

Surge in hotel occupancy and rates

Room occupancy in Makkah’s central areas hit 100 percent during the last 10 days of the holy month, the highest level since the pandemic, according to Bassam Khanfar, manager of one of the hotels in the Aziziyah neighborhood. Umrah pilgrims increase significantly during the last 10 days of the month as they are considered the holiest and most blessed days of the month.

This resulted not only in high room occupancies in Makkah but also in record room rates which climbed to new highs due to the huge surge in demand, according to the chairman of the Hajj and Umrah Committee of the Makkah Chamber, Abdullah Al-Qadi.

Al-Qadi noted that hotel rates, particularly in Makkah, are determined by certain factors including supply and demand, proximity to the Grand Mosque, room views and amenities.

Well-being of Umrah pilgrims

There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism has a significant role to play when it comes to the well-being of Umrah pilgrims during Ramadan.

In fact, this year, the ministry worked on raising pilgrim capacity in Makkah and Madinah ahead of the holy month to meet the growing demand for accommodation during the season. 

Back in February, the Kingdom’s Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, on his Twitter page, said that the ministry was planning to operate an additional 9,000 hotel rooms in Madinah before Ramadan.

By March, Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Sudais, one of the nine imams of the Grand Mosque, announced that all services provided at the Two Holy Mosques namely the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque were fully ready.

The operational status of all escalators, elevators, the sound system and all technical service, engineering, awareness and guidance services were ready to accept visitors from all over the world, Al-Sudais stressed.

In addition to this, there was a specialized team that supervised the provided services to ensure that they were implemented in accordance with certain established standards using top-notch technologies.

Rise in demand from GCC countries

Other Gulf Cooperation Council countries like Qatar and the UAE also witnessed a significant jump in demand for Umrah pilgrims this year especially in the period prior to and during the holy month.

For instance, owners and managers of Umrah and Hajj campaigns in Qatar disclosed that the number of pilgrims during Ramadan surged 100 percent mainly due to the fact that land travel has resumed further boosting demand, according to Gulf Times newspaper.

Similarly, the UAE experienced an increase in Umrah pilgrimage both prior and during the holy month to the extent that Umrah operators in the country confirmed that over 5,000 people traveled from the UAE to Makkah by bus on a weekly basis, according to Jaffer Pulappatta, who facilitates Umrah pilgrimage for large groups.

In general, since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saudi government has taken major steps to enhance the Hajj and Umrah experience. 

One of the steps undertaken by the government in an attempt to enhance and further elevate the Umrah experience is to apply digital transformation and artificial intelligence to play an active role in the mobility of worshippers and visitors to holy sites.

The newly introduced AI technologies around the mosques have been helping to control crowds, ensuring that the right number of people is present anywhere around the sites at any given time. AI will be a game-changer for the ease and convenience of crowd mobility, which will reduce risks of unfortunate accidents or stampedes.

Impact of Eid Al-Fitr holidays

After Ramadan season comes Eid Al-Fitr holidays, which is also seen to have quite a significant impact on hotel occupancy in key markets in the GCC region.

According to an STR report, which is a benchmarking tool that compares a hotel’s performance in relation to a group of similar hotels, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have showed a spike in occupancy bookings on Saturday, April 22, at 59.7 percent and 60.3 percent respectively.

“While typically slower during Ramadan, leisure travel within the Middle East is set to resume during Eid,” said STR’s account executive, Middle East and Africa, Kostas Nikolaidis.

FASTFACTS

• Hotel rates, particularly in Makkah, are determined by certain factors including supply and demand, proximity to the Grand Mosque, room views and amenities.

• The UAE experienced an increase in Umrah pilgrimage both prior and during the holy month to the extent that local Umrah operators confirmed that over 5,000 people traveled from the UAE to Makkah by bus on a weekly basis.

“Many countries offer paid holidays for three to five days post-Ramadan, which is where we typically see spikes in occupancy,” he added.

In Qatar, for instance, the occupancy on the books is at its peak on Sunday, April 23, at 42.3 percent.

This comes as “this year Qatar announced an 11-day holiday, further extending the length of travel time available to celebrate the end of the holy month,” Nikolaidis explained.

“Qatar naturally operates at a lower occupancy when compared to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The extended Eid holiday period in the market this year may lead to lower occupancy peaks as demand could spread across more days,” he continued.

