Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say

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RCU booth in Saudi pavilion at WTM. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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RCU booth in Saudi pavilion at WTM. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Updated 14 November 2023
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Ancient Saudi city of AlUla focusing on sustainability not mass tourism, officials say

  • The UNESCO World Heritage Site is becoming one of the Kingdom’s top tourist destinations but a top Royal Commission for AlUla official tells Arab News ‘We’re growing responsibly’
  • The commission took part in the World Travel Market in London last week where, for the first time, it had its own booth within the Kingdom’s pavilion at the event

LONDON: The ancient Saudi city of AlUla is rapidly becoming one of the Kingdom’s top destinations for local and international travelers, officials say, but mass tourism is not their top priority.
“We are growing, and we are growing very fast (but) part of our mission is to respond to sustainable and responsible tourism,” Rami Al-Moallim, vice president of the destination management and marketing office at Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News. “We are not yet open for mass tourism, and it is not the focus.
“We need people to experience AlUla, to feel AlUla, to enjoy AlUla, to have unforgettable memories in AlUla, so we’re growing responsibly.”
In terms of targets, he said the aim this year was to attract 250,000 visitors, which is already being achieved, and 292,000 next year.
“We believe this steady growth will be reached very soon (and) we are (targeting) around 1.2 million visitors by 2030,” Al-Moallim said. “We are growing steadily year over year (and providing) very good experiences for people to enjoy.”
The commission took part in the World Travel Market in London last week. It was the second time it has participated in the annual event under the banner of the Saudi Tourism Authority but the first in which it had a separate booth within the Kingdom’s pavilion.
According to Al-Moallim, the decision to expand its presence at the event this year was made because of the growing interest in AlUla in the international travel market, its increased tourism capacities, higher direct investments from travel partners, including hotel operators and activity providers, and greater numbers of partners who want to showcase what they offer.
The commission’s booth, which was larger than the entire presence of some countries at the event, showcased eight partners in particular, including hotel companies; Live Nation, which manages the Maraya concert hall; and tours and tourism operators Hero Adventure Experiences, Pangea Club and Warrior for Adventures.
The main established hospitality partners in AlUla, which is in Madinah province, currently include Habitas, Banyan Tree, Shaden and Cloud7, Al-Moallim said, but in London the commission also showcased new collaborators, including Dar Tantoura, an eco-friendly boutique hotel with 30 rooms. As plans for hospitality and accommodation in AlUla continue to expand, more will follow soon, he added.
“Dar Tantora will be followed by Hegra Heritage Boutique Hotel, which is another 30-room hotel, in Hegra, then Autograph Collection is also coming in 2025, followed by Six Senses in 2026,” Al-Moallim said.
“In addition to that, Cloud7 is (working on) an expansion currently to double the room capacity by this year-end.”
From an environmental perspective, the four pillars of sustainability — social, human, economic and environmental — are at the heart of the commission’s operations, he added, and it has adopted several initiatives under the banner of the Saudi Green Initiative.
“The newest project that we have, which is the Experiential Tram, is a low-carbon-emission tramway (covering a distance) of 22 kilometers,” Al-Moallim said. “It has 17 stations, so it takes you from the north to the south of AlUla, visiting the whole Journey Through Time master plan.”
On the social and economic fronts, he added, the Madrasat Addeera initiative offers workshops on handicrafts, art and education, with the aim of preserving and reviving local culture, heritage and traditions.
“Looking at the numbers and the key source markets, of course (Saudi Arabia) and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) markets are the key for us” he said, adding that 72 percent of tourists who visited only AlUla in the Kingdom in 2022 came from these areas.
The rest of the world therefore accounted for 28 percent of visitors last year, with 11 percent from Europe alone, Al-Moallim said. The UK was a major source market, followed by France, Italy and Germany. Places outside of Europe, including the US and China, were lower on the list.
Antony Doucet, chief experience officer at Kerten Hospitality, participated in the World Travel Market, where he represented AlUla’s Dar Tantora House Hotel and the Cloud7 Residence. The latter opened in December last year and is set to increase its capacity to 300 rooms, which will make it the largest hotel in AlUla, while the former is set to open on Jan. 15, with 30 keys, he said.
“We don’t like to call (Dar Tantora) a hotel, rather a ‘hospitality experience’ because we’re inviting people to slow down and go back through different times of AlUla,” he said.
