Greek cruise operators hope vaccinations will help save summer season

Greek cruise operators hope vaccinations will help save summer season
Last year cruise ships became a symbol of the pandemic, as COVID-19 swept through several vessels, forcing them to remain at sea as alarmed authorities refused permission to land. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Greek cruise operators hope vaccinations will help save summer season

Greek cruise operators hope vaccinations will help save summer season

ATHENS: Greek cruise lines hope a swifter vaccination rollout and the government’s proposed vaccine certificates scheme can help get ships out of the docks where they have been idling empty for the past year and back to sea for the vital summer season.
With international travel now at a near-standstill, saving at least part of the summer season will be vital, said George Koumpenas, Chief Operating Officer for Celestyal Cruises, a medium-sized operator that offers trips to the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
Celestyal’s ships have been docked at the cruise terminal of Piraeus port in Athens since February last year and while it has sent crews home, daily maintenance fees just to keep the vessels operational run to 15,000 euros ($18,016.50).
“It’s crucial for the company to get its vessels sailing again by August, by September,” Koumpenas told Reuters from the bridge of the Celestyal Experience as a skeleton crew checked the eerily empty suites and lounges.
Greece, which depends on tourism for about 20% of its economy, saw tourist numbers fall to a fifth of normal last year, according to the Bank of Greece, with 6 million arrivals from January to September — including 23,000 cruise passengers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is counting on vaccinations to help open up travel, expects a better season this year and is pressing the European Union to adopt a standardized version of vaccination certificates that Athens has already introduced to restore confidence.

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Greece, which depends on tourism for about 20 percent of its economy, saw tourist numbers fall to a fifth of normal last year, according to the Bank of Greece, with 6 million arrivals from January to September — including 23,000 cruise passengers.

Last year cruise ships became a symbol of the pandemic, as COVID-19 swept through several vessels, forcing them to remain at sea as alarmed authorities refused permission to land.
This year, passengers are likely to have to show a negative coronavirus test or proof of vaccination before being allowed to board, Koumpenas said. “A vaccination certificate will definitely help,” he said.
But big hurdles remain.
EU-wide agreement on vaccination certificates has proved elusive, because of the fears in some countries about making movement within the bloc dependent on such a document, as well as current uncertainty over whether inoculated people could still transmit the virus to others.
The slow pace of vaccinations also means operators may not be in a position to require them before July or August, the head of Greece’s cruise ship owners union Theodore Kontes said.
“When countries get 50% or 60% of their population inoculated and are close to immunity, will they (the operators) be in a position to require it (a certificate)?” he said.
For Celestyal, which ran just two cruises last year, it will be a long road to recovery and no return to normal is likely for at least two to three years.
The company hopes to resume some operations if airport connections for its main customers from the United States and Canada are restored, as expected, in April.
But that will depend on getting crews vaccinated. The company has asked to have them treated as a special category and is awaiting a response, Koumpenas said. “This needs to happen in the next coming months, by March.”


Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
Updated 57 min 8 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
  • The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties

RIYADH: The real estate price index in Saudi Arabia rose by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of the previous year, official data showed on Sunday.
The statistics issued by the General Authority for Statistics showed a 0.8 percent increase in the residential real estate prices in the second quarter while prices of commercial and agriculture properties declined by 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.
The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties.
Meanwhile, the Wafi program, which regulates off-plan property activity in the Kingdom, issued a report highlighting its performance during the first half of the year.
Wafi issued 55 licenses for off-plan sales projects providing 24,328 housing units during the first half of 2021.
Off-plan property sales represent a growing sector of the Saudi real estate market, but some consumers are still wary of developers’ abilities to deliver quality homes on time.
The sector has been steadily increasing its share of total residential sales and data from the Wafi program.
According to real estate consultancy company, Knight Frank, off-plan units represent around 9 percent of total existing housing stock, but a massive 60 percent of total future supply in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s real estate sector is a key and effective economic driver for the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is connected to at least 120 industries.
Mortgage lending in Saudi Arabia increased 27 percent this year through May, as interest rates decreased to between 1 percent and 4.9 percent, compared to about 6 percent early last year.
Residential real estate financing contracts offered to individuals by local banks reached 133,006 through May, with a value of SR69.5 billion ($18.5 billion), according to data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA).
Real estate financing grew by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020 when SR46.6 billion was lent via 104,000 contracts.


Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
  • Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion)

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s net foreign assets rose over 2 percent in June, as the global oil industry gradually recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion) to 1.65 trillion riyals in June from the month before.

Total assets increased by 16.18 billion riyals to 1.842 trillion riyals, the central bank said.


Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
  • Capital Economics' forecast a further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021

RIYADHH Saudi Arabia’s economy is poised to grow from 2.2 percent to 4.8 percent in 2021 and from 4.1 percent to 6.3 percent in 2022, said a Capital Economics report.

The new forecasts are further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021.

At the start of the year, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Finance said that it expected 3.2 percent growth this year — reversing the pandemic-driven downturn of 2020. The International Monetary Fund forecast just 2.1 percent growth two months ago.

The Saudi economy is expected to maintain growth in the second half of the year. The expansion is also backed by higher oil output amid an OPEC+ agreement.

