Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

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Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to unveil a new tourism strategy this year utilizing artificial intelligence and seamless technology, according to a top official.

Speaking to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum 2024, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, noted that the plan seeks to maximize the Kingdom’s assets including culture, history, heritage and hospitality.

“Right now, the ministry, under the leadership of his excellency, is developing the new strategy, and that new strategy is going to include several new things, such as the use of AI, for instance, seamless and many other technologies that are important for growth,” Manzo said.

She added: “(The) strategy, hopefully is going to be released this year and is going to be shared with the world. The strategy that we have right now was developed in 2019. We accomplished the milestone of the 100 million tourists, domestic and international, seven years ahead (of schedule).”

Manzo also discussed the importance of sustainability so people are still “enjoying” the world today while ensuring resources are preserved for future use

This concept involves multiple facets, including economic, environmental, and social considerations.

“For 30 years, we have been measuring and that’s why we know that 10 percent of the global gross domestic product before the pandemic (came from travel and tourism), and we’re going to reach that number this year again,” Manzo said.

She added that before the COVID-19 outbreak there were 330 million jobs in the industry, adding: “This year, we’re hoping to break a record with 348 million. One out of 10 jobs depends on this sector, so the economic aspect is very clear. The social aspect also is quite interesting — 54 percent women, 30 percent youth.”

Manzo emphasized the positive social impacts of travel and tourism, such as poverty reduction and the prevention of illegal migration by providing local job opportunities.

Despite these benefits, there had been a lack of clear measurement regarding the sustainability of this industry.

However, a significant study sponsored by Saudi Arabia, particularly by Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb and the ministry, addressed this gap.

Released last year, this provided comprehensive insights into the environmental impact of travel and tourism, revealing that 8.1 percent of greenhouse emissions are attributable to this sector.

“Now that we know that, then we can go industry by industry to understand what is the impact, and from that 8 percent, 47 percent is due to transportation and it could be aviation, it can be road, it can be cruising all the different aspects,” she said.

Manzo added: “Now, the reality is that aviation counts between 1.5 and 2 percent of the global emissions. But as I said in the panel, we cannot see this in an isolated approach. We need to see this from a holistic point of view. We need to understand what are the quick wins.”

Therefore, she noted that this does not mean stopping flying is the solution, as it has “very severe consequences.”

She said: “Millions of people can lose their jobs. We saw that during the pandemic, travel provides food on the table to millions of people from around the world. That’s a factor that we have to consider.” 

Mazo stated that the right approach should be finding ways to travel in a more sustainable way, as she referred to a statement by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman ,when he said that the Kingdom is leading this transition.

Furthermore, the adviser stressed the importance of the Future Aviation Forum as it reflects the significance of connectivity within and outside the Kingdom as emphasized by Al-Khateeb on the first day.

“We need to increase the connectivity within the Kingdom, to the Kingdom and of course outside in order to increase the trade and do business and have more exports, more imports, and all of the above,” she stated.

Manzo continued: “In that regard it is very important to continue with the partnerships, not only at the destination level, but also at the corporate level and with the different entities, with the government. Without transport, we don’t have tourism, and tourism is very important for transport also to grow.”

 

 

 


Oil Updates – prices set for second week of gains on signs demand improving

Updated 21 June 2024
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Oil Updates – prices set for second week of gains on signs demand improving

NEW YORK/SINGAPORE: Crude oil futures were little changed on Friday but were set to rise for a second week amid signs of improving demand and falling oil and fuel inventories in the US, the world’s biggest oil consumer, according to Reuters.

Brent futures for August settlement dipped 15 cents to $85.56 a barrel by 6:56 a.m. Saudi time after rising 0.8 percent in the previous session.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures for August delivery was down 14 cents to $81.15 per barrel.

The July contract expired on Thursday at $82.17 a barrel, up 0.7 percent.

Prices have risen about 5 percent since the beginning of the month to the highest level in over seven weeks.

“The seasonal demand increase, as shown by the latest EIA (US Energy Information Administration) data, renewed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, and the hurricane season could sustain price strength into the summer,” Citi analysts said in a note.

