Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in

Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in
This file photo shows the venue where the Quality of Life Program 2020 conference was held in Riyadh on May 3. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2018

Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in

Conference call: Meetings and events are big business and Saudi Arabia is well placed to cash in
  • Saudi Arabia, as a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), is working relentlessly for the growth of this industry
  • KSA is very keen to create unique and sustainable business events based on its strengths, competitive advantage: SECB chief

RIYADH: With the announcement of Vision 2030, the public and private sectors in the Kingdom have swung into action to achieve the ultimate goal of diversifying the economy of the country, which until now heavily relies on oil revenues.
The Saudi Vision 2030 has set in motion a massive plan for socioeconomic reforms. All the sectors in the Kingdom are following a three-step strategy to achieve their shared goals: Reforms, increased productivity and finally enhanced competitiveness. 

An important sector that is growing by leaps and bounds in the Kingdom is the meetings and event industry. Since the announcement of the reforms, the importance of this industry has increased manifold, as the country is experiencing a boom in the number of conferences and exhibitions. 

Saudi Arabia, as a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), is working relentlessly for the growth of this industry.

The Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB) has also initiated “the Envoy Program” to recruit envoys in government agencies, associations, chambers and federations to help these bodies engage with international organizations, discuss partnership opportunities and to attract business events to the Kingdom. The aim of this program and many other initiatives is to transform Saudi Arabia into a regional and global meeting hub.

Commenting on the growth of the Saudi meetings industry, ICCA Regional Director Senthil Gopinath said:

“The meetings industry does not grow in a vacuum. It is linked to business activities, especially international, and the development of the local association, scientific and health care communities. It also depends on the importance of a country as a market. Sometimes growth in meetings industry infrastructure and capacity follows these wider trends, sometimes, thanks to strong government leadership or visionary companies, it can work as a catalyst. Anyone paying attention to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia will be aware that there is a huge amount of change taking place. Saudi Arabia is really getting serious about meetings industry developments. 

SECB CEO Tariq Al-Essa told Arab News: “We cannot compare the UAE or Dubai with Saudi Arabia in terms of numbers of business events or the size of the industry; Saudi demand and supply on the meetings industry is much bigger and stable with high potential powered by Saudi Vision 2030.” 

Al-Essa said four Saudi cities — Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah and the Eastern Province — have huge potential, as they are almost 15 times bigger than the UAE in size and much more populated than the Gulf emirate.

“Moreover, these four provinces combined are way bigger in terms of economy, infrastructure, number of professionals, number of international airports, hotels, international visitors as well as heritage and antiquities,” he said. 

In 2017, the SECB chief said, more than 10,000 business events were held in these provinces in more than 400 different venues like hotels, conference and convention centers.

Al-Essa said currently, the demand in the Saudi meetings industry is organic; and it is growing organically because of the demand to conduct business events organized by official associations, federations, chambers, public and private corporations, universities and event management companies. 

“Therefore, the demand for business events is a reaction to the Saudi economy supported by infrastructure expansions, incentives and facilitation to the meetings industry. In contrast, other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council tend to interfere by buying and biding for events; thus the demand is not driven by economy, but more likely driven by tourism,” he added.

However, he said, many GCC countries are doing well in this area and increasingly progressing faster than Saudi Arabia.

“Although Saudi Arabia is starting to bid for international business events, the Kingdom is also very keen to create unique and sustainable business events based on its strengths, competitive advantage. There are plenty of opportunities to create or attract all types of business events in many economic sectors in Saudi Arabia including water desalination, oil production, power, petrochemicals, mining, logistics, sports, tourism, Hajj and Umrah services, Islamic finance, countering terrorism and of course, dates production.”

The Saudi meetings industry faces many obstacles and challenges. When the SECB was launched in September 2013, it identified the major obstacles to the Saudi meetings industry growth, including regulatory, accessibility, competency, sustainability, non-availability of information and marketing.

The SECB, he said, worked hard to remove those obstacles and has achieved great results. 


