Virus forces London tourist guides to adapt

Virus forces London tourist guides to adapt
People pose for photographs in the empty road on Tower Bridge in central London. (AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2020

Virus forces London tourist guides to adapt

Virus forces London tourist guides to adapt
  • London’s tourist guides are resuming their work slowly as lockdown restrictions are eased

LONDON: “I don’t know if you’re aware, but we’re living through a pandemic right now,” says Joel Robinson with a smile as he introduces his Jack the Ripper tour in London’s East End.

Robinson, a trained actor and history buff who works for the tourist company London With A Local, goes on to explain social distancing best practice to his nine clients.

Although he doesn’t wear them himself, he advises the tourists to wear masks and gloves before they set off through the once-gloomy alleyways of Victorian-era London.

Down darkened side streets and past shiny new buildings, Robinson recounts the tale of the still unidentified serial killer of five women who stalked the streets of Whitechapel in 1888.

London’s tourist guides are resuming their work slowly as lockdown restrictions are eased, and adapting to new health and safety rules to curb the spread of the virus.

Numbers are currently limited but it’s the background of the clients that has changed the most.

Where before Robinson and walking guides like him played mainly to foreign tourists, now customers are mainly British.

Dwindling numbers of overseas clients are largely down to quarantine measures imposed by the British government on foreign visitors.

“We have far more Britons than we had,” said Olivia Calvert, one of Robinson’s colleagues. “It’s a huge shift. They’re expecting something else, something different.”

Among the home-grown tourists traipsing around the Ripper’s old haunts are Anne and Nick Garner, a couple in their fifties from near Manchester, in northwest England.

“We would have been abroad but we decided to come to London,” said Anne Garner after her insight into the bloodthirsty past of the city’s East End.

The 90-minute Jack the Ripper tour is one of London’s most popular, alongside the Harry Potter tour.

“The British already know London’s famous monuments, so they expect something else,” said Calvert. Antony Robbins is an independent guide affiliated to the Guild of Tourist Guides, the national professional association for Blue Badge Tourist Guides across the country. Lack of demand has meant he has had to abandon his walks from Westminster to Buckingham Palace.

This week, he led his first “fooding” tour, taking a young woman and her mother to several restaurants and high-end patisseries in the British capital.

“We’re changing the way we work because we have to,” he said. “We need to be more creative.”

Although some guides have been able to go back to work, many tourism professionals — particularly freelancers not linked to major attractions — are finding it hard. Only six staff at London With A Local have returned to work and the number of weekly guided tours has been cut by half.

And predictions for the coming months don’t make easy reading.

The World Travel & Tourism Council said this week that Britain’s economy will lose about £22 billion ($29 billion) this year because of the outbreak.

British tourism promotion body VisitBritain also forecast that the number of foreign tourists will plummet by 73 percent in 2020, to 11 million people — a drop largely blamed on grounded aircraft and travel restrictions.

In London, guides in particular are worried about the lack of American visitors, who have a culture of tipping well, but who are also currently subject to quarantine restrictions.

Some 85 percent of tourist spending in the British capital is by foreigners, putting nearly three million jobs in the UK supported by travel and tourism at risk, the WTTC said.


Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs
Updated 04 August 2021

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs
  • UAE said it would scrap on Aug. 5 a transit flight ban

DUBAI: Dubai’s state airport operator expects a “surge” in passenger traffic over the coming weeks and months, its chief executive said on Wednesday, after the United Arab Emirates announced an easing of travel restrictions from African and Asian countries.
The Gulf state, a major international travel hub, on Tuesday said it would scrap on Aug. 5 a transit flight ban which Emirates airline later said applied to passengers traveling from 12 countries, including major market India.
The UAE will also lift this week an entry ban on those who had visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria or Uganda over the past 14 days for those with valid residencies and who are certified by Emirati authorities as fully vaccinated.
Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said Dubai International was “ready to accommodate the anticipated surge in the coming weeks and months” once restrictions ease.
The Indian subcontinent is traditionally the largest source market for Dubai International, which is one of the world’s busiest airports and the hub for state airline Emirates.
Griffiths said the easing of entry restrictions on inbound travelers from South Asia as well as Nigeria and Uganda would allow for thousands of UAE residents to return.
“It’s a great development from both a social and economic standpoint,” he said.
Those traveling to the UAE or transiting through its airports need to meet various conditions including presenting a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test prior to departure.
Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million. It handled 86.4 million in 2019, the year before the pandemic struck.


Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. nears deal to sell some Canadian assets - sources

Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. nears deal to sell some Canadian assets - sources
Updated 04 August 2021

Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. nears deal to sell some Canadian assets - sources

Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. nears deal to sell some Canadian assets - sources
  • Deal is awaiting approval of sale to Blue Sky from the Alberta Energy Board
  • Several global oil majors have sold Canadian oil sands assets in recent years