It will have a community and cultural manager, Doucet said, who can suggest activities inside and outside the hotel for visitors during their stay, culinary experiences that offer a chance to try traditional Saudi cuisine with a modern twist, and a spa that explores Arabian beauty secrets using natural ingredients from the area, including Peregrina oil.
“It’s also a very personalized and custom-made experience,” he added, as guest will be contacted a week before arrival to help staff better understand the purposes of their stay, their personalities, and their tastes in music and literature.
“It’s also important to note that we have limited electricity,” said Doucet. “We will have only two electric plugs per room, no air conditioning but natural ventilation, and we will be, I think, the first hotel to have drinkable water from the tap,” which will be purified on site.
This reflects the hotel’s commitment to sustainable tourism in AlUla and to the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, he added.
Art will also play an important role at Dar Tantora, where a unique art collection, including bespoke pieces currently being created, will be on display. In addition, it will offer about 10 retail spaces.
Husaak Adventures was one of the tour operators promoting its activities in AlUla during the event in London where, for a second year, it was part of the Kingdom’s pavilion.
The company is an “activator” that works with the Royal Commission and other Saudi government entities to create a range of experiences and services, said Nikki McDonnell, its director of sales and marketing. These include hiking and mountain-biking trails, “glamping” resorts, visitor centers, accommodation solutions, stargazing events, and other adventures and cultural experiences designed to appeal to local and international visitors.
The Saudi-registered business was founded about 10 years ago when there were relatively few tourists or any significant adventure-tourism sector in the region, she said, but now the Kingdom has become a “pioneer” in the field, and the growth and “development they have had in the last couple of years is amazing, and there’s so much opportunity to develop further jewels of Saudi Arabia.”
She added: “We have since developed, and now we offer, over 14 different daily experiences for visitors, as well as the glamping and accommodation solutions that offer affordable accommodation within what is known as a luxury destination.”
AlUla has incredible history, McDonnell said, and one of its key tourist attractions is the ancient Incense Road in Hegra, also known as Mada’in Saleh.
“There’s a big misconception that Saudi Arabia is very hot and it’s only a seasonal destination — it’s not,” she said. The climate and landscape are so diverse that travelers can visit all year round to explore the country’s “rich heritage,” she added.
McDonnell said part of Husaak’s focus is on increasing consumer awareness of AlUla, so while it works with other destination-management and travel companies to package its experiences and programs for visitors, it also carries out a lot of digital marketing in its own right.
“We are on Tripadvisor, our glamping is on Booking.com, we invest in Google heavily to target visitors before they come into the country, (we are) on social media to drive our traffic, and we also advertise annually with National Geographic,” she said.
“Can we develop more experiences, more unforgettable experiences? Yes, and that’s our goal as a company, just to continue to drive and build those experiences and build a legacy for visitors.”
Imad Sulaiman, the general manager of Athaar Arabia, a pioneering destination-management company in the Kingdom, said: “Despite the COVID years, Saudi Arabia is an amazing destination, and with Vision 2030 announcing the (introduction of the) tourist visa, (the country) has strongly found its way onto the tourist map around the world, so this has been a very good achievement over the past three years.
“We are lucky because everybody is talking about Saudi Arabia; the gigaprojects, sports activities and other huge efforts which the Saudi Tourism Authority is doing with other stakeholders … to show Saudi Arabia to the world. They went beyond our expectations.”
Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb announced at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh this month an increased target of attracting 150 million tourists a year by 2030. Sulaiman said it is a target that can “be achieved because Saudi Arabia is a new destination to travelers” and is attracting a lot of interest due to the massive development projects that are helping to support businesses in the tourism sector.
“I call Saudi Arabia a hidden jewel because it’s not shown to the world,” he said, but now “we have a huge demand from different tour operators requesting different types of business or traveler packages to their clients,” from high-end experiences to adventure holidays.
Thanks to the “good news” about the Kingdom’s potential and in-progress bids to host World Expo 2030, the 2034 FIFA World Cup and the Winter Olympics, together with the major sporting events it already hosts, including Formula One and Formula E, “all these projects give us big power to work hard to be able to achieve this target,” Sulaiman said.
He added that he is “proud of all these things” because he worked in the sector in the days before Vision 2030, and all the developments that have followed since it was announced in 2016 have been “beyond our expectation — it’s amazing.”


