New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy

Saudi Arabia 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. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 26 February 2024
Follow

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 Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah, Riyadh, told Arab News.

Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah 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.”


Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

Updated 7 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

  • Analysts say investors expect a significant decline in April inflation data that may lead to a cut in interest rates
  • The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs due to hopes of positive loan talks with the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s benchmark share index breached the key level of 72,000 to trade at a record high of 72,414 points during intraday trade earlier on Wednesday, according to data from the Pakistan Stock Exchange website.

The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs amid positive sentiment prevailing among investors due to hopes of the country’s successful talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan program.

The country’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, recently visited Washington to hold talks with IMF officials for a long-term bailout facility as Pakistan’s current $3 billion program is due to expire this month.

The finance minister expressed hopes the outline of the new program would soon become visible, adding that the loan would help Pakistan continue with structural economic reforms.

“After a record current account surplus, investors are now expecting a big fall in April inflation data that may result in a cut in interest rates in the coming months,” Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Karachi-based brokerage company Topline Securities, told Reuters.

Pakistan’s benchmark KSE100 index has surged 75.5 percent over the past year and is up 11.5 percent year-to-date.

The equity market is expected to surge further as an IMF delegation arrives in Pakistan next month to determine the contours of the new loan facility.

“We are still hoping that we can get into a staff-level agreement [with the IMF] by the time June is done or early July so that we can move on,” the finance minister said on Tuesday while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.

With input from Reuters


Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 

Updated 9 min 20 sec ago
Follow

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports, including re-exports, saw a surge of 4.4 percent in February compared to the same period the previous year, official data showed. 

According to the General Authority for Statistics, the total value of non-oil exports in February reached SR21.86 billion ($5.83 billion), marking a rise from SR20.93 billion in the corresponding period of the preceding year. 

The increase in non-oil shipments was driven by an 8.3 percent surge in the exports of rubber and plastic products in February, constituting 24.1 percent of the total exports.  

Strengthening the non-oil private sector remains pivotal for Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom continues its economic diversification efforts aimed at reducing reliance on oil. 

The report unveiled a 4.1 percent year-on-year decrease in the Kingdom’s non-oil exports, excluding re-exports, in February. Conversely, the value of re-exported goods surged by 32.3 percent during the same period. 

However, GASTAT noted that Saudi Arabia’s overall merchandise shipments decreased by 2 percent in February compared to the year-ago period.  

This decline was primarily attributed to a 3.8 percent decrease in oil exports in February compared to the same month in 2023, according to the report.


UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations

Updated 23 April 2024
Follow

UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations

RIYADH: In a move aimed at enhancing Saudi Arabia’s financial landscape, the Kingdom has granted permission for a branch of the Swiss bank UBS to operate within the nation. 

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the approval was granted during a session chaired by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, held by the Cabinet in Jeddah on April 23.

The session commenced with King Salman briefing the Cabinet on the recent communications and discussions held between the Kingdom and several countries regarding shared relations, regional issues, and global developments, as reported by SPA.

In this context, the Cabinet reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s steadfast stance toward promoting security and stability in the region and the world. 

The Minister of Media, Salman bin Yousef Al-Dossary, stated in a press release following the session that the Cabinet praised the outcomes of the second ministerial meeting of the dialogue between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Central Asian countries. 

He emphasized the Kingdom’s commitment to continue strengthening communication channels with various countries worldwide and supporting areas of joint coordination, including multilateral efforts.

Additionally, the Cabinet expressed its appreciation for the participants of the forthcoming World Economic Forum special meeting, set to take place in Riyadh in the upcoming week, highlighting the Kingdom’s dedication to encouraging global collaboration and tackling shared challenges.

Moreover, the Cabinet announced that the World Bank had selected Saudi Arabia as a center for knowledge dissemination to promote worldwide awareness of economic reforms, underscoring its leadership in achieving significant progress in global competitiveness indicators.

Al-Dossary further highlighted that the Cabinet applauded the achievement of five Saudi cities in obtaining advanced positions in the 2024 Smart Cities Index.

Following today’s session, the Cabinet approved cooperation agreements with Qatar, the Dominican Republic and the UK as well as Turkey, Chad, Portugal, Hong Kong, and Yemen.

Additionally, the body authorized discussions regarding statistical collaboration with Australia and maritime cooperation with Egypt. It also endorsed anti-corruption agreements with South Korea, archival partnerships with Greece, and financial technology collaboration with Singapore.

Authorization was granted for negotiations on science and technology cooperation with the Bahamas. A unified law for international road transport within GCC countries was approved, and additional compensation was granted to Tabah village’s affected families in the Hail region. 

Furthermore, final accounts for various government entities were approved.


UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 

Updated 23 April 2024
Follow

UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 

RIYADH: Trade and economic ties between the UAE and Oman are set to further strengthen thanks to the signing of investment deals worth 129 billion dirhams ($35.12 billion).  

According to a press statement, these agreements cover multiple sectors, including renewable energy, green metals, railway, digital infrastructure, and technology investments. 

Economic ties between the UAE and Oman have remained robust in recent years, with non-oil trade volumes reaching approximately 50 billion dirhams in 2023. 

“The UAE and Oman have strong historical relations that are founded on shared values, goals and principles. The agreements represent a major milestone in our bilateral ties, as they pave the way for us to leverage our collective strength to realize our shared vision of advancement and prosperity,” said Mohamed Hassan Al-Suwaidi, UAE’s minister of investment.  

One of the major agreements signed by both countries was an industrial and energy megaproject valued at 117 billion dirhams. This project encompasses renewable energy initiatives, including solar and wind projects, alongside green metals production facilities. 