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi National Energy Company is nearing a deal to sell some light oil and natural gas-producing assets in Alberta and British Columbia to privately owned Blue Sky Resources Ltd, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, also called TAQA, has reached an agreement on terms of the sale to Blue Sky and the deal is now awaiting approval from the Alberta Energy Board, one of the sources said.
Reuters could not immediately learn the deal value or other terms.
The sources declined to be identified as the information is not public. They cautioned the Alberta regulator could reject the deal.
“If and when any deal is finalized and approved by the relevant authorities, we will make an announcement in line with regulatory requirements,” TAQA told Reuters in an emailed response.
Blue Sky did not respond to a request for comment.
Several global oil majors have rushed to sell Canadian oil sands assets over the last four years over concerns ranging from high production costs and emissions to scarcity of capital.
If finalized, TAQA’s sale of the assets would make it the second large international oil company to trim its holdings in Canada in recent months. Last week, Japanese state-backed oil producer Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. (Japex) announced the sale of its Hangingstone oil sands project on Thursday.
A host of other Middle Eastern oil and gas companies, including Saudi Aramco, have also outlined plans to raise tens of billions of dollars through sales of stakes in energy assets.
The TAQA assets being sold had production of 9,359 barrels of oil equivalent per day as of September 2020, according to marketing materials seen by Reuters. The assets being sold span 547,467 net acres.
Based in Calgary, Alberta, Blue Sky Resources has been making acquisitions around the region since the start of this year. Backed by oil industry veteran Ilyas Chaudhary and his family, the company has completed at least two other acquisitions in the last six months.
Chaudhary previously led an Irvine, California-based oil producer, Saba Petroleum Co, from 1985 until 1998. He later headed Capco Energy Inc, an offshore US Gulf Coast-focused oil driller.
Not much is publicly known about Blue Sky, a tightly held company, and its website says it is “being reconstructed.”
In March, the company purchased oil producing assets in Alberta from Highwood Oil Company Ltd. It had earlier taken over bankrupt company Zargon Oil and Gas Ltd.


Saudi non-oil sector’s expansion continues

Saudi non-oil sector’s expansion continues
Updated 03 August 2021

Saudi non-oil sector’s expansion continues

Saudi non-oil sector’s expansion continues
  • Rising demand from domestic, overseas clients supported upturn: Survey

RIYADH: Non-oil business activity in Saudi Arabia maintained a sharp pace of expansion in July, despite slowing for the second month running, according to a survey released on Tuesday. 

Output grew at a sharp pace, underlined by a robust increase in new business inflows, but still staff levels rose only fractionally in July as firms continued to signal an excess of business capacity despite rising sales.

Rising demand from domestic and overseas clients supported the upturn, which some firms linked to competitive pricing strategies.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the first time in four months to 55.8 in July, from 56.4 in June, due to weaker growth in output, new orders and employment compared to the previous month. 

Employment prospects were also harmed by a drop in future output expectations to the joint-weakest for more than a year, despite the strong improvement in operating conditions that extended the current run of growth to 11 months.

Hiring growth weakened to a fractional pace, as only few firms reported needing additional staff and backlogs were reduced solidly, suggesting a wide gap between demand and full capacity in spite of a sharp increase in new orders in recent months

“While Saudi Arabia’s PMI continued to signal strong growth in the non-oil economy in July, our survey data related to business capacity highlighted that challenging economic conditions prevailed,” said David Owen, an economist at IHS Markit.

“Firstly, employment growth slowed to only a marginal pace, suggesting that many companies still have little need for new hires in spite of a sharp rebound in new orders. Secondly, backlogs of work fell at the second-quickest pace for a year, adding further evidence that businesses have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels of capacity utilization,” he said.

“Sustained rises in demand should help the economy move closer to full capacity over the second half of the year. However, a drop in business expectations to its joint-weakest since June 2020 illustrated growing doubts that this will be a smooth ride,” he said.

Nearly 27 percent of surveyed businesses reported an increase in activity, linked to strengthening client demand and a loosening of pandemic-related measures.


SABIC set to announce Q2 financial results

SABIC set to announce Q2 financial results
Updated 03 August 2021

SABIC set to announce Q2 financial results

SABIC set to announce Q2 financial results

JEDDAH: The Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) said that it will hold a virtual press conference to review the financial results for the second quarter of 2021 on Thursday.

Yousef Al-Benyan, SABIC vice chairman and CEO, will attend the conference.

Based on the data available on Argaam news website, analysts predict profits of SR6.4 billion ($1.7 billion) compared to SR2.2 billion losses in the second quarter of 2020.

SABIC is seeking to become the largest petrochemical company in the world by 2030. 

The petrochemical industry in the Kingdom has a significant impact as it contributes more than SR260 billion annually to the gross domestic product (GDP), representing 36 percent of the industrial GDP and more than 57 percent of non-oil exports.


Startup of the Week: Skil Studio; Perfecting the art of marketing, designing

Startup of the Week: Skil Studio; Perfecting the art of marketing, designing
Updated 04 August 2021

Startup of the Week: Skil Studio; Perfecting the art of marketing, designing

Startup of the Week: Skil Studio; Perfecting the art of marketing, designing

JEDDAH: Zakaria Ahmad owns a digital design agency called Skil Studios focused on identity building, graphic designing, and social media content building.

“We were working with another company but recently started our own business,” said Ahmad.

The entrepreneur is grateful for the customers who trust them with the design and layout.

Their services start with designing the identity that represents their clients, then services such as digital marketing, e-commerce, and social media content development are also offered. Sometimes the business also offers videography and photography services.

The company’s founder said that most companies here focus more on quantity rather than quality. He said his company’s goal is to start an agency that cares about its clients and has their best interest in mind.

“We appreciate art in everything,” Ahmad said. He believes marketing and identity building is an art and his company seeks to achieve the target with perfection.

He said that they want to offer something new. Ahmad said his team does not believe in “copying and modifying already existing designs,” instead they want to introduce the latest global trends in the Middle East without compromising on their uniqueness.

He admitted that the business faced quite a few challenges along the way, which is usual for a startup.

“We were looking for talented people with a passion for designing and art to help us achieve our goals,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad is most proud of his company’s identity and the trust that his team has built with clients due to their sincere efforts.

He said members of the creative team ensure they understand the requirement of clients and deliver them whatever their demands are.