Investment in Saudi Arabia offers ‘game-changing’ opportunities: Arab-British business conference

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Ernst and Young’s Carlos Adams highlighted why international firms should invest in Saudi Arabia and how SAGIA was able to help facilitate foreign investment. (AN Photo)
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Ernst and Young’s Carlos Adams highlighted why international firms should invest in Saudi Arabia and how SAGIA was able to help facilitate foreign investment. (AN Photo)
Updated 29 November 2019

Investment in Saudi Arabia offers ‘game-changing’ opportunities: Arab-British business conference

  • Ernst and Young’s Carlos Adams: ‘The Kingdom wants to attract and expand high-value investments and they have real priority sectors such as chemical and energy’
  • Carlos Adams: ‘Not only are they introducing more and more entertainment and tourism facilities, but there is also a leading financial sector there’

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is offering “game-changing” investment opportunities for international investors, a top adviser to the Kingdom told business leaders on Thursday.

Carlos Adams of Ernst and Young, the firm working with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), was speaking at a forum hosted by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce in London.

During his presentation at the “4th Industrial Revolution” conference, Adams highlighted why international firms should invest in Saudi Arabia and how SAGIA was able to help facilitate foreign investment.

“The Kingdom wants to attract and expand high-value investments and they have real priority sectors such as chemical and energy, but also tourism and leisure.

“There are many reasons to invest in Saudi Arabia. It has a young and really educated population and this is one of the reasons this project is exciting to us (at EY). They have got an integrated infrastructure and there are loads of game-changing opportunities.

“They are actively trying to market the ‘Invest in Saudi’ brand as well, you will see it everywhere, at every major expo around the world you will see the ‘Invest in Saudi’ branding,” he added.

Adams also described the Kingdom’s plan to create industry-specific hubs throughout Saudi Arabia, which would better focus foreign investment, and explained how SAGIA could make the process easier for new investors into the Kingdom.

“SAGIA offers a lot of services to new and existing investors, from site visits through to helping to realize where to locate. For example, if you’re coming to the UK and in the creative industry, you might be inclined to move into London, but if you’re in animation, actually, the best place to be is Bristol.

“It’s the same thing in Saudi Arabia, SAGIA can help find the best places to grow these hubs or clusters of companies and investors within certain sectors.

“They also do set-up and assistance to make sure companies have the right licenses and permits, they have a really impressive task force, which works with investors day in and day out to ensure it’s a seamless integration into a great opportunity,” Adams added.

Investment into Saudi Arabia is growing month on month and Adams told delegates how investment from the UK in particular had increased in 2019. Fourteen licenses were issued to British companies in the first quarter of 2018, but that had jumped to 24 in the same period this year.

He described how the Vision 2030 reform plans for expanding investment opportunities in the Kingdom and the geographical location of Saudi Arabia made it a prime opportunity for investors.

“Not only are they expanding the quality of life there and introducing more and more entertainment and tourism facilities, but there is also a leading financial sector there, especially since they have created the King Abdullah Financial District,” he said.

“All of this comes out of the Vision 2030, which is based on three main pillars — which includes Saudi Arabia affirming its position as the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Also, Saudi Arabia is known for being an investment powerhouse but also a hub connecting three continents, which means it is uniquely placed for investors.

“As part of that plan, there are three major themes within that, which include creating a thriving economy, to create a vibrant society and establish the Kingdom as an ambitious nation,” Adams added.

The EY consultant said SAGIA was achieving these goals through privatization programs, “localization” by getting more Saudis involved in projects and foreign companies using local talent, as well as giga and mega projects, which he said were “on an enormous scale.”

Adams admitted that one of the questions he was often asked surrounded how simple it was to invest in Saudi Arabia, which he said could be done through the Tayseer program for easy payment. It aims to secure and stimulate the investment environment for the private sector and to provide the necessary guarantees for the preservation of rights.

He said the program could issue commercial visas within 24 hours, which has had a huge impact on the number of investments regionally and internationally.

“What is exciting about this is we’re now turning a page where you can have 100 percent foreign ownership within the Kingdom and that is revolutionary, not just for the Middle East, but in general.

“Companies have a great opportunity to go and set up and take advantage of the incentives that the Kingdom has to offer but also to take advantage of the growing more educated and more connected population,” he said.


Akiba Cafe: Your manga escape in Saudi Arabia

Visitors to the cafe can order their drinks and browse Akiba’s collection for free at diner-style tables, or enjoy their experience solo as they catch up on their favorite manga tales. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 10 August 2020

Akiba Cafe: Your manga escape in Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah destination provides a taste of Japan with anime, comics, desserts and films

JEDDAH: Japanese comic books, known as manga, have captured the hearts of some Saudis so much that a 31-year-old citizen decided to give the genre’s fans a specialist Jeddah cafe so that they can pursue their passion as well as meet others who share it.