US government data released on Thursday showed total product supplied, a proxy for the country’s demand, rose by 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) on the week to 21.1 million bpd.

The data from the EIA showed drawdown in US crude stockpiles by 2.5 million barrels in the week ending June 14 to 457.1 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a 2.2 million-barrel draw.

Gasoline inventories fell by 2.3 million barrels to 231.2 million barrels, the EIA said, compared with forecasts for a 600,000-barrel build.​

Demand prospects elsewhere also helped push prices higher.

“Signs of stronger demand in Asia also boosted sentiment. Oil refineries across the region are bringing back some idled capacity after maintenance,” analysts at ANZ Research said.

Data released on Friday showed Japan’s core consumer prices last month gained 2.5 percent from a year earlier, growing from the previous month and keeping the country’s central bank on track to raise interest rates in the coming months.

Weighing on prices were US data released on Thursday that showed a decline in new unemployment claims, which may lead the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates unchanged. Higher interest rates typically limit economic growth and, in turn, oil demand.


Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich

Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Switzerland are poised to deepen cooperation in finance and economics as top officials convened for the 4th Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue in Zurich.    

The event, inaugurated by Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, focused on enhancing macroeconomic outlooks, fostering international multilateral cooperation, and advancing specific bilateral economic initiatives.    

It comes against the backdrop of a robust trade relationship between the countries. In 2023, Saudi Arabia exported $810.67 million worth of goods to Switzerland, while Swiss exports to the Kingdom totaled $6.77 billion, according to the UN’s international trade database.   

“The Saudi-Swiss relations have been growing for more than six decades, and our meeting ... for the 4th Saud-Swiss Financial Dialogue in Zurich embodies the two nations’ keenness to deepen cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland in various fields, most notably in finance and economics,” Al-Jadaan said in a post on X a day before the event.   

“Today, I was pleased to inaugurate the 4th Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue with the participation of the Head of the Federal Department of Finance & Vice President of the Swiss Federal Council, Ms. Karin Keller-Sutter. I emphasized on the Kingdom’s aspiration to explore new areas and markets that would deepen the existing cooperation between the two nations,” the minister added in another post.

In February, a high-profile delegation of Swiss business leaders visited Saudi Arabia to explore burgeoning trade and investment prospects in the Kingdom.   

Guy Parmelin, a Swiss Federal Councillor and head of the Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, led the delegation at the time.  

In an interview with Arab News during his visit, Parmelin highlighted the robust growth in trade between Switzerland and Saudi Arabia in recent years. “Swiss companies are very interested in investing in the Kingdom,” he added.   

He emphasized the eagerness of the accompanying business delegation to capitalize on Saudi Arabia’s rapidly transforming economic landscape.   

In November 2022, during an official visit to Riyadh, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer met with his Saudi counterpart, Al-Jadaan, and they signed a cooperation agreement to inaugurate the third Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue.   

Lauding the strength of the Saudi economy, Maurer stressed the importance of bilateral dialogues in developing economic activities in both countries and strengthening Switzerland’s role as a strategic partner for the Kingdom in achieving the goals of Vision 2030. 


Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

  • Pakistan released tax-heavy budget last week which investors believe will strengthen case for new IMF bailout
  • Market breached 78,000 level for first time during intraday trade as it reopened after five-day break on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, driven by expectations last week’s budget will strengthen the case for a new bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The government’s budget was welcomed by investors as it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

The market extended its post-budget rally on Thursday when it reopened after a five-day break, which included a public holiday, and breached the key 78,000 level for the first time during intraday trade.

Foreign portfolio investment in the market is at the highest in almost ten years, with inflows of $83 million as of June 14, data compiled by Topline Securities and JS Global Capital showed.

Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Topline Securities, said that a statement from credit rating agency Fitch that the budget would strengthen the prospects for an IMF deal would help to bring more foreign inflows.

The benchmark share index is up 26.2 percent year to date and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed a nine-month standby arrangement with the IMF last summer.

“Pakistani equity investors are driving the PSX higher, continuing to unlock valuations on better sentiment, which is a trend that began when Pakistan signed its last IMF deal last summer,” said Amreen Soorani, head of research at JS Global Capital.

