Pakistan rejects legalizing crypto trading citing terror financing risks

A representation of virtual currency Bitcoin is seen in front of a stock graph in this illustration taken January 8, 2021. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 17 May 2023

Pakistan rejects legalizing crypto trading citing terror financing risks

  • State minister for finance points to potential risks while pointing out the country has just exited the FATF grey list
  • Pakistan has witnessed a surge in cryptocurrency adoption in recent years, with billions of dollars of investment

KARACHI: Pakistan firmly rejected the idea of legalizing crypto trading on Wednesday, citing the potential risks for the country following its removal from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list while pointing out that virtual currencies could be exploited for terrorist financing.

In 2018, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) declared that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Pakcoin were neither recognized as legal tender nor issued or guaranteed by the government.

During a session of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha, the state minister for finance, made a policy statement on the matter, emphasizing that granting permission for crypto trading was not feasible given the recent exit from the FATF grey list.

“Permission to trade in crypto currency cannot be granted,” she said.

Senator Farooq Naek also concurred, highlighting that crypto trading was speculative in nature and should not be allowed.

“Digital currencies can be used for financial terrorism,” he said while calling for a complete ban on them through money bill.

The FATF, an international anti-money laundering watchdog, removed Pakistan from the “increased monitoring list” of countries in October of the previous year. Pakistan had been on the grey list since 2018 due to deficiencies in its financial system.

The SBP officials present at the Senate committee meeting agreed that cryptocurrencies could not be effectively regulated, pointing out that these currencies were already banned in the United States, Canada, and China.

Pakistan experienced a surge in cryptocurrency adoption in recent years and was ranked third in the Global Crypto Adoption Index for 2020-21, according to Chainalysis, a blockchain data platform.

However, the country slipped to sixth place in 2022.

In 2021, a research report released by the policy advisory board of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry revealed that Pakistanis had invested approximately $20 billion in cryptocurrencies.

The report also noted that cryptocurrency and property had been the best-performing asset classes in the country during that year.

Virtual and digital currencies utilize blockchain technology, which is a decentralized ledger recording all transactions across peer-to-peer networks.

Hilton plans to boost regional presence by more than 125%

Updated 6 sec ago

Hilton plans to boost regional presence by more than 125%

ABU DHABI: As the travel and tourism industry rebounds in the Middle East post-COVID-19 pandemic, Hilton plans to boost its regional presence by more than 125 percent, according to a statement issued on Monday.

Speaking on the first day of the Future Hospitality in Abu Dhabi, Carlos Khneisser, vice president of development, Middle East and Africa, Hilton, said: “Our multi-brand growth strategy continues to show results, with close to 100 hotels — totaling almost 25,000 rooms — set to open in the Middle East in the near future.”

He said: “We are also proud to be managing an active pipeline, with approximately 70 percent of our Middle East projects currently under construction. We look forward to seeing these hotels come to fruition in the years ahead while continuing to agree on new properties.”

In Saudi Arabia, a key development market, multiple new properties were signed in August, including a Conrad Hotels and Resorts property in Riyadh’s Laysen Valley, two hotels in Abha, and a Canopy by Hilton at the Porta Jeddah Development.

With these signings, Saudi Arabia has become Hilton’s largest pipeline market in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and the fourth largest globally.

In Qatar, LXR Hotels & Resorts welcomed The Plaza Doha to its portfolio earlier this year, further strengthening Hilton’s presence in the country. In addition, Hilton celebrated the debut of Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts on the African continent with the opening of Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis in September.

More openings are expected in the months ahead across a range of brands and countries.

Mideast hotels have world’s highest occupancy rates, says senior executive

Updated 25 September 2023

Mideast hotels have world’s highest occupancy rates, says senior executive

RIYADH: Hotels in the Middle East are performing really well with the highest occupancy rates in the world, said a senior director of global data benchmarking firm STR.

Speaking during a panel discussion on the first day of the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Thomas Emanuel said the supply index in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries has increased in the last four years with Doha at 54 percent, Dubai at 27 percent and Riyadh at 20 percent.

The top executive said despite significant availability expansion, the rise in occupancy rates shows that demand is outperforming supply.

“Riyadh continuing to power forward, Abu Dhabi up 2 percent, and then in Dubai as well, significant increases of course, we’ve got COP28 coming at the end of November (with) up to 80,000 delegates arriving,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel said Saudi Arabia occupies the third spot in the global ranking in terms of upcoming projects following the US and China “with a remarkable figure of 95,000 keys.”