Overall, Umrah and Eid Al-Fitr holidays are playing a key role in reviving the hospitality industry, signaling a return to the strong and sturdy performance recorded across the GCC region.


Saudi-China financial markets enter new era with ETFs listed on Chinese bourses: PIF 

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Saudi-China financial markets enter new era with ETFs listed on Chinese bourses: PIF 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China’s financial markets will see a new chapter of connectivity with the recent launch of exchange-traded funds on Chinese bourses, according to Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. 

In a release, Al-Rumayyan stressed that the ETF gives investors in Asia access to the Saudi equity market and its sustainable long-term growth driven by strategic economic transformation. 

Last week, two new ETFs focused on the Kingdom’s stocks debuted in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The feeder funds, operating under the Qualified Domestic Institutional Investor program, began trading on July 16, with both briefly hitting the 10 percent daily limit on their launch day. 

The first fund, CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF QDII, managed by China Southern Asset Management, is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange after raising 634 million Chinese yuan ($87 million).  

The second fund, the Huatai-PineBridge managed CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF QDII, started trading on the Shanghai Stock Exchange after raising 590 million Chinese yuan. 

These new ETFs are among the first batch of funds in China able to invest in the Saudi Arabia stock market. 

PIF aims to attract foreign investors and deepen capital inflows into Saudi Arabia, continuing from the success of the CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF introduced on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November 2023. This fund, launched with an initial investment of over $1 billion, including a $500 million contribution from PIF, became the world's largest Saudi Arabian ETF. 


Saudi Arabia launches competition for 5 licenses to boost mineral exploration

Updated 32 min 40 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia launches competition for 5 licenses to boost mineral exploration

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has unveiled its largest mineralized belts to date, spanning 4,788 sq. km and including five new exploration licenses. 

Three of the permits, which were offered to local and global firms, are reserved for the Jabal Sayid site in Madinah.  

It covers an area of 2,892 sq. km and entails minerals like gold, silver, copper, zinc, and lead, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources.  

The remaining two licenses pertain to the Al-Hajjar Site in the Asir region, which encompasses 1,896 sq. km and also includes gold, silver, copper, zinc, and lead. 

This initiative aims to accelerate the exploration and development of Saudi Arabia's mineral resources, valued at SR9.3 trillion ($2.4 trillion).  

This is in line with Saudi Arabia’s ambition to transform mining into a foundational industrial pillar of the country’s economy. It also aligns with the ministry’s goal to further bolster the sector and contribute to ongoing developments under Saudi Vision 2030.    
 


Global electricity demand to grow by 4% in 2024: IEA 

Updated 21 July 2024
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Global electricity demand to grow by 4% in 2024: IEA 

RIYADH: Global electricity demand is expected to rise by around 4 percent this year, up from 2.5 percent in 2023, driven by robust economic growth, according to an analysis.  

In its latest report, the International Energy Agency highlighted that intense heatwaves and the growing adoption of electricity-powered technologies, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, are driving the increase in global electricity demand. 

Many regions experienced severe heatwaves in the first half of 2024, which heightened electricity needs and strained power grids. May was the hottest month of the year, marking the 12th consecutive month of record-high temperatures. 

India, Mexico, Pakistan, the US, Vietnam, and several other countries experienced severe heatwaves in the first half of the year, leading to surging peak loads due to increased cooling needs. 

“Growth in global electricity demand this year and next is set to be among the fastest in the past two decades, highlighting the growing role of electricity in our economies as well as the impacts of severe heatwaves,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of Energy Markets and Security at IEA.  

The energy agency added that more households, especially in emerging economies, have started to purchase air conditioners, further driving electricity demand in these regions. 

The IEA also emphasized that adopting higher efficiency standards for air conditioning is crucial to mitigate the impact of increased cooling demand on power systems. 

The report also highlighted that expanding and reinforcing power grids is essential for ensuring a reliable electricity supply. 

The IEA noted that renewables are rapidly advancing globally, with solar photovoltaic set to achieve new records. 

India and China to drive growth 

The energy think tank further noted that this rise in electricity demand growth will be driven by countries like India, China, and the US.  