Startup of the Week – supply chain platform Omniful aims to boost Saudi Arabia’s e-commerce space

Updated 24 February 2024
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Startup of the Week – supply chain platform Omniful aims to boost Saudi Arabia’s e-commerce space

  • CEO addresses market challenges and evolving customer expectations

CAIRO: E-commerce and supply chain operations platform Omniful is aiming to significantly boost its presence in the Saudi market after a successful $5.85 million seed funding round.

In an interview with Arab News, CEO and co-founder of Omniful, Mostafa Abolnasr, shared the company’s strategies aimed to boost Saudi Arabia’s e-commerce space.

“Following our recent seed funding round, we plan to scale our operations, expanding our market presence in Saudi Arabia and internationally, and continuing to aggressively invest in technology development,” Abolnasr said.

“This includes enhancing our platform’s capabilities, entering new strategic partnerships, and further tailoring our solutions to meet the specific needs of diverse markets,” he added.

FASTFACT

Mostafa Abolnasr aspires for his company to become a globally recognized technology vendor originating from the region, addressing local and global market challenges while contributing to the ecosystem.

Abolnasr detailed the company’s strategic positioning within the Saudi e-commerce market, emphasizing its focus on being a key enabler for the sector “with features tailored to local business practices, regulatory requirements, and consumer preferences.”

He added: “For example, we are the first Order Management System to combine sales channels like Salla, Zid, Jahez, PIK, Amazon, Noon, ToYou and others - all selling from the same inventory on the store shelves.”

On the topic of strategic partnerships, Abolnasr shared that while specific collaborations remain confidential, Omniful actively engages with both private and public entities in Saudi Arabia.

These partnerships aim to align Omniful’s operations with the national e-commerce strategy, enhancing the overall ecosystem and supporting the company's expansion plans.

Addressing market challenges and evolving customer expectations, Abolnasr stated that Omniful prioritizes innovation based on first-principle analysis, focusing on long-lasting solutions that address fundamental pain points within the supply chain and e-commerce sectors.

Regarding international expansion, Abolnasr revealed that Omniful already serves clients across various regions, including the US, Europe, Africa, Turkiye, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.  

Omniful’s partnerships aim to align its operations with the Kingdom’s national e-commerce strategy. (Supplied)

“These came mostly through referrals, partnerships, conferences and inbound - since until today, we have not yet activated our marketing and outreach efforts for international expansion, as we are planning a launch in strategic markets across the Middle East and North Africa region, and internationally,” he stated.

“An attractive market for us is one that is rapidly expanding e-commerce penetration, and combined with a lot of supply chain and operational challenges - a formula that breeds the need for a sophisticated suite of solutions like ours,” added the CEO.

Abolnasr’s vision for Omniful aligns with the anticipated growth of e-commerce both in Saudi Arabia and globally.  

He aspires for his company to become a globally recognized technology vendor originating from the region, addressing local and global market challenges while contributing to the ecosystem.

To maintain its competitive edge, Omniful relies on its proprietary technology and strong engineering capabilities, drawing talent from leading companies to build Software-as-a-Service products.  

