Coral Bloom set to bring Saudi Arabia closer to $133bn tourism goal

Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 February 2021

Coral Bloom set to bring Saudi Arabia closer to $133bn tourism goal

Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. (Supplied)
  • The Red Sea project announced by the Crown Prince will be a catalyst for new jobs, foreign investment

DUBAI: During the recent 2021 Budget Forum in December, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said the Kingdom is aiming to attract new tourism investments worth SR220 billion ($58 billion) by 2023, and more than SR500 billion by the end of the decade.

In 2019, Saudi travellers spent $22 billion travelling overseas. One of the ways the ministry is aiming to boost the Kingdom’s tourism revenues is to encourage Saudis to spend some of their tourism cash at home.

“We have reduced the leakage,” Al-Khateeb told Arab News in December. “In 2019 we launched 11 ‘seasons’ in Saudi Arabia and reduced travel outside by 30 percent. When we continue to do this, we will definitely reduce the leakage — Saudis will like to stay at home and they will enjoy the offering.”

One of the obvious ways to reduce the leakage is to give Saudi tourists attractions they can enjoy within the Kingdom’s borders. A prime example of this is the Coral Bloom project, which was announced on Wednesday by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and part of the flagship development the Red Sea Project, Coral Bloom has been designed by the world-renowned British architectural firm Foster + Partners. Based on Shurayrah Island and shaped like a dolphin, the island is home to the world’s fourth-largest barrier reef system, untouched corals and a significant number of endangered species.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launches ‘Coral Bloom’ luxury Red Sea project

Set to include 11 hotels, the project has been welcomed by Saudi experts across many sectors, as both a strong addition to the tourism landscape and a positive economic force.

Talat Zaki Hafiz, an economist and Saudi Financial Association board member, said Coral Bloom stands alongside other mega projects announced by the government in recent years, including Qiddiya, The Line and NEOM. This latest addition “will add value not only from the social point of view, but also it will add value to the Saudi economy and to the overall GDP of the Kingdom,” he said.

The tourism sector currently represents around 3.5 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP and the Ministry of Tourism is hoping projects like Coral Bloom will help increase this to 10 percent within the next decade.

“I think Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is doing a great job in order to diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia, also at the same time trying to make this island unique in terms of architecture and lifestyle,” said Salem Alghamdi, a professor at King Saud University Riyadh and an analyst in the travel and tourism sector.

“I am just waiting for it to be ready. I will be one of the first visitors. It is going to be a great place to stay and spend quality time. It’s also a very good way to diversify the Saudi economy,” he added.

Echoing the theme of diversification, Dr. Majed Al-Hedayan, a financial analyst and legal expert, said the project “will be a front for global tourism in an unprecedented way” and it will also encourage “foreign investors to establish their investment projects” in the Kingdom, therefore acting as a catalyst for future investment in the sector and go a long way to helping the Kingdom achieve its goal of generating SR500 billion by 2030.

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Around four percent of the Saudi labor force currently works in the tourism sector. Last year, The Red Sea Development Company, the developer behind Coral Bloom, conducted more than 850 face-to-face interviews with young Saudis and found 90 percent of them said they would be eager for a career in the travel and tourism sector.

Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Riyadh-based financial services company Al Rajhi Capital, said projects such as those on the Red Sea will help make these career ambitions a reality. Al-Sudairi said the PIF-backed Coral Bloom project “aligns well with the other projects announced recently” and will “bring more tourism and generate local employment in the Kingdom”.

The resilience of the Saudi tourism sector was abundantly clear during the coronavirus pandemic. While the UN World Tourism Organization described 2020 as “the worst year on record in the history of tourism,” with the number of international tourists between January and October down 72 percent year-on-year, the Saudi domestic market bucked the trend.

In an April interview with Reuters, Al-Khateeb said that Saudi tourism could shrink as much as 45 percent in 2020. However, in September, he told Bloomberg that a sudden surge in domestic travel — 50 percent more than officials projected — helped save businesses and jobs, as well as boost the economy.

Dr. Osama Ghanem Alobaidy, an advisor and professor of law at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, said the positive performance of the tourism sector during the pandemic is clear evidence that the goals set out as part of Vision 2030 are on track.

“To achieve economic diversification, Saudi Arabia is seeking to increase foreign investments, increase the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in the economy, generate new job opportunities and create and develop some of the world’s most impressive mega projects, such as Coral Bloom.”

Abdulghani Alansari, CEO of Dukkan Alajwah Holding, said the Coral Bloom project presents a big economic opportunity for the region, especially Yanbu, Madinah and AlUla. “Madinah will play a pivotal role in diversifying investment, creating investment opportunities and pumping new funds in the project,”he said.

Alansari, who is a former board member of the Madinah Chamber, said the Red Sea projects will encourage Umrah and Hajj pilgrims to stay in the country longer and see some of the new tourist acctractions.

“Around 12 million Umrah performers visit the Prophet’s Mosque around the year… All these factors will have a positive impact on the Coral Bloom Project over the next few years. The features and aspects of investment and job opportunities in Madinah will change,” he explained.

Dr. Mohammed Makni, the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management Science at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, said the Kingdom continues to prove that Vision 2030 plays an increasingly important role in future industrialization.

“We see new projects being launched by the Crown Prince during exceptional circumstances and a complicated economic crisis that disrupted businesses and projects around the world. But, at the same time, we see new investment opportunities that need financial capability and ambition,” he noted.

Abdulrahman M Alrefaie, CEO of Baseqat Arabia Consulting, said Coral Bloom’s emphasis on the environment was also crucial and he believed it’s launch “exceeds expectations and changes perceptions, to reflect, be inspired, and then be proud.”


Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia
Updated 14 June 2021

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia

Germany to set up hydrogen accord with Australia
  • Germany’s €9 billion hydrogen strategy launched last summer is based on the assumption that some 80 percent of its hydrogen requirements may have to be imported in the long term

FRANKFURT: Germany on Sunday said it has taken steps toward a bilateral alliance on hydrogen production and trade with Australia to try and facilitate a renewable energy-based hydrogen supply chain between the countries. 

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek signed a letter of intent to set up a “Germany Australia Hydrogen Accord” with Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor, the Economy Ministry said in a press release. It said the cooperation was about enabling “the import of sustainably produced hydrogen in relevant volumes, which is an important factor to reach our tighter climate targets.” Australia wants to develop a clean hydrogen and ammonia production chain to cut carbon, depart from fossil fuels and build up new export markets, Taylor said in an interview in May.

The two countries can take advantage of Australia’s limitless solar resources and employ German electrolysis technology, said Altmaier.

Karliczek said her ministry will fund a technology incubator called HyGate with €50 million ($60.53 million) over three years to test technologies from production through to storage and transport. Germany’s €9 billion hydrogen strategy launched last summer is based on the assumption that some 80 percent of its hydrogen requirements may have to be imported in the long term.


UAE’s Careem hires over 200 staff as part of recovery

UAE’s Careem hires over 200 staff as part of recovery
Updated 14 June 2021

UAE’s Careem hires over 200 staff as part of recovery

UAE’s Careem hires over 200 staff as part of recovery
  • Dubai-headquartered app predicts full recovery by end of 2021

DUBAI: Careem, the Dubai-based app owned by Uber, has hired over 200 staff in the last year as it begins to rebound from the economic impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

During the peak of the pandemic, Careem, which is best known for its ride-hailing service, said the number of rides it carried out dropped by around 80 percent.

It announced in May 2020 that it had laid off 536 employees, representing 31 percent of its workforce, describing the recovery period at the time as “alarmingly unknown.”

But in the last year, Careem has pivoted from a purely ride-hailing app to what it describes as a “super app,” offering additional services such as grocery delivery,
courier services, and payment facilities, and it has begun actively hiring new employees.

“Post that restructuring we continue to invest in our people, so we’re hiring and we’re growing, predominantly in the tech side of our organization, so engineering, data and AI (artificial intelligence), fintech (financial technology) and product,” Ruth Fletcher, senior vice president of people at Careem, told Arab News.

“As our super app journey has developed, obviously the requirement for these skills has continued to grow and that’s the mainstay of our growth efforts right now.” A Careem spokesperson confirmed that the company currently has around 1,400 employees, meaning it has hired just over 200 staff since May 2020 but still has some way to get back to its pre-pandemic level of around 1,700.

FASTFACTS

• Careem was founded in July 2012 and operates in over 100 cities in 13 countries in the Middle East.

• In March 2019, it was announced that Careem was being bought by international rival Uber as part of a $3.1 billion deal.

Mudassir Sheikha, CEO and co-founder of Careem, said the development and expansion of the super app meant a change in the types of roles needed.

“There has been a transformation from a ride-hailing business to a super app, and that’s a transformation that’s quite technical in nature, and we’re still in the early stages of that transformation. So we’re heavily recruiting in certain parts of the business,” he added.

In an interview with the Arab News program “Frankly Speaking” in February, Sheikha said some areas of the company had begun to see strong growth, and the company was looking forward to a full recovery to pre-pandemic business levels by the end of 2021.

“From the depths of that crisis, we’ve actually recovered quite strongly. If you look at the mobility of people business, which moves people from point A to point B, it has grown 10 times from that point,” he added. 

“The ‘mobility of things’ business — the delivery business — didn’t get impacted as much, to begin with, and that has grown four times. Even our nascent Careem Pay business — the ‘mobility of money’ as we call it — has doubled in size. So the businesses have recovered strongly from that low point.”

When asked by Arab News last week if this forecast is still in place, Sheikha said Careem is “still on track for that projection.”

Careem was founded in July 2012 and operates in over 100 cities in 13 countries in the Middle East.

In March 2019, it was announced that Careem was being bought by international rival Uber as part of a $3.1 billion deal.


Egypt planning $4bn green hydrogen gas project

Egypt planning $4bn green hydrogen gas project
Updated 14 June 2021

Egypt planning $4bn green hydrogen gas project

Egypt planning $4bn green hydrogen gas project
  • The Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy has set a goal for 42 percent of the total energy produced in Egypt to be sourced from renewables by 2035

CAIRO: Egypt is planning to invest up to $4 billion in a project to generate green hydrogen gas through water electrolysis, according to the Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker.

The minister pointed out that the project is currently in the feasibility studies stage, in consultation with the Sovereign Fund of Egypt and a group of concerned ministries, and will be presented next week.

Shaker said that an area of more than 7,000 sq. km has been allocated for renewable energy production projects in Egypt, from which it can produce about 90,000 megawatts (MW).

The Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy has set a goal for 42 percent of the total energy produced in Egypt to be sourced from renewables by 2035. By the end of this year, it will have raised the total to 20 percent, a year ahead of schedule.

Egypt is also home to the Benban solar plant, the largest solar power plant in the world, with a total capacity of 1,465 MW.

Shaker revealed that the volume of investments in the electricity sector since the beginning of the reform until now is estimated at EGP500 billion ($32 billion).

He estimated that the total investment in the development of electrical distribution companies is around EGP36 billion, while the Decent Life initiative, which aims to improve the country’s distribution networks, is set to provide funds between EGP60 and EGP70 billion.