“The trend paused briefly on anticipation of stricter capital gains taxes, which did not materialize,” she said, adding that the index is trading at a four times price to earnings ratio despite the recent rally and offers attractive dividend yields.

The financial sector was up 4.4 percent, with banks like UBL, HBL, MCB, Bank Alfalah, Habib Metropolitan Bank, Allied Bank, up more than 4 percent.

Adnaan Sheikh, assistant vice president of research at Pak Kuwait Investment Company, said that foreign investor interest and the central bank’s decision to cut its key rate by 150 basis points last week — its first rate cut in nearly four years — had pushed the market up.

Apart from the capital gains tax, analysts said the budget and other revenue measures were in line with expectations and key to sealing a new IMF program. This will include a challenging tax target of a near-40 percent jump from the current year and a sharp drop in the fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.

Sheikh said the strict budgetary measures to secure new IMF funding will be likely to attract more foreign investors to the market, in addition to the current inflows.

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament is set to meet later on Thursday to debate the budget that the government presented last week. 


Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

Updated 20 June 2024
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Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state-backed initiatives, including NEOM and Vision 2030, are driving growth in the construction sector, attracting substantial domestic and international investments, an analysis showed.    

In its latest report, global consultancy firm Turner & Townsend highlighted that the construction activities are also driven by the Kingdom’s preparations for EXPO 2030 and the 2034 FIFA World Cup.   

This comes as Saudi Arabia emerged as the leader in global construction activity for the first quarter, with the Kingdom having $1.5 trillion of projects in the pipeline, according to a report released earlier this month by real estate services firm JLL. 

The JLL analysis further highlighted that the Kingdom accounted for a 39 percent share of the total construction projects in the Middle East and North Africa region, valued at $3.9 trillion. 

“The stand-out story is the accelerated development of Saudi Arabia, where vast ambitions are being realized via projects like The Line, King Salman Park and Diriyah Gate,” said Mark Hamill, director and head of Middle East real estate and major programs, at Turner & Townsend.   

The Line is a linear smart city currently under construction in Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion megacity NEOM, while King Salman Park is a 4102-acre large-scale public park and urban district which is being developed in Riyadh.   

The report highlighted that despite political uncertainties, substantial investments are driving growth in the Gulf region as countries seek to diversify beyond traditional energy sources.  

This occurs against the backdrop of Turner & Townsend ranking the Kingdom as the 19th most expensive country for construction globally, contrasting sharply with the US, which dominated the top 10 list. 

The report further noted that construction cost inflation in Riyadh is easing from the highs of 7.0 percent seen in 2023, but is forecasted to remain high at 5.0 percent through 2024.   

The analysis also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to attract global corporate occupiers through its Regional Headquarters Program.  

It added: “This scheme encourages companies to launch offices in Saudi Arabia and there are cost advantages to office investment with an average high-rise central business district office in Riyadh costing a relatively low $2,266 per sq. m.”   

The UK-based company also pointed out that Saudi Arabia is also facing a shortage of skilled labor which is crucial to materialize and fulfill construction activities as planned.   

“Skilled labor shortages are also keeping costs elevated as Saudi Arabia suffers from a distinct shortage of skilled labor that is vital to deliver its most ambitious programs. The talent and resources needed for giga-projects in the country are also stretching overall supply chain capacity across the Middle East,” said the report.     

Regional insight  

According to the report, Qatar’s capital city Doha is the second most expensive market in the region at $2,096 per sq. m.   

However, following the high output in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, construction cost inflation is projected to fall from 3.5 percent in 2023 to 2.5 percent in 2024, the study said.   

On the other hand, Dubai has an average cost to build of $1,874 per sq. m., supported by high tourism activity and residential sector development.  

“The UAE has been a hotspot for tourism in the region in recent years and its relatively low cost of construction, when compared with Western markets, still makes it an attractive place to build the hubs and amenities for international visitors,” said the report.     

It added: “In Dubai, residential development is buoying the local market as the city aims to support its growing population. Its attractiveness as a market is bolstered by its comparably low cost of construction.”   