“We plan to double-down on this and make sure that tech continues to be our competitive edge by investing in research and development, fostering a culture of innovation, and staying responsive to customer needs and industry trends,” Abolnasr said.

“We are also enhancing our platform with AI, machine learning, and other emerging technologies to deliver unparalleled efficiency and value to our clients in different use-case across inventory optimization, allocation, and demand forecasting,” he added.

Founded in 2022 by Abolnasr and Alankrit Nishad, Omniful provides merchants and fulfilment providers with a unified management system, warehouse management system, and transport management system to scale their businesses.

Abolnasr described the company’s role in transforming the omnichannel and e-commerce supply chain and operations landscape, highlighting  Omniful’s cloud-native, end-to-end platform, which integrates order, warehouse, and transport management systems functionalities.

“Omniful targets critical and common pain points such as inventory mismanagement, inefficiencies in order processing, lack of real-time data integration across sales channels, and the complexities of managing multiple fulfillment hubs be it stores or warehouses and shipping partners,” Abolnasr told Arab News.

“By providing a unified platform, we address these challenges directly, reducing fulfillment delays, minimizing operational costs, increasing real-time visibility and improving overall customer satisfaction,” he added.

Omniful’s strategy starts with real-time inventory management that spans multiple sales channels, effectively coordinating across various stores and warehouses.

The platform is designed to integrate seamlessly with existing enterprise resource planning and point of sale systems, ensuring updates are timely and accurate.  

Abolnasr further highlighted the functionality of the company’s order management system, which automates the routing, assignment, and tracking of orders.  

He also pointed out the agility of its warehouse management system, tailored for high-volume throughput optimization, and shipping and fulfillment automation rules that facilitate smooth courier selection and tracking.

These capabilities, according to Abolnasr, are key to ensuring timely and complete order delivery, maintaining precise inventory levels, and significantly improving the shopping experience for both businesses and consumers.

The shared frustrations the founders had with the lack of scalable, efficient, and modular platforms in the market led them to create Omniful.  

Abolnasr explained that their aim was to develop the world’s premier supply chain platform, offering adaptable solutions to meet the specific needs of businesses navigating the dynamic terrain of supply chain, e-commerce, and omnichannel operations.

Abolnasr shed light on the significant trends influencing the future of e-commerce logistics and fulfillment, emphasizing the shift towards omnichannel retail and the increasing consumer demand for fast, same-day delivery.  

He highlighted the critical role of artificial intelligence and machine learning in driving predictive analytics and optimization, alongside the necessity for businesses to diversify sales channels and enhance their merchandising and demand generation efforts.

“These technologies enable inventory optimization, efficient picking routes, predictive analytics, demand forecasting, intelligent routing, shipping courier selection, and warehouse space utilization, leading to increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved customer experiences,” he stated.

Abolnasr elaborated on Omniful’s strategic growth and its alignment with the broader digital transformation and economic diversification efforts within Saudi Arabia.  

“Our focus remains on supply chain and e-commerce operations, which puts a lot of confidence in the e-commerce sector’s potential and underscores our commitment to supporting the region’s vision for a technologically advanced and economically vibrant e-commerce ecosystem,” he said.

 

 


Saudi Arabia seeing rising interest in credit ratings amid broader investments and economy diversification: Moody’s exec

Updated 24 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia seeing rising interest in credit ratings amid broader investments and economy diversification: Moody’s exec

  • Moody’s activities in the Kingdom have positioned the organization as a key player in the financial markets

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is seeing a growing interest in credit ratings, mainly driven by expanding global investments, regulatory reforms, and economic diversification, according to Moody’s.

Jihad Al-Toukhi, senior vice president and relationship manager at Moody’s Saudi Arabia, affirmed in an interview with Arab News that the firm has “indeed observed a growing interest in credit ratings” in the Kingdom. 

Al-Toukhi pointed out that this heightened interest can be attributed to various factors. 

“Firstly, the ongoing financial market development, as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plans, has boosted the demand for credit ratings. These ratings provide an independent assessment of credit risk, which is crucial for facilitating investment decisions, including foreign direct investment,” he said. 

