Palestine hotel room count ‘to double’

Political artist Banksy — whose artworks sell for millions of dollars — opened his “Walled Off” hotel in Bethlehem earlier this year. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Palestine hotel room count ‘to double’

LONDON: Palestine’s hotel room count is set to double by the end of the decade.
Elias Al-Arjah, who is chairman of the Arab Hotel Association and the owner of The Bethlehem Hotel, predicts that the number of hotel rooms in the country will rise from 6,000 to 10,000 by 2020.
Speaking on the sidelines of London’s World Travel Market, Al-Arjah told Arab News: “In Bethlehem in 1994, before the peace process, we had 800 rooms, now we have 4,000 rooms. We are growing faster than our neighbors, such as Tel Aviv and Amman.”
The Arab Hotel Association (AHA) — which represents 120 hotels throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem — is tasked with promoting tourism to the region through events and marketing.
The AHA chairman said: “Most Palestinian tourism is religious, but there is about five percent of tourism which is cultural and historical.” Al-Arjah said that Palestine and Israel are “working together” to promote Jerusalem as a tourist site.
“When the tourists come, they come to see more than East Jerusalem, they want to see all of the holy sites. Business-wise, we are working together with Israel, even if there is very bad political conflict,” Al-Arjah said.
“Our area has been quiet and there has been no problems in the last three or four years — it has been a good situation. Thank God there is no conflict, so there are more tourists,” he said.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Palestine is the world’s fastest growing tourism destination. The country saw a 57.8 percent increase in international arrivals in the first half of this year, compared to the first half of 2016.
Earlier this year political artist Banksy — whose artworks sell for millions of dollars — opened his “Walled Off” hotel in Bethlehem. The hotel, which the artist described as having “the worst view of any hotel in the world,” exists both as a hotel and a museum space that explains the turbulent history of the region. Rooms start at $60 and go up to $965 for the presidential suite.


Breaking up is hard to do for GE, America’s industrial aristocrat

Updated 20 June 2018
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Breaking up is hard to do for GE, America’s industrial aristocrat

  • Experts question whether GE can survive in its present form much longer.
  • Company removed from Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday

DUBAI: You would not have noticed it from the self-confident assurance of GE’s executives last week, but their company — an aristocrat of the American business scene, a symbol of the power of US capitalism and a major partner of Saudi Arabia — is in serious trouble.
The 125-year-old company hosted journalists from around the world to showcase its expertise in power generation and distribution at major plants in the southern US, and it spun a persuasive story for GE to be regarded as a giant of the “digital industrial” universe.
GE is without doubt at the cutting edge of the power industry, from the gigantic monitoring walls in Atlanta, Georgia — where it can instantly diagnose problems at any one of nearly 1,000 plants in 76 countries — to the 3-D printing or “additive” facilities at Greenville, South Carolina, where it produces technology for the latest, most efficient and environmentally sound gas turbines.
But all the time there was a big elephant in the control centers, research labs and conference rooms: GE at group level is going through one of the most testing times in its history, with many experts questioning whether it can survive in its present form much longer.
Shareholders are in open revolt because the value of their investment has been halved in the past 12 months. Last year the dividend was cut for the first time since 1938 and only the second time in its history. Corporate debts are huge, and the company’s paper, once triple A-rated, is careering toward junk status.
The latest humiliation came on Tuesday when the company founded by Thomas Edison, the legendary technology entrepreneur and the inventor of the light-bulb, was kicked out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the 30-strong stock index of which it was an original constituent in 1896.
As recently as the 1990s, GE was America’s largest company by market capitalization, and less than 10 years ago was in the top five. Now it is ranked 44th by market size on the bigger S&P 500 index.
All this made the commitment of GE power executives all the more commendable, given the fact many of them are involved in pensions and savings schemes linked to the company’s plummeting shares.
The men and women who still proudly wear the GE badge were not willing to talk openly about the reasons for the company’s grand demise, or give their public views on what should be done to turn it around. Executives spoke of the need to make GE a “simpler, leaner” organization, especially regarding the big expensive group functions spawned by such a sprawling conglomerate.
But privately, they unanimously blamed the stewardship of former CEO Jeff Immelt, who a year ago stepped down from the job after nearly 16 tumultuous years. He is credited with getting GE through the difficult period after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the global financial crisis, but generally is reckoned to have made a bad job of managing and directing future growth.
Many of his acquisitions and disposals over those 16 years were badly timed and value-destructive; some have landed GE in regulatory investigations that could cost further billions of dollars in write-offs and charges.
As to the way forward, the current chief, John Flannery, seems to be considering what some big investors are openly advocating: A break-up of the sprawling GE portfolio into its still-valuable constituents, including the power business.
The four big divisions are power, health care, aviation engineering and oil services, and there may be some industrial logic for keeping them together. Technicians and engineers were keen to point out that there are significant synergies between the aircraft engines and turbines businesses, and that some of the X-ray machines developed by health care are also used in turbine diagnostics.
But faced with the investor onslaught, such marginal benefits may not be enough to justify holding the conglomerate together. Oil services, in particular — only recently added with the merger of Baker Hughes to GE’s existing energy business — looks like an odd man out.
All of this matters in Saudi Arabia because of the prominent role GE continues to play in the Gulf. It has been involved in Saudi Arabia almost since the Kingdom was founded, and is still a valued and respected industrial partner for Saudi Aramco and Saudi Electric, among others.
Journalists were reminded of this when Scott Strazik, the power services division chief executive, announced that GE is planning a big manufacturing program for gas turbines — perhaps including the latest model the 9HA — in Dammam in the Eastern Province, and was committed to creating 100 jobs for Saudi male and female workers there.
Saudi Arabia was a major partner in one of Immelt’s few successful deals — the $11.6 billion disposal of GE’s plastics business to SABIC
in 2007.
Might Saudi Arabia play a part again in what many observers regard as the inevitable break-up of GE? Executives in the southern US were tight-lipped on that, too, and, of course, it will be decided at GE’s Boston HQ and in Riyadh — if it gets that far.
But it is clear that all options are under consideration and nothing can be ruled out for GE in extremis. 
“Everything is on the table,” Flannery said recently.