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi is the fourth most expensive market in the Middle East at $1,844.2 per sq. m.   

Hamill noted that there are considerable real estate opportunities in the UAE and Qatar as inflation cools.   

He added: “Nevertheless, with labor capacity being stretched across the region, clients will need to review their procurement and contracting models to help mitigate supply chain disruption and maximize the potential opportunities on offer.”   

Global outlook  

The report revealed that construction pipelines globally are set to grow this year, but skill shortage could remain a major concern.   

“The global real estate market is emerging from a challenging period of inflationary pressures, volatility and disruption. Our sector has proved resilient, and a focus on building new approaches to procurement and supply chain development to drive efficiency and productivity is opening new opportunities across many markets,” said Neil Bullen, managing director, global real estate at Turner & Townsend.   

He added: “Clients need to understand where labor bottlenecks may constrain their capital investment programs and work collaboratively with the supply chain to understand how best to mitigate the risk to delivery.”   

The US dominated the rankings of the most expensive places to build, with six cities from the country grabbing their spots in the top 10 list.   

New York retained its position as the most expensive market to build in for the second year running at an average cost of $5,723 per sq. m., closely followed by San Francisco at $5,489.   

Zurich came in the third spot as it surpassed Geneva in the ranking with an average cost of $5,035 per sq. m. Geneva, which came in the fourth spot, averaged $5,022 per sq. m.   

US cities Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Chicago came in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots respectively in the list.   

From Asia, Hong Kong came in the ninth spot with an average cost of $4,500, followed by London at $4,473.   

The report also highlighted that implementing technology in the construction sector could help overcome various challenges faced by the industry.   

“Accelerating digitalization also presents a huge opportunity, but this requires us to keep up with the demand for skilled labor, and persistent shortages risk constraining potential growth,” said Bullen.   

He added: “As interest rate cuts become an increasing possibility for many markets, and pent-up investor appetite can be unlocked, capacity could be tested still further.” 


Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn

Updated 20 June 2024
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Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn

RIYADH: The cumulative credit balance in the UAE’s business and industrial sectors rose to 757.4 billion dirhams ($206.2 billion) in the first quarter of the year, up from 741.8 billion dirhams at the end of 2023.

A release from the Central Bank of the UAE showed that credit facilities extended just by the country’s national banks to these sectors reached 15.6 billion dirhams in the three months of the year.

Comparing month-on-month figures, the credit balance saw a rise of 9.3 billion dirhams in March compared to the previous month, reflecting a steady upward trend in lending activities, the Emirates News Agency said.

Year-on-year, the sectors experienced a substantial 3.02 percent increase in credit availability, amounting to 22.2 billion dirhams from 735.2 billion dirhams in March 2023, showcasing sustained financial support over the past year.

National banks emerged as the primary financiers, contributing 841.7 billion dirhams or 90 percent of the combined credit balance for these sectors by the end of the first quarter of 2024, according to WAM.

In contrast, foreign banks held a smaller share, providing 84.3 billion dirhams, highlighting the dominant role of domestic financial institutions in driving economic growth.

Geographically, Abu Dhabi-based banks played a significant role by extending credit amounting to 374.1 billion dirhams, while Dubai-based banks provided 363.3 billion dirhams. 

Additional Emirates banks collectively contributed 104.3 billion dirhams to support business and industrial activities during the same period, underscoring the balanced regional distribution of financial resources.

In terms of banking preferences, conventional financial institutes continued to be the preferred choice for credit financing, accounting for approximately 694 billion dirhams or 82.5 percent of the total credit extended to the trade and industry sectors by March 2024. 

Islamic banks, reflecting their growing influence in the financial sector, contributed approximately 147.7 billion dirhams, constituting 17.5 percent of the financing provided, reflecting their expanding role in catering to diverse financial needs.

In 2023, the UAE’s industrial sector alone contributed $54 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, up 9 percent compared to 2022 figures.     

The boost was attributed to four main pillars, including providing a business-friendly environment that supports the growth and attractiveness of UAE firms, the Emirates News Agency reported.