Moreover, as Saudi companies aim to expand their presence globally, their reliance on financing through debt capital markets has grown. Consequently, credit ratings have become indispensable in providing unbiased assessments of risk, vital for potential international investors or lenders, according to the official. 

Al-Toukhi went on to explain: “Regulatory bodies in Saudi Arabia are increasingly requiring credit ratings for certain types of financial transactions to enhance transparency and understanding of credit risk. This regulatory change has, in turn, increased the demand for credit rating services.” 

Furthermore, with the Kingdom’s shift away from oil-dependency, new sectors and businesses are emerging, all of which require credit ratings to secure funding and entice investors. Al-Toukhi emphasized Moody’s role, describing it as being “instrumental in cultivating a credit rating culture in the region.” 

He added: “Our role is to provide independent, objective opinions and analysis of credit risk, which are essential for the financial market development, international investments, regulatory compliance, and economic diversification efforts currently underway in Saudi Arabia.”

Discussing industries that have seen significant developments in terms of credit ratings, Al-Toukhi noted: “We have observed a substantial interest from the insurance sector and large corporates in obtaining credit ratings.”

Acknowledging the importance of Islamic finance in the local economy, Al-Toukhi remarked: “Islamic finance is indeed a significant component of the Saudi financial system, and Saudi Arabia is recognized as the world’s largest Islamic finance market.”

Jihad Al-Toukhi, senior vice president relationship manager at Moody’s Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Our approach to assessing Islamic financial instruments is thorough and meticulous. Our expert analysts provide valuable ratings for Sukuk issuances based on thorough analysis,” he stated.

Looking ahead to 2024, the expert anticipated a “continued expansion and development of this segment in KSA and the region.”

Al-Toukhi anticipated that the increased role of government-related institutions and the private sector in Saudi Arabia’s financial environment is expected to have a “transformative impact.”

He further explained: “Firstly, it demonstrates a diversification of the Saudi economy, which has traditionally been heavily reliant on oil revenues. Secondly, the involvement of government-related institutions can provide a level of stability and confidence in the market.”

Al-Toukhi pointed out that the increased participation of the private sector can lead to increased competition, which can result in better pricing and more efficient allocation of resources.

“Lastly, the increased activity in the debt capital market can lead to greater liquidity, making it easier for both companies and investors to buy and sell securities,” Al-Toukhi concluded, highlighting the potential benefits of increased activity in the debt capital market.

Speaking of Moody’s plans, the senior vice president shared that a number of strategic initiatives are in place to further enhance presence and influence in the Kingdom’s financial markets. “One of our key strategic initiatives is to increase our educational endeavors,” he explained.

“In addition to our educational initiatives, Moody’s also plans to leverage technology to improve our services and operations,” Al-Toukhi added.

Moody’s believes that several factors will play a crucial role in shaping the credit landscape in the coming years.

“Saudi Arabia is becoming more transparent in its financial dealings, thanks to the efforts of regulators to improve and stimulate the debt markets,” Al-Toukhi explained, highlighting the efforts to improve transparency in financial dealings.

He emphasized the growth of the firm’s local footprint since the inception of its office, saying: “Since opening the Moody’s office in Saudi Arabia in 2018, we have had tremendous success in expanding our local presence and coverage. We now have 39 entity ratings in the Kingdom and rate $200 billion of debt.”

Moody’s activities in the Kingdom have positioned the organization as a key player in the financial markets, and specifically in the debt capital market, supporting the country’s economic transformation and growth. (AN file photo)

The thriving financial landscape in Saudi Arabia is boosting investor confidence and market maturity, Al-Toukhi affirmed, saying: “Being on-ground in Saudi Arabia has allowed Moody’s to better cater to the specific needs of the local market. This has helped in building stronger relationships with clients and stakeholders within the country.”