Saudi crown prince donates SR100 million to charities, pays debts of 150 insolvent prisoners

Saudi crown prince donates SR100 million to charities, pays debts of 150 insolvent prisoners
Updated 19 min 12 sec ago

Saudi crown prince donates SR100 million to charities, pays debts of 150 insolvent prisoners

Saudi crown prince donates SR100 million to charities, pays debts of 150 insolvent prisoners
  • SR87 million to be distributed to support 29 charities in all regions of the Kingdom
  • SR13 million will be allocated to paying the debts of more than 150 insolvent prisoners

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to donate SR100 million ($26.6 million) to charity and paying off debts of those imprisoned for financial crimes, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday.
The sum will be split in two, with SR87 million to be distributed to support 29 charities in all regions of the Kingdom within the next few days, while SR13 million will be allocated to paying the debts of more than 150 insolvent prisoners to be released and returned to their families on Thursday.
The move comes under the umbrella of the Sanad Mohammed Bin Salman Social Enterprise Program to support the charitable services of eight groups, including women’s charitable societies, as well as charities for people with disabilities, cancer care, care of widows and divorcees, orphan care, Down Syndrome, health services, and care of the elderly.
Each association will receive financial support for developmental programs that rely on training, qualification, support and sustainability.
The debts of more than 150 insolvent prisoners will be paid off due to their inability to pay as they are prisoners of special rights, according to specific controls, provided that the amount owed by the prisoner has not been exploited in unlawful matters, and are not involved in criminal cases.
“Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s continued support for non-profit work in the Kingdom reflects his unlimited interest in humanitarian work and supporting all groups of the non-profit sector according to mechanisms and limitations included in the Mohammed bin Salman Charitable Project, which is affiliated with the Sanad Program,” SPA said.
The governance of support for charities is represented through several stages to ensure high efficiency in spending and direct access to the most needy beneficiaries, including studying and evaluating associations’ programs and the extent of benefit achieved to the beneficiaries.
This is done through direct support represented in financial aid, providing equipment and treatment, or through sustainable programs, such as training and rehabilitation courses for orphans, persons with disabilities, children of needy families, and widows and divorcees, to enable them to enter the labor market and find sources of income.
The crown prince provided SR100 million four years ago, benefiting 102,000 beneficiaries including orphans, people with disabilities, cancer patients, the elderly, widows, divorcees, young men and women who are about to marry, and needy families. It was distributed among 70 charitable societies in all regions of the Kingdom, through the Mohammed bin Salman Charitable Project.
Over the past years, the crown prince’s donations have contributed in supporting the charitable sector and improving the services provided, and has aided a large number of beneficiaries.


A Saudi actress personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
Updated 39 min 2 sec ago

A Saudi actress personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
  • Sumaya Rida is a rising star of Saudi Arabia’s fledgling domestic film industry, empowered by the Vision 2030 agenda  
  • Rida wants more investment in Saudi writers, producers and directors to share the Kingdom’s stories with the world

DUBAI: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia just three years ago, when a 35-year ban was finally lifted. Since then, movie theaters have been springing up across the Kingdom, invigorating the domestic film industry and inspiring a growing cast of homegrown actors.

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em” — among the first films to premiere in the Kingdom after legalization.

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew what was her true calling. “I also used to make short films with my little sisters and brothers using my father’s Sony camera,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.

“I actually acted and directed short films when I was 12 years old. I loved how the whole family would gather to watch what I made, and to me it meant the whole world at that time, and filled me with passion.”

Saudi-born actress Sumaya Rida moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. (Supplied)

The Saudi-born actress moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. Even while completing an MSc in international marketing management at the University of Surrey, Rida kept up acting on the side, appearing in several commercials.

Following her studies, she spent five years in the world of business, but all the while felt a profound longing for the stage and screen. It took a chance encounter to set her on the right track.

“After working so much in the ruthless business world, I stumbled one day on Ali Al-Sumayin, a well-known, award-winning Saudi film and commercial director, who led me to the world of performing again,” Rida said.

