Saudi boom from pilgrims, leisure and business visitors

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The view from the Edge of the World north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, part of the Tuwaiq escarpment. (Shutterstock)
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Coral reef in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 July 2019

Saudi boom from pilgrims, leisure and business visitors

  • Travelers from US, UAE and UK top list for travel demand into the Kingdom in 2018, Expedia says

LONDON: Saudi hotels are expected to benefit from an upswing in tourism, driven by pilgrims as well as leisure and business visitors, according to bookings website Expedia.

Travelers from the US, UAE and UK topped the list for travel demand into the Kingdom in 2018, the company said. The US saw more than 110 percent year-on-year growth in demand compared to the same period in 2017 with almost 45 percent share of total room nights, while UAE visitors grew 140 percent accounting for almost a fifth of total room nights.

The data also revealed strong growth in package demand from travelers in India and Spain, both growing 200 percent on a year earlier. “Major hotel groups are driving construction trends across the country as they aim to meet the demands of an ever-increasing number of domestic tourists and international visitors,” said Paula de Keijzer, a regional senior director of market management at Expedia Group.

Saudi Arabia plans to open up its tourism sector to international tourists as part of its economic reform agenda, which also includes major investments in new resorts along the Red Sea coastline such as the 30,000 square km NEOM mega project.

Real estate consultancy Colliers expects international arrivals to Saudi Arabia to increase by about 5.6 percent annually from 17.7 million in 2018 to 23.3 million in 2023.The growth is expected to be driven by religious tourism, with the aim of extending pilgrim visits. The Kingdom aims to attract 30 million pilgrims by 2030, an increase of 11 million from the 19 million Hajj and Umrah pilgrims in 2017.

Despite expectations for rising visitor numbers, hotels remain under short-term pressure as new room supply awaits expected future demand. 

More than 5,000 keys are forecast to be delivered to the market by 2022, according to CBRE’s market snapshot as more international chains open properties.

Among the most recent arrivals is China’s Oyo Hotels & Homes, which has struck an initial agreement with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund to open 50 hotels across seven cities.

It is also establishing two training schools in Riyadh and Jeddah to train Saudi graduates in hotel management.

Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

Updated 19 September 2019

Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

  • Hit by US sanctions, Huawei's Mate 30 will not be allowed to use Google’s Play Store
  • Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
BERLIN: Chinese tech giant Huawei launches its latest high-end smartphone in Munich on Thursday, the first that could be void of popular Google apps because of US sanctions.
Observers are asking whether a phone without the Silicon Valley software that users have come to depend on can succeed, or whether Huawei will have found a way for buyers to install popular apps despite the constraints.
The company has maintained a veil of secrecy over its plans, set to be dropped at a 1200 GMT press conference revealing the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro models.
Huawei, targeted directly by the United States as part of a broader trade conflict with Beijing, was added to a “blacklist” in Washington in May.
Since then, it has been illegal for American firms to do business with the Chinese firm, suspected of espionage by President Donald Trump and his administration.
As a result, the new Mate will run on a freely available version of Android, the world’s most-used phone operating system that is owned by the search engine heavyweight.
While Mate 30 owners will experience little difference in the use of the system, the lack of Google’s Play Store — which provides access to hundreds of thousands of third-party apps and games as well as films, books and music — could hobble them.
Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
The tech press reports that this yawning gap in functionality has left some sellers reluctant to stock the new phones, fearing a wave of rapid-fire returns from dissatisfied customers.
Huawei president Richard Yu said at Berlin’s IFA electronics fair this month that his engineers found a “very simple” way to install the hottest apps without going via the Play Store.
Huawei could offer its own app store in a preliminary version, setting itself up as a competitor to the dominant Apple and Google offerings, observers speculate.
Over the longer term, the company could build out a similar “ecosystem” of devices, apps and services as the Silicon Valley companies that would bind users more closely to it.
The world’s second-largest smartphone maker after Samsung, Huawei earlier this month presented its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS, a potential replacement for Android.
The Mate 30 will not yet have HarmonyOS installed.
But it could make for a new round in the decades-old “OS wars” between Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS, then Android versus Apple’s iOS.
Meanwhile, Eric Xu, current holder of Huawei’s rotating chief executive chair, has urged Europe to foster an alternative to Google and Apple.
That could provide an opening for Huawei to build up Europe’s market of 500 million well-off consumers as a stronghold against American rivals.
“If Europe had its own ecosystem for smart devices, Huawei would use it... that would resolve the problem of European digital dependency” on the United States, Xu told German business daily Handelsblatt.
He added that his company would be prepared to invest in developing such joint European-Chinese projects.