Al-Toukhi said that Moody’s has contributed to enhancing financial literacy and the understanding of credit ratings among investors, businesses, and the general public in Saudi Arabia through various publications, forums, and conferences.

He stated: “We are also actively engaging with local regulatory bodies ensuring we stay up to date with the evolving regulatory landscape in the Saudi financial markets, which we are happy to do.”

Moody’s activities in the Kingdom have positioned the organization as a key player in the financial markets, and specifically in the debt capital market, supporting the country’s economic transformation and growth, according to the top official.

Discussing the extensive ratings coverage in Saudi Arabia, Al-Toukhi underscored the agency’s comprehensive analysis, covering 100 percent of all Islamic and conventional banks and major corporations like Saudi oil giant Aramco and petrochemicals manufacturer Sabic.

“In fact, we have the highest coverage in Saudi Arabia across both corporate finance and financial institutions. This broad and deep coverage enables our analysts to provide a more comprehensive and accurate analysis of the creditworthiness of entities,” he remarked, emphasizing the breadth and depth of Moody’s coverage in the Kingdom.

As the Saudi economy diversifies away from oil, the firm anticipates growth in sectors like technology, renewable energy, and tourism.

“One significant development we are observing is the growing awareness and integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance factors into investment decisions,” said Al-Toukhi.

According to the official, Moody’s has been offering Second-Party Opinions on the environmental credentials of financial instruments such as green, social, and sustainability bonds.

“Overall, we believe these factors will play a significant role in shaping the credit landscape in Saudi Arabia in the coming years,” Al-Toukhi said, expressing optimism about the future of the credit landscape in the Kingdom.


New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy

Updated 25 February 2024
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New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy

  • New GCC unified visa marks major landmark moment for Saudi tourism and region at large

RIYADH: In November 2023 the Gulf Cooperation Council approved a landmark unified tourist visa set to launch between 2024 and 2025. 

Similar to the Schengen scheme, the permit will enable tourists to travel across all six GCC member states: Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The new visa was announced by Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi, GCC secretary-general, on Nov. 9, during the 40th meeting of the organization’s interior ministers in Muscat, Oman.

HIGHLIGHT

The Unified Gulf Tourist Visa is expected to further open doors to travelers and entrepreneurs eager to visit the rapidly changing and developing Gulf region, by granting them access to the six countries under a unified, single tourist visa.

Al-Budaiwi described the new Unified Gulf Tourist Visa initiative as testament to the close cooperation between all GCC leaders.

“The unified Gulf tourist visa is a project that will contribute to facilitating and streamlining the movement of residents and tourists between the six GCC countries and will, undoubtedly, have a positive impact on the economic and tourist sectors,” he said in a statement.

The GCC is already a destination for world travel and business. The new visa is expected to attract foreign tourists as well as boost trade between the countries.

It is expected to further open doors to travelers and entrepreneurs eager to visit the rapidly changing and developing Gulf region, by granting them access to the six countries under a unified, single tourist visa.

GCC Secretary-General Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi. (Supplied)

A pivotal facet of the new initiative is its ability to further enhance economic synergy between the six Gulf states.

“The upcoming GCC unified visa, announced by the GCC Supreme Council, is a major success for Saudi and the GCC region at large, and marks a crucial moment for tourism in Saudi,” the Kingdom’s Tourism Authority Spokesperson and Corporate Communications Director Abdullah Al-Dakhil told Arab News.

“It will enhance sector collaboration and make the region more accessible for visitors seeking to explore the wonders of Saudi – the authentic home of Arabia – and the GCC countries,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, under Vision 2030, is rapidly expanding its tourism industry, with major new developments throughout the Kingdom as well as new hotels, resorts and travel destinations that are well underway before the end of the decade.

“Saudi is booming, with the Saudi Central Bank recently announcing that visitor spending exceeded SR100 billion ($26.66 billion) in the first three quarters of 2023 and UNWTO recognizing the Kingdom as the world’s second-fastest-growing tourist destination,” added Al-Dakhil.