Akiba Cafe is the brainchild of Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, an urban planning engineer who spent over a year living in Japan after graduating from college in the US and was working on a project for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics.
Manga cafes can be found in most cities across Japan. They are a place where people can spend hours reading manga, and they are also considered to be a cultural space where people can relax and have conversations about manga.
He was inspired by the concept of manga cafes while he was in Japan, and took notice of the growing love for manga in the Kingdom. As an urban planner, he was able to grasp the Japanese concept and implement it in Saudi Arabia with a few tweaks and changes to suit the local audience.
“Manga cafés are all over Japan, albeit executed differently,” Baghlaf told Arab News. “They’re a little like internet cafés where people can spend the night. Of course, recreating that here doesn’t go along with our culture and traditions, so we recreated the concept in a way that accommodates that.”

Signature drinks
Akiba has only been open for a few months but, by the time Arab News visited the manga hotspot, people have already been flocking to the cafe to try out its signature drinks and read their favorite comics.

We have contracted a company in Tokyo to get the rights for a bunch of shows and, after many discussions, we get to air an episode an hour after it airs in Japan with Arabic subtitles for our customers.

Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, Urban planning engineer

Friends and families can be seen relaxing together on the ground floor flicking through the pages of a comic book, or delving into a more accessible e-reading option as manga is still in short supply in Saudi Arabia.
Visitors to the cafe can order their drinks and browse Akiba’s collection for free at diner-style tables, or enjoy their experience solo as they catch up on their favorite manga tales.
Akiba also airs popular anime and animated films throughout the day, uploading their schedule on their Twitter and Instagram pages.
Baghlaf is an avid gamer, but watching anime and reading manga is definitely on his list of favorite things to do. Keeping up with popular stories also helps him to figure out what manga volumes to acquire and which anime films to screen.
The urban planning engineer noticed the Kingdom’s approach in linking many objectives in the Vision 2030 reform plan to entertainment and, as cafes continue to draw large crowds in Saudi Arabia, he felt encouraged about going for Akiba.
“Specialty cafes are very popular here nowadays, so how am I going to be special? I went for a manga or anime cafe,” he said.
The cafe’s target audience are those who are interested in specialty coffee, manga and anime. For people with a sweet tooth there are Japanese desserts on offer, including cheesecake.

BACKGROUND

• Akiba Cafe is the brainchild of Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, an urban planning engineer.

• He spent over a year living in Japan after graduating from college in the US and was working on a project for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics.

• He was inspired by the concept of manga cafes while he was in Japan, and took notice of the growing love for manga in Saudi Arabia.

• The name Akiba comes from Akihabara, a popular area in Tokyo that is a hub for anime, gaming and electronics retailers.

• It also has specialty cafes throughout its busy maze of streets.

• Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf wants to support local talent by initiating artist nights at Akiba so that people can come and get sketches and put local manga on display for readers to discover.

Baghlaf has to make frequent trips to Japan to discuss screening rights with creators in Tokyo. “We’ve contracted a company in Tokyo to get the rights for a bunch of shows and, after many discussions, we get to air an episode an hour after it airs in Japan with Arabic subtitles for our customers.”
Due to the deals Baghlaf has made with distributors, he receives the episodes prior to their airing date to green-light them in terms of translation accuracy and censorship, in order not to air anything that goes against the Kingdom’s culture.
The same goes for manga. “I would bring in a story with 70-something volumes and, out of those, one book could end up with something inappropriate and I’d have to shelve the whole series.”


Baghlaf believes that the market for Japanese storytelling is massive in Saudi Arabia and continues to grow each day.
“It’s definitely popular and it’s why you see major events happening like Comic Con and Anime Expo, which I’ve been to myself with 200,000 others. It was so crowded,” he said.

Friendship
The Saudis have grown up with Japanese stories for decades, as well as slapstick US cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and the Loony Tunes that lack storytelling or arcs, according to Baghlaf. The Japanese stories have taught generations of Saudis about friendship, brotherhood, integrity and how to deal with others.
“There’s also a huge likeness between Japanese and Arabic culture. Within families, respecting those older than you whether through language, which has levels of formality where elders deserve the most respectable form when talked to and they have a lot of respect for familial bonds as well.”
The cafe owner revealed that the name Akiba comes from Akihabara, a popular area in Tokyo that is a hub for anime, gaming and electronics retailers. It also has specialty cafes throughout its busy maze of streets.
Baghlaf wants to support local talent by initiating artist nights at Akiba so that people can come and get sketches and put local manga on display for readers to discover.