The UAE also features prominently with 34,000 keys in pipeline activities spanning across the emirates.

He said it is worth highlighting that Egypt, which is in the Middle East and North Africa and not the GCC, is just off the charts with 26,000 keys in the works.

On a narrower scale, Makkah is the city with the largest pipeline in the world with 25,000 keys, then comes London and Dubai as third with 23,500 keys.

Emanuel added: “Half of the 10 biggest markets are in this region, as you can see because it’s joined by Doha, Riyadh, and Jeddah. So, I think just underlined why this region is so important in the global hotel development arena.”

“Currently we’re tracking eight projects in the pipeline: Capella Diriyah, Corinthia Riyadh, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, Rosewood Riyadh, Taj, Langham, and the Ritz-Carlton, really luxury brands,” he said.

This data relates to the indexing of international arrivals in Saudi Arabia for the year 2019.

While the most substantial surge in arrivals is expected from the Middle East and Africa, there is a remarkable overall increase of 220 percent in international arrivals.

“So if this demand is fulfilled, we will absolutely need those rooms,” he stressed.

There are measurements done to collect these data to help in making evidence-based decisions, guide strategies, ensure that investments remain safe, and assist in making smart capex decisions, according to Lizzy Coates, a senior sustainability adviser at Considerate Group.

“By measuring our data, we can identify areas for operational efficiencies and help to improve our performance,” Coates said.

“Measuring our data also helps us to track our progress. It ensures that we’re aligned with what we need to do and ensures that we turn our aspirational goals into tangible milestones,” she added.

Coates also explained that evaluating data allows us to confirm our progress and informs us when course corrections or adjustments are necessary.

Hence, by proactively tracking and documenting data, we not only meet current standards but also position ourselves to seamlessly adapt to and meet the evolving demands of future regulations, she added.

Closing Bell: TASI sheds 71 points to 10,878; Lumi Rental Co. shines on trading debut  

Updated 25 September 2023

Closing Bell: TASI sheds 71 points to 10,878; Lumi Rental Co. shines on trading debut  

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index declined 71.48 points, or 0.65 percent, on Monday to close at 10,877.94. 

The parallel market Nomu took a bigger hit, falling 134.04 points to 22,236.99.  

MSCI Tadawul 30 Index, on the other hand, dipped 7.91 points to settle at 1,399.48.

TASI reported a trading turnover of SR5.3 billion ($1.4 billion), with 36 stocks gaining and 188 falling.  

Nomu saw a trading turnover of SR45.6 million. 

Lumi Rental Co. emerged as TASI’s standout performer on its first trading day.  

The car rental company began trading under the symbol 4262 with an opening price of SR66 per share. It closed the session at SR85.80, a 30 percent increase. 

Saudi Real Estate Co. and Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. also posted notable gains, closing at SR14.06 and SR0.16, up 9.84 percent and 6.67 percent, respectively. 

Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co. and First Milling Co. were among other companies that ended the day on a positive note. 

In contrast, Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries and Medical Appliances Corp. closed as the day’s underperformer, dropping 7.35 percent to SR31.50. 

Other poorly performed companies included Arabian Pipes Co. and Salama Cooperative Insurance Co., whose shares decreased to SR82.90 and SR28.50, falling 7.06 percent and 6.71 percent, respectively. 

Al Sagr Cooperative Insurance Co. and Saudi Airlines Catering Co. were also among TASI’s worst performers. 

In Nomu, Abdulaziz and Mansour Ibrahim Albabtin Co. rose 9.09 percent to SR48. 

Molan Steel Co. also finished in the green, rising 6.98 percent to SR6.90.   

Paper Home Co., Gas Arabian Services Co. and Aljouf Mineral Water Bottling Co. joined the list of gainers, closing at SR190, SR7.49, and SR31.20 following gains of 4.97 percent, 4.32 percent and 2.97 percent, respectively. 

AI hyper-personalization to catapult hospitality industry to new heights: FHS  

Updated 25 September 2023

AI hyper-personalization to catapult hospitality industry to new heights: FHS  

RIYADH: Artificial intelligence will soon recommend personalized services to hotel guests based on their previous stays and preferences thanks to its emerging hyper-personalization features, revealed the CEO of a US-based AI insights company. 

Speaking at the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Esquire AI CEO Cenk Sidar told Arab News that technological developments will allow market players to provide customized solutions. 