“We hope the GCC visa will further enhance this and help Saudi reach its target of tourism contributing towards 10 percent of GDP by 2030, and the growth of the whole region.”

A view of the picturesque coastal city of Muscat, Oman, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations to be covered by the planned unified Gulf tourism visa. (AN Photo)

According to a report published by the World Bank at the end of November 2023 titled “Economic Diversification Efforts Paying off in GCC Region but More Reforms Needed” the GCC region is estimated to have grown by 1 percent in 2023 before picking up again to 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

“To maintain this positive trajectory, GCC countries must continue to exercise prudent macroeconomic management, stay committed to structural reforms, and focus on increasing non-oil exports” said Safaa El Tayeb El-Kogali, World Bank country director for the GCC in a statement. 

“However, it is important to acknowledge the downside risks that persist. The current conflict in the Middle East poses significant risks to the region and the GCC outlook, especially if it extends or involves other regional players. As a result, global oil markets are already witnessing higher volatility,” she added.

The new unified visa contributes to the need to increase non-oil exports and economic activity.

The Saudi economy is likely to grow by around 1.5 percent in 2024 with the non-oil sector expanding by 3 percent to 4 percent, according to data published by the Saudi statistical authority and projections made by Tim Callen, a visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

A view of the Jeddah Corniche, a favorite promenade of residents and visitors alike. (SPA/File photo)

Callen noted that the non-oil economy is likely to have grown by a healthy 4 percent, driven by private consumption, with households throughout the Kingdom taking advantage of new spending opportunities in the growing sectors of tourism and entertainment.

The growth of the non-oil economy, a major aim of Vision 2030, has led to significant job creation leading to a drop in the Saudi unemployment rate from 8.6 percent in the third quarter of 2023 from 9.9 percent a year prior, noted Callen.

A unified tourism visa can only expand on non-oil economic growth for the Kingdom as well as other Gulf nations.

Major hotels in the Kingdom are already looking forward to the economic benefits and ease that the new unified visa will offer.

“The GCC’s unanimous approval of a unified tourist visa demonstrates the importance and vitality of this highly crucial economic sector, with the ultimate aim of establishing this region as one of the top tourist destinations in the world,” Richard Johnson, general manager of Al Faisaliah Hotel Riyadh, told Arab News.

Al Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh is one of the capital’s most iconic and historic hotels. It opened in 2000 and has since become a prime spot for business activities as well as leisure travel. The hotel previously noted that travelers had increased since the Kingdom opened to tourism in September 2019. The numbers have grown ever since.

“Allowing for seamless travel between six nations, the new development promises to reshape the tourism landscape – just in time for Mandarin Oriental’s official debut in Riyadh as we seek to contribute to the GCC tourism strategy 2030,” he added.

As Johnson noted, the visa “will usher in a new era of economic growth and job creation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in a country where local hospitality is based on generosity and care and the whole is therefore much greater than the sum of its parts.”


UAE removed from Financial Action Task Force watchlist

Updated 24 February 2024
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UAE removed from Financial Action Task Force watchlist

  • Barbados, Gibraltar and Uganda are also out of the monitoring list

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international organization in charge of combatting money laundering and terrorism financing has announced the UAE’s completion of all 15 recommendations of its action plan, state news agency WAM has reported.

The announcement was made following task force’s plenary meetings in Paris earlier this week.

The UAE, as well as Barbados, Gibraltar and Uganda, reported ‘significant progress in addressing the strategic AML/CFT (anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism) deficiencies previously identified during their mutual evaluations, FATF said.

“These jurisdictions had committed to implement an Action Plan to resolve swiftly the identified strategic deficiencies within agreed timeframes. These countries will no longer be subject to the FATF’s increased monitoring process,” it added.

“This success is the outcome of significant and distinguished efforts by relevant ministries, the federal government and local entities. These collective endeavors serve to expedite the national strategy and action plan, achieve the directives and aspirations of the UAE’s leadership… The country is committed to consolidate its unwavering approach and position within the world’s financial system, by fully enforcing and adhering to, all relevant international laws and conventions that serve to safeguard the integrity of the global financial system,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Higher Committee Overseeing the National Strategy on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism, said in a statement.