“We expect this demand trend to continue in 2025, with growth also at 4 percent. In both 2024 and 2025, the rise in the world’s electricity use is projected to be significantly higher than global GDP (gross domestic product) growth of 3.2 percent. In 2022 and 2023, electricity demand grew more slowly than GDP,” the IEA added.  

According to the analysis, electricity demand in China is forecast to increase by 6.5 percent in 2024, similar to its average rate between 2016 and 2019.  

India will witness an 8 percent rise in electricity consumption in 2024, matching its rapid growth in 2023.  

“In the first half of 2024, the country (India) grappled with heatwaves of record duration, with peak load reaching a new high and putting exceptional strains on power systems. Assuming a return to average weather conditions, we expect electricity demand growth in India to ease moderately to 6.8 percent in 2025,” the IEA added.  

The report further highlighted that electricity demand in the US is set to rebound significantly in 2024, increasing by 3 percent year-on-year, driven by a positive economic outlook and the rising need for air conditioning amid severe heatwaves.  

In the EU, demand is expected to increase by 1.7 percent as economic difficulties ease, but uncertainty over the pace of growth remains.  

“EU electricity consumption had contracted over the two previous years, with the decline in output from energy-intensive industries an important driver. Signs of a recovery in EU electricity demand emerged starting in the fourth quarter of 2023,” said the IEA.  

It added: “Growth gained further traction during the first half of 2024 as energy prices stabilized and various industries that had previously curtailed operations restarted.”  

Clean energy sources  

According to the analysis, despite a sharp rise in power consumption, solar PV alone is expected to meet roughly half of the growth in global electricity demand by 2025.  

IEA further noted that global electricity generation from solar PV and wind is expected to surpass that from hydropower in 2024.  

“The global energy transition is set to achieve another significant milestone by 2025, with total renewable generation poised to overtake coal-fired electricity output. The share of renewables in global electricity supply rose to 30 percent in 2023 and is projected to climb further to 35 percent in 2025,” said the IEA.  

Despite the sharp increases in renewables, global power generation from coal is unlikely to decline this year due to the strong growth in demand, especially in China and India.  

The study highlighted that carbon dioxide emissions from the global power sector are plateauing, with a slight increase in 2024 followed by a decline in 2025.  

“It’s encouraging to see clean energy’s share of the electricity mix continuing to rise, but this needs to happen at a much faster rate to meet international energy and climate goals,” said Sadamori.  

He added: “At the same time, it’s crucial to expand and reinforce grids to provide citizens with secure and reliable electricity supply – and to implement higher energy efficiency standards to reduce the impacts of increased cooling demand on power systems.”  

Meanwhile, Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said that the energy industry should urgently reduce its carbon emissions if the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change in the coming decades, according to a press statement.  

“About 80 percent of emissions that cause climate change come from fossil fuels. This is the reason there is a need to reduce emissions if we want a planet in the future that is like it is today,” Birol told the Al-Attiyah Foundation in a podcast interview.  

He added: ‘This doesn’t mean that tomorrow we will not need fossil fuels, but the share of fossil fuels needs to decline. If we don’t, we will face catastrophic implications like floods, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Continuing with the current fossil fuel-based energy system is not good news for anybody— producers and consumers alike.”  

In the latest report, the IEA also projected that global nuclear generation is on track to reach a new high in 2025, surpassing its previous record in 2021.  

According to the energy agency, nuclear generation is forecast to rise globally by 1.6 percent in 2024 and by 3.5 percent in 2025, driven by a steady increase in output by the French nuclear power fleet as maintenance works are completed.  

The restarting of reactors in Japan and the arrival of new reactors in various markets, including China, India, Korea, and Europe, support the growth in nuclear power generation globally.  

The report also noted that the rise of artificial intelligence has put the electricity consumption of data centers in focus, making better stocktaking more important than ever. 

“In many regions, historical estimates of data centers’ electricity consumption are hampered by a lack of reliable data. At the same time, future projections include a very wide range of uncertainties related to the pace of deployment, the diverse and expanding applications of AI, and the potential for energy efficiency improvements,” said the IEA.  

It added: “Expanding and improving the collection of electricity demand data from the sector will be crucial to identify past developments correctly and to understand future trends better.”


AlUla participates in global forums to strengthen Saudi-China cultural ties

Updated 21 July 2024
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AlUla participates in global forums to strengthen Saudi-China cultural ties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China have deepened their cultural ties as the Royal Commission for AlUla participated in key global forums in Istanbul and Luoyang.  