“Hyper-personalization is an important subject for travel and would require millions of dollars of investment now that there are hundreds of large language models like ChatGPT,” said Sidar. 

According to Amsterdam-based hospitality technology company User Guest, personalization drives performance and better customer outcomes.  

Companies that grow faster drive 40 percent more revenue from personalization than their slower counterparts.  

User Guest’s tool utilizes advanced data analysis to identify guest preferences and behavior patterns, allowing hotels to offer highly personalized experiences tailored to each guest’s needs.  

For instance, if a guest is searching for a last-minute booking, the hotel can offer a special rate for those dates while optimizing its occupancy needs. 

“Any solution that would provide simplicity and convenience to the end user will have a competitive edge,” added Sidar. 

He revealed that the more data is collected, the better the understanding and analysis will be, consequently contributing to devising the appropriate solution. 

Sidar envisaged this kind of technology becoming commonplace in the coming years. 

Branded residences 

Speaking at another panel on branded residences, Turab Saleem, head of hospitality, tourism and leisure advisory services at Knight Frank in the Middle East and North Africa, shed light on the power of the brand.  

“You easily get an average of 18 to 25 percent increase in value by switching from non-branded to branded,” Saleem highlighted. 

He spoke about how even with two developments right next to each other, the branded one fetches 50 percent better pricing. 

Centered around the theme “Focus on Investment,” the summit serves as a catalyst for change, facilitating interactions among over 1,000 hospitality leaders through debates, dialogues, initiatives and announcements.  

Hosted at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, the agenda for the three-day event includes contributions from more than 150 speakers in panel discussions, one-on-one interviews, roundtables, innovation pitches and student-led sessions. 

IHG Hotels has over half its regional projects in Saudi Arabia: MD

Updated 25 September 2023

IHG Hotels has over half its regional projects in Saudi Arabia: MD

ABU DHABI: Global hospitality brand IHG Hotels and Resorts has 50 percent of its regional development in Saudi Arabia with over 100 projects in the pipeline. 

In an interview with Arab News during the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi, Haitham Mattar, managing director of Middle East, Africa, and South West Asia at the company, stated that the Kingdom’s powerful tourism agenda has stimulated the need to bolster hospitality in the country. 

“Saudi Arabia has a clear vision, the 2030 Vision aims to invite over 100 million visits to the Kingdom. This reassures the need for more hotel rooms,” Mattar said. 

He added: “The Kingdom aims to build another half-a-million hotel rooms, and we obviously, being the first operator there, have a great name and a reputation to position ourselves to be one of the preferred brands for private investors and for the government.” 

Mattar revealed that IHG is actively working on approximately 160 hotel projects in the region, set for design and development, with over half of these endeavors based in the Kingdom. 

He further highlighted that IHG was the pioneering five-star international brand to mark its presence in Saudi Arabia, launching the InterContinental Riyadh in 1975. 

Having been one of the initial international entrants into the Saudi market, IHG has fortified its role as a pivotal player in achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals.  

Mattar underscored that IHG currently stands as the largest operator in Saudi Arabia and has several upcoming projects. 

By the end of this year, the company is set to unveil its ultra-luxury brand, Six Senses, in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project.  

Additionally, InterContinental in the Red Sea is also scheduled to commence operations by the second quarter of 2024. 

Furthermore, Mattar revealed that the soon-to-be-introduced Kimpton Hotel, expected to make its debut by June next year, will be deeply intertwined with Saudi cultural elements.  

The Kimpton Riyadh, a first for the region, will feature five culinary venues: an all-day dining establishment, a specialty restaurant, a lobby lounge, a lobby living room café, and a pool bar. 

“While it’s common to find a five-star hotel in Saudi Arabia, it’s rare to find the Saudi culture in a five-star hotel,” Mattar remarked.

He continued: “In addition, we see immense growth potential in our midscale brands, especially with the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands, which are rapidly expanding throughout the Kingdom. 

“Supported by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, we recently partnered with Tashyeed to establish 12 Holiday Inn Express hotels across the nation.” 

Speaking about the significance of sustainability in the hospitality sector, Mattar pointed out that environmentally friendly initiatives will have a great impact on hotels. 

He stated that although the decarbonization of already established hotels will require a great deal of investment, the return is much higher. 

“The major return on investment comes from the asset value. So if I was to build a hotel today that follows all the sustainable development criteria, in five years my asset value is going to greatly increase,” Mattar explained.