While visiting Al-Sumayin at his office in Jeddah in 2017, Rida took part in an acting class. The familiar adrenaline rush of performing before an audience quickly came flooding back.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” she said. “I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach that day and I had this nostalgic feeling, so I told him I wanted a part in a show.”

Soon enough, Rida had recorded an audition and landed her first role. To prepare, she signed up for an intensive four-month acting course and one-to-one coaching with respected Turkish instructors, as advanced acting courses were not yet available in Saudi Arabia.

“In the Kingdom, we didn’t have any institutions for acting or performance training, so I had to do it the fast way,” Rida said.

“Every actor should have mentors, because they always direct you and show you different perspectives.”

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew that acting was her true calling. (Supplied)

Today, Rida performs in both English and Arabic. For one show she had to master the bedouin accent. “It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but it was fun,” she said.

Her latest project is a movie called “Rupture,” a Saudi-made psychological thriller directed by Hamzah Kamal Jamjoom, produced by Ayman Kamal Khoja and funded by MBC Studios.

Playing the lead, Rida portrays the journey of a Saudi woman struggling to save her marriage, and ultimately her life, from a villain with a twisted mind.

“I played against Billy Zane from ‘Titanic’ who is both a wonderful human being and a tremendously talented actor,” she said.

“The movie intelligently incorporated a few powerful themes in its thrilling narrative. One of these was about standing up for your own cultural values, even when relocating to another country.

“Another was about the importance of privacy and the dangers of oversharing on social media, and the third was about the concept of striking a balance between co-dependency and individual freedom in a marriage.”

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For Rida, the most important part of the project was having the opportunity to play a strong, independent Muslim woman, standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs.

“It is honestly an honor and a rare opportunity to work with such gifted Saudi filmmakers and producers on this project,” she said.

“I’ve enjoyed Hamzah’s direction. His positive energy and passion were infectious. We will hopefully finish filming after Ramadan. I can’t wait to share this film. I’m excited because it’s one of the very few Saudi feature films that recognizes the struggles of Saudi women.”

The strict social codes and gender segregation of a much more conservative era meant that Saudi actresses were rare when Rida was growing up. Support from her family has been crucial, but so has been the opening up of Saudi society.

“The timing was very good because I started when Vision 2030 was taking place and I was going with it,” Rida said.

Under the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil, the Kingdom has placed greater emphasis on the arts, opportunities for young people and the social and economic empowerment of women.

Saudi Arabia has placed greater emphasis on the arts and opportunities for young people, and lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in the Kingom three years ago. (AFP/File Photo)

As a result, Saudi women are finding their voices and discovering their strengths — a journey Rida says she found key to becoming a professional actress.

“This helped me to understand myself. I wanted to tell stories. We have a lot of stories here in Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to feel, to be able to emote, to risk and share, and to be courageous and vulnerable as an artist. This is very fulfilling.

“The real fulfilment also lies in overcoming all the limitations that have been placed on humanity.

“I discovered that performing is a very fun thing. It’s very nurturing, fulfilling and it feeds the soul and your inner self.”

As an artist, Rida is still on a journey of self-discovery and building her confidence on camera. She hopes to try new characters, to help her develop “naturally and sincerely, because acting is a continuous process — we keep learning and evolving constantly.”

As for her country, Rida says she is thrilled to see so many changes taking place and to be part of a new wave of young actors and filmmakers shaking up the Saudi film industry. “This makes me very happy and optimistic,” she said, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.

As investment into nurturing talent in the Kingdom grows under Vision 2030, Sumaya Rida believes the future of Saudi filmmaking is a bright one. (AFP/File Photo)

“I see very passionate actors every now and then, but I really believe that we need to work on ourselves more than we think. It’s not just getting a degree in performing or acting and that’s it — it’s a continuous process.”

Rida also hopes to see more young Saudis coming forward to share their stories with the world. “We need to not only invest in actors but invest more in writers, producers and directors, because it’s not the job of one person alone,” she said.

“Acting is not only the actor you see on the screen. Behind that there is a huge production.”