“Preventing illegitimate financial flows, and supporting the efficiency of our national plan for combating money laundering and terrorism financing, are the foundations for strengthening the UAE’s position as a global hub for trade and investment,” Abdullah bin Touq Al-Marri, Minister of Economy, meanwhile said in a statement.
“The UAE has made considerable progress during the past few years, in combating global money laundering and terrorism financing through outlining robust and flexible frameworks. The UAE is committed to taking further significant advances in our future endeavors.”


Brazil sends largest ever delegation to Gulfood

Animal protein was one of Brazil’s highlights at Gulfood 2024. (Twitter @Gulfood)
Updated 24 February 2024
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Brazil sends largest ever delegation to Gulfood

  • 117 Brazilian companies attend Mideast’s largest food, beverage trade fair in Dubai
  • ‘Our expectation is to surpass $2.5bn in business deals,’ trade agency manager tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: Brazil sent its biggest ever delegation to the Middle East’s largest food and beverage trade fair this year.

From Feb. 19-23, 117 Brazilian companies conducted business with buyers from all over the world at the 29th edition of Gulfood in Dubai.

Andre Muller, agribusiness manager at the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, told Arab News: “This year we had record participation, the largest ever for Brazil at this fair, with 117 companies. Our expectation is to surpass $2.5 billion in business deals.”

The mission of the agency, which is linked to the Foreign Ministry, is to promote Brazilian exports and attract investments to the country. It has been responsible for the Brazilian delegation at Gulfood since 2009.

Showcasing their products to some 150,000 visitors from around the world, the Brazilian companies were organized in six pavilions: a multisector pavilion; a beverage pavilion; a spices, grains and cereals pavilion; and three animal protein pavilions.

The delegation represented small, medium and large companies, a third of which are led by women.

“This fair is one of the most important in the world because in addition to covering the entire Middle East, we also noticed this year many buyers from Europe, Africa, India and some from Asia, mainly China,” said Muller.

“So it’s a fair that in addition to having this important market in the Arab region, ends up being almost a global fair.

“This is very important for Brazilian companies because they can, in just one event, access and connect with clients from different regions and continents.”

He added: “We have a waiting list to participate in the fair. We’ve been asking for more space from the fair organizers for a few years now, but unfortunately there’s none. This shows that Brazilian companies are really very interested.”

Ricardo Santin, president of the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein, told Arab News: “Gulfood is a strategic event for the Brazilian poultry industry. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of chicken meat and nearly half of its shipments are halal products, making our sector the largest exporter of poultry products to Islamic nations.”

He added: “In this edition of the fair, we promoted tastings, held meetings with clients and potential importers, and consolidated advances in business prospects between Brazilian exporters and partners from Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia, which is one of the main destinations for our products.”

Muller highlighted the relevance of the Arab world for Brazilian food and beverage exports.

For the poultry meat sector, for example, the Middle East is the destination for more than a third of the total exported. “It’s a very important region for Brazilian agribusiness exports,” said Muller.

The pavilion’s opening ceremony was attended by the business director of the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, Ana Paula Repezza; the director of the Department of Trade Promotion, Investments and Agriculture at the Foreign Ministry, Alex Giacomelli; and the deputy secretary of international relations at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, Julio Cesar Ramos.

The Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce also participated with a pavilion, bringing 11 companies to Gulfood.

Halal market

Animal protein was one of Brazil’s highlights at Gulfood 2024. The country is recognized for its reliable and high-quality halal meat production, and has been gaining ground in this rapidly expanding market.

“In food and beverages alone, the halal market represents $1.6 trillion, and Brazil has a growing share,” said Muller.

“We’re talking about more than 2.2 billion people who have this consumption habit, and Brazil is positioning itself very well in this segment.”