The RCU attended the Silk Road Dialogue and the International Ancient Capitals Forum to enhance collaboration and showcase AlUla as the world’s “largest living museum.” 

The events, held from June 27 to 30, underscored AlUla’s prominent role within the International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities, a network connecting 63 destinations across 28 countries along ancient trade routes.  

The forums were instrumental in expanding Saudi-China cultural partnerships and organizing official visits to AlUla. 

Saudi Arabia’s strategic focus on tourism, centered around AlUla’s rich heritage, has become a cornerstone in deepening cultural and economic ties with China, showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to leveraging its historical assets to foster international partnerships. 

Discussions at the International Ancient Capitals Forum included high-level meetings with Luoyang officials on tourism, agriculture, conservation, and urban development, exploring new areas of cooperation between the two nations. 

“The Royal Commission for AlUla continues to build on the deep-rooted foundations of cultural partnership that exists between China, the Kingdom, and northwest Arabia,” said an RCU spokesperson in a statement. 

The spokesperson added: “The Silk Road Dialogue and International Ancient Capitals Forum events represented exciting opportunities to develop new avenues of collaboration, with a focus on expanding knowledge exchange and promoting tourism, with diverse initiatives built upon our shared status as ancient destinations and rapidly developing landmarks for human heritage.” 

The forum was launched to foster dialogue and collaboration between cities with a millennia-long history. It also facilitates an agreement signed earlier this year between AlUla and its Chinese partners at the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.  

The partnership seeks to enhance knowledge and shared resources, focusing on archeology, preserving cultural heritage and museums and research collaboration as well as talent development, tourism and other cultural exchanges. 

It also includes establishing a technology-driven archeological laboratory, conducting excavation activities, engaging in research and fostering connections between heritage sites in AlUla and Henan. 

The deal further involved implementing collaborative exchange programs, participating in exhibitions and events, and utilizing museum technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality. 


Saudi government agencies boost emerging tech adoption by 10% in 2024

Updated 52 min 23 sec ago
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Saudi government agencies boost emerging tech adoption by 10% in 2024

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s government agencies have made significant progress in integrating new technologies, showing a 10 percent improvement from the previous year, according to an official report.

The Emerging Technology Adoption Readiness Index, which measures the progress of government entities in implementing new solutions, increased from 60.35 percent in 2023 to 70.70 percent in 2024. This improvement is accompanied by a rise in participating agencies, which grew from 13 last year to 35 in 2024, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The annual report published by the Digital Government Authority underscores the Kingdom’s enhanced capacity for adopting emerging technologies. This progress is a key element of Saudi Arabia’s broader transformation strategy, aimed at leveraging advanced systems to improve services for citizens, residents, and visitors.

This increase in the index highlights the Kingdom’s ongoing commitment to modernizing its digital infrastructure and aligns with its Vision 2030 objectives, emphasizing sustainable development and the advancement of its technological future.

The index helps organizations and policymakers understand their technological advancement and identify areas for growth and development — an essential component of Saudi Arabia’s objectives. 

The report highlighted progress in adopting emerging technologies, with research capability reaching 72.04 percent and communication capability reaching 71.88 percent.     

According to the report, the integration field achieved a score of 67.93 percent, while the proof capability field recorded 70.84 percent, reflecting advanced levels of development. 

Drones have improved aerial photography and real estate imaging, boosting operational efficiency by 80 percent and significantly reducing time and effort. 

Digital twinning has enabled precise asset inventory for 22 out of 36 industrial cities. Additionally, Ameen, the digital human assistant, now serves over 36,000 customers monthly. 

Augmented and virtual reality technologies have further improved digital accessibility for individuals with special needs, expanding their access to digital services. 

The Anaam Shain app has streamlined the secure management of livestock data across the Kingdom, while firefighting robots have reduced physical losses by up to 50 percent. 

In 2023, Saudi Arabia topped the Government Strategy Index for Artificial Intelligence, as ranked by Tortoise Intelligence, which evaluates over 60 countries. 

The country achieved a perfect score of 100 percent on the index criteria, including having a dedicated national AI strategy, a specialized government body for cognitive computing, allocated funding for artificial intelligence, and established and monitored national intelligence system targets.