Without investment, training and opportunities, this potential cannot be mastered. The raw ingredient, nevertheless, is talent — of which the new Saudi Arabia has in abundance.

“It’s unlimited,” said Rida. “It’s infinite and it keeps evolving.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi Arabia confirms 14 COVID-19 deaths, 1,090 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 14 COVID-19 deaths, 1,090 new cases
Updated 20 min 13 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirms 14 COVID-19 deaths, 1,090 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 14 COVID-19 deaths, 1,090 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 982 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • The highest number of cases were recorded in Riyadh with 402

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 14 new COVID-19 related deaths on Thursday, raising the total number of fatalities to 7,032.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 1,090 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 423,406 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 9,785 remain active and 1,333 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 402, followed by Makkah with 288, the Eastern Province with 136, Madinah recorded 57 and Asir confirmed 43 cases.
The ministry also announced that 982 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 406,589.

The ministry renewed its call on the public to register to receive the vaccine, and adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
More than 10 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered across Saudi Arabia through 587 centers, the health ministry said on Thursday. 
The ministry added that fully-equipped centers have witnessed a large turnout, and citizens and residents can easily book an appointment through the Sehaty app.
It added that all sides, especially the private sector, are providing the vaccine for free, as part of their contribution to the national inoculation campaign.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 156 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 3.26 million.


Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister
Updated 06 May 2021

Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

MAKKAH: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, the president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, on Wednesday received the Sudanese minister of culture and information, Hamzah Balloul, in Makkah.

During the meeting, Al-Sudais highlighted the determination of the Saudi leadership to provide a safe environment and well-organized service system for worshippers and visitors to the Two Holy Mosques, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

He also noted the strength of relations between Saudi Arabia and Sudan based on common religious and cultural values, as well as similar stances on regional and international issues.

As part of his trip, Balloul went to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah where he performed prayers, and on Tuesday toured the King Abdul Aziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa in Makkah to witness the various stages of manufacturing the kiswa. He also visited an exhibition on the architecture of the Two Holy Mosques.


Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

JEDDAH: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most talented students are taking part in one of the world’s biggest scientific competitions, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF 2021).
Backed in the remotely held US-based competition by the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), 30 Saudi students are competing alongside 1,800 others from more than 75 countries.
To prepare and hone their skills ahead of the competition, the Saudi students took part in a training camp in Riyadh, where they are now competing in the event, which ends on Thursday.
The team is taking part in research projects in the fields of energy, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, viruses, environmental security, aquaculture and desert farming.
Several students previously took part in the 11th National Olympics for Scientific Creativity, one of 19 different programs provided by Mawhiba each year to talented students across the Kingdom.
Training was delivered by a selection of Saudi and US experts from various disciplines.
The six-day camp included a training workshop on delivery skills in partnership with the Al-Elqa Training Center in Riyadh, to prepare members of the Saudi team for ISEF 2021 and hone their presentation abilities.
During ISEF 2021, the Saudi students are presenting their scientific projects to members of a jury committee for judging.
Members of the scientific committee and jury hold a series of individual interviews with students to review and provide scientific support to projects.
Within the Saudi student group, 21 male and nine female students went through training before reaching the competition.
They were selected as part of a larger group from 51,000 students across the Kingdom after their work was reviewed. About 150 of the students then took part in the Ibdaa 2021 fair. The 35 winners were honored by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal last March, after which the top 30 projects were selected to represent the Kingdom at ISEF.
Saudi Arabia, represented by Mawhiba, is taking part in ISEF 2021 as a major sponsor and will also present a special award for the best projects involved in the field of energy. It is the 15th year in a row that outstanding Saudi students are taking part in the international science fair.
Saudi students have so far won a total of 48 grand prizes and 27 special prizes in the competition. These included eight awards in 2020, including five grand prizes and three special prizes. Mawhiba also provides special international awards in the competition. So far, 79 prizes have been awarded by Mawhiba to 97 students from 20 countries. ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science fair, first taking place in 1950.