The Kingdom’s finance, insurance, real estate, and business sectors are likely to expand by 9 percent annually and their relative share to overall economic activity will grow by 12.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the services sector is also likely to grow about 10 percent annually on average, implying that its relative gross domestic product (GDP) share will climb to almost 40 percent in 2030.

 


Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks
  • GCC retail giant aiming to double revenues in the Kingdom, become dominant player by 2022

DUBAI: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) luxury retail sector has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with high-end brands performing particularly well, as shoppers splash the cash they saved by not spending on entertainment or travel during the last year, according to one of the region’s biggest retailers.

Consultancy firm Bains & Company in April reported that the GCC luxury goods market declined 16.6 percent year on year to $7.4 billion in 2020, with Saudi Arabia down 8 percent and the tourist-dependent UAE declining 25 percent.

However, Michael Chalhoub, president of strategy, growth, innovation and investment and vice-president joint ventures at the Chalhoub Group, which has 559 stores across the GCC and manages brands such as Dior, Swarovski, Fendi and Louis Vuitton, told Arab News that the market has bounced back.

“I think the luxury market, and fashion in particular, has recovered in 2021, at levels even higher than in 2019,” he said.

“Local consumers are traveling less. And so, consumption has been repatriated. And we estimate that, in normal time, between one-third to 50 percent of the luxury consumption of GCC nationals happens abroad in London, Paris and Geneva. But now, because of the pandemic, they’ve had to stay, in particular in Saudi Arabia, where the borders were blocked for most of the first half of the year,” he added.

With gyms, restaurants, entertainment venues and travel off limits for a long period, Chalhoub said that shoppers now had more disposable income and were feeling free to spend their savings.

“I would say that average income has gone higher because of a lack of entertainment expenses. What people aren’t spending in restaurants and travel, they are probably spending it on taking care of themselves,” he said.

Michael Chalhoub

However, Chalhoub said that the rebound differed across retail segments. Very high-end luxury brands are performing much better than premium or affordable brands. Jewelry, fragrances and beauty brands are seeing strong growth, but he observed that makeup was still down, mainly due to consumers wearing masks and not leaving the house as often.

“With fashion, I think that we’re up by 5 to 7 percent in the region versus 2019, mainly with luxury fashion and even more so with high-end luxury,” he said, looking at the industry as a whole.

Many retailers have seen triple-digit growth in their online sales during 2020, and the Chalhoub Group accelerated its digitalization strategy in line with the wider industry. “If we were to compare 2021 numbers to 2019, we’re probably talking about 100 percent growth for the industry. And this is incredible. I think the numbers I had were plus 96 percent in the GCC as a whole and even 138 percent just in the UAE,” he said.

However, while online sales might be popular for grocery or food outlets, high-end fashion consumers still like to feel, touch and try on clothing before buying.

For this reason, Chalhoub said that the company expects a higher percentage of returns when it comes to online high-end fashion. “We’re inviting our customer to say try it on and then send it back if you need to,” he said.

With Saudi Arabia less dependent on international tourists for retail sales, the Kingdom largely avoided the slump in sales last year. Chalhoub Group has operated in the Kingdom since 1975, where it has six offices, 215 stores and about 3,600 employees.

It now controls 38 percent of the Saudi market, 48 percent of fashion and 55 percent of beauty, but it is aiming to become the largest player in the sector by the end of next year.

“We’ve made Saudi Arabia a main focus for ourselves; we want to make sure that we cater for the new Saudi customers as much as possible. We have a population there that is young and really enthusiastic about some of the transformation that is happening there,” Chalhoub said.

“We’re investing a lot into Saudi Arabia. The objective that we had set ourselves about six months ago was to double our revenues there in eighteen months. And that means investing more and catering to those customers spending more locally rather than internationally,” he added.

One of the ways the group is aiming to capture more of the Saudi market is by tapping into the Kingdom’s local fashion talent. In early July, the company launched Fashion Lab, a first-of-its-kind initiative in the Kingdom, offering local entrepreneurs the chance to win $15,000 in funding to help establish their fashion brands.

Successful participants will get to take part in a two-week “boot camp,” which will help them navigate through the different elements of developing their brand, including marketing, supply chain management, content creation and media exposure.

Looking forward, the Bain & Company report said: “With about 40 percent of the population aged under 25, Saudi Arabia will likely remain the biggest engine of growth for the regional luxury industry in coming years.”


Saudi Arabia sets new rules for fruit, vegetable imports

Saudi Arabia sets new rules for fruit, vegetable imports
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia sets new rules for fruit, vegetable imports

Saudi Arabia sets new rules for fruit, vegetable imports
  • The ministry has launched a new system for vegetables and fruit imports to support local production

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture on Saturday called on fruit and vegetable suppliers to complete all formalities to obtain import licenses before the Aug. 9 deadline.

After Aug. 9, no unlicensed supplier will be allowed to import fruit and vegetables. Those interested can visit the following link to apply for a license: https://eservices.mewa.gov.sa/request/111111.

An import license will be valid for three to 10 years depending on the license category, the ministry said.

Saudi authorities have also issued health guidelines for imports like all shipments should be free of pesticide residues or within the limit allowed by the Kingdom’s laws. 

The ministry has launched a new system for vegetables and fruit imports to support local production, enforce quality control and ensure food security in the Kingdom.