Saudi Arabia reveals massive push to drive pilgrim tourism

Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund is establishing two new companies to increase the number of pilgrimsthat the kingdom can host. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 October 2017
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Saudi Arabia reveals massive push to drive pilgrim tourism

LONDON: Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund is establishing two new companies to increase the number of pilgrims that the Kingdom can host in Makkah and Medina, the fund said in a statement on Monday.
The investment at the holy sites is aimed at boosting revenues from tourism and offsetting the impact of lower oil prices.
The Kingdom's Public Investment Fund (PIF) said the companies — Rou'a Al Haram and Rou'a Al Madinah — will develop residential and commercial areas around the Grand Mosque in Makkah and in Medina.
Initial preparation works are currently underway for both companies, with construction due to start in 2018. The first phase of the project is anticipated to launch in 2023.
The fund said that the new companies would help the Kingdom accommodate between 25 million to 30 million pilgrims a year. The companies will develop 150,000 hotel rooms in both cities near the holy sites.
Rou’a Al Haram aims to develop the areas around the Grand Mosque in Makkah and raise the quality of services in the local hospitality sector. The first phase of the company’s projects will cover an area of 854,000 square meters, delivering 115 buildings of various architectural designs. The company's first phase will also see the development of around 9,000 residential units, 360,000 square meters of commercial space and prayer areas for over 400,000 worshippers. The project is located around 1.4 kilometers from the Holy Kaaba, the fund said.
Rou’a Al Madinah – a company dedicated to increasing capacity for pilgrims and visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque – will develop a 1.3 million square meter site located about one kilometer from the east wing of the Prophet’s Mosque. The project will see the development of 500 new housing units, 80,000 hotel rooms, and increase the number of prayer areas to accommodate 200,000 worshippers per day.
Rou’a Al Madinah also aims to create a comprehensive system for pedestrian passages and update public transport stations.
The fund said the combined projects are set to generate around 200,000 job opportunities, with an estimated annual contribution to GDP of SR7 billion.
Tourism is a major focus of the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, which was unveiled in 2016.
The Kingdom’s National Transformation Program has earmarked approximately $8 billion for tourism projects across the country, including its recently announced Red Sea project, which aims to transform 50 islands for luxury tourism purposes.
The latest Saudi Commission for Tourism figures show that around 245,000 Saudis work in the tourism sector. The target is to boost that to 352,000 by 2020 and to see investment in tourism upped by $8 billion to reach nearly $46 billion.
Wes Schwalje, COO of Middle East consulting firm Tahseen Consulting, told Arab News, he expects Rou’a Al Madinah to bring a significant level of “international cache” to the Kingdom’s tourism development and promotion efforts.
He said: “It will be key to forming strategic partnerships with world-class partners to further develop medical tourism, build family-friendly world-class resorts and attractions, and build adventure and ecotourism offerings.
“Right now travel and tourism accounts for approximately 10 percent of GDP. Saudi Arabia is pursuing a two-track strategy to grow the sector by prolonging the stays of inbound international tourists and promoting more domestic tourism.”
Schwalje said, in the short term, domestic tourism is experiencing significant growth due to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage’s efforts to enhance domestic awareness programs of cultural heritage sites, support local artisans, and strengthen educational programs to build national identity. “All of these efforts are designed to provide more economic opportunities for Saudis and build thriving local economies in secondary cities,” he said.
On Sunday, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced he planned to invest in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project.
Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said, in what officials called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism.”
The Saudi Public Investment Fund will provide the initial investment into the Red Sea project, with construction slated to start in 2019.


Amazon workers strike as ‘Prime’ shopping frenzy hits

Updated 16 July 2019
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Amazon workers strike as ‘Prime’ shopping frenzy hits

  • The protesters waves signs with messages along the lines of “We’re human, not robots”
  • The strike was part of an ongoing effort to pressure the company on issues including job safety, equal opportunity in the workplace, and concrete action on issues including climate change

SAN FRANCISCO: Amazon workers walked out of a main distribution center in Minnesota on Monday, protesting for improved working conditions during the e-commerce titan’s major “Prime” shopping event.
Amazon workers picketed outside the facility, briefly delaying a few trucks and waving signs with messages along the lines of “We’re human, not robots.”
“We know Prime Day is a big day for Amazon, so we hope this strike will help executives understand how serious we are about wanting real change that will uplift the workers in Amazon’s warehouses,” striker Safiyo Mohamed said in a release.
“We create a lot of wealth for Amazon, but they aren’t treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve.”
Organizers did not disclose the number of strikers, who said employees picketed for about an hour in intense heat before cutting the protest short due to the onset of heavy rain.
The strike was part of an ongoing effort to pressure the company on issues including job safety, equal opportunity in the workplace, and concrete action on issues including climate change, according to community organization Awood Center.
US Democratic presidential contenders Kamila Harris and Bernie Sanders were among those who expressed support for the strikers on Twitter.
“I stand in solidarity with the courageous Amazon workers engaging in a work stoppage against unconscionable working conditions in their warehouses,” Sanders said in a tweet.
“It is not too much to ask that a company owned by the wealthiest person in the world treat its workers with dignity and respect.”
Amazon employees also went on strike at seven locations in Germany, demanding better wages as the US online retail giant launched its two-day global shopping discount extravaganza called Prime Day.
Amazon had said in advance that the strike would not affect deliveries to customers.
Amazon has consistently defended work conditions, contending it is a leader when it comes to paying workers at least $15 hourly and providing benefits.
The company last week announced plans to offer job training to around one-third of its US workforce to help them gain skills to adapt to new technologies.
Amazon has been hustling to offer one-day deliver on a wider array of products as a perk for paying $119 annually to be a member of its “Prime” service, which includes streaming films and television shows.
The work action came on the opening day of a major “Prime” shopping event started in 2015.
Now in 17 countries, the event will span Monday and Tuesday, highlighted by a pre-recorded Taylor Swift video concert and promotions across a range of products and services from the e-commerce leader.
Prime Day sales for Amazon are expected to hit $5 billion this year, up from $3.2 billion in 2018, which at the time represented its biggest ever global shopping event, JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth says in a research note.