The deal’s signatories included Abu Dhabi National Energy Co., Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., and Emirates Global Aluminium, as well as Emirates Steel Arkan, OQ Alternative Energy, and Oman Electricity Transmission Co. 

Another agreement, valued at 660 million dirhams, was signed between Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Co. and Oman Investment Authority to establish a technology-focused fund. 

A UAE-Oman rail connectivity project, valued at 11 billion dirhams, was also inked by both countries. 

Additionally, UAE’s Ministry of Investment and the Ministry of Commerce and Trade signed another deal with Oman’s Ministry of Investment Promotion to cooperate in multiple sectors, including digital infrastructure, food security, and energy. 

Etihad Rail, Mubadala, and Omani Asyad Group Co. signed a shareholding partnership valued at 3 billion dirhams. 

Both countries also announced the formation of a UAE-Oman alliance to enhance bilateral economic and trade relations. 

The UAE’s Ministry of Investment, in the press statement, further noted that the signing of these agreements will serve to bolster relations across key sectors and foster socio-economic benefits, contributing toward a stable and prosperous future for both countries. 


Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge

Updated 23 April 2024
Follow

Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge

  • The IEA report disclosed that global EV sales grew by approximately 25 percent in Q1 of 2024

RIYADH: The entry of Chinese car models in the Middle East could drive regional electric vehicle sales, as global figures are projected to reach 17 million units by 2024. 

According to the latest International Energy Agency report, this marks a 21.42 percent increase from the previous year, with nearly 60 percent of new electric car registrations in 2023 occurring in China, followed by 10 percent in the US and 25 percent in Europe. 

“The continued momentum behind electric cars is clear in our data, although it is stronger in some markets than others. Rather than tapering off, the global EV revolution appears to be gearing up for a new phase of growth,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. 

The Global EV Outlook 2024 stated that the electric car market in Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East is still in its nascent stage, with such vehicles representing just under 1 percent of total sales in these regions. 

However, the decision of Chinese carmakers to explore these regions, along with producing vehicles domestically, could change this trend, allowing the market to expand in the coming years. 

“In Uzbekistan, BYD (Chinese automaker) set up a joint venture with UzAuto Motors in 2023 to produce 50,000 electric cars annually, and Chery International established a partnership with ADM Jizzakh,” stated the IEA in the report.  

This partnership has already led to a steep increase in electric car sales in Uzbekistan, reaching around 10,000 in 2023. 

It added: “In the Middle East, Jordan boasts the highest electric car sales share, at more than 45 percent, supported by much lower import duties relative to ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, followed by the UAE, with 13 percent.” 

Moreover, in July last year, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment signed a $5.6 billion deal with Chinese electric car maker Human Horizons to collaborate on the development, manufacture, and sale of vehicles. 

Steady growth  

The IEA report disclosed that global sales of electric cars grew by approximately 25 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2023. 

Highlighting the growth of the EV market, the report revealed that the number of electric cars sold globally in the first three months of this year is roughly equivalent to the total units sold in 2020. 

The steady growth in the first quarter of this year was driven by China, with 1.9 million EVs sold, marking a 35 percent rise compared to the same period in 2023. 

In Europe, the first quarter of 2024 witnessed year-on-year growth of over 5 percent, slightly surpassing the growth in overall car sales and thus maintaining the EV sales share at a similar level to that of last year. 

The US also experienced a 15 percent increase in sales in this segment during the first three months of this year, compared to the same period in 2023. 

According to Birol, the rise in investments in the electric battery sector is a strong indication of the rise of the EV appetite globally. 

“The wave of investment in battery manufacturing suggests the EV supply chain is advancing to meet automakers’ ambitious plans for expansion. As a result, the share of EVs on the roads is expected to continue to climb rapidly,” said the executive director of IEA. 

He added: “Based on today’s policy settings alone, almost one in three cars on the roads in China by 2030 is set to be electric, and almost one in five in both the US and the EU. This shift will have major ramifications for both the auto industry and the energy sector.” 

EV prices to fall  

The report highlighted that the pace of the transition to EVs may not be consistent and will hinge on affordability. 

IEA added that manufacturers have taken significant steps to deliver on the strengthening EV ambitions of governments by making significant financial commitments. 

“Thanks to high levels of investment over the past five years, the world’s capacity to produce batteries for EVs is well positioned to keep up with demand, even as it rises sharply over the next decade,” said the report. 

According to the intergovernmental organization, more than 60 percent of electric cars sold in 2023 were already less expensive to buy than their conventional equivalents in China. 

However, the purchase prices for cars with internal combustion engines remained cheaper on average compared to EVs in the US and the EU. 

The report suggested that intensifying market competition and improving battery technologies are expected to reduce the prices of electric cars in the coming years. 

“Even where upfront prices are high, the lower operating costs of EVs mean the initial investment pays back over time,” said IEA. 

Moreover, growing electric car exports from Chinese automakers, which accounted for more than half of all electric car sales in 2023, could add to downward pressure on purchase prices. 

IEA also underscored the vitality of ensuring the availability of public charging slots to maintain the steady growth of the electric car market globally. 

According to the report, the number of public charging points installed globally was up 40 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, and growth for fast chargers outpaced that of slower ones. 

However, IEA added that charging networks globally need to grow sixfold by 2035 to meet the level of electric vehicle deployment in line with the pledges made by governments. 

“At the same time, policy support and careful planning are essential to make sure greater demand for electricity from charging does not overstretch electricity grids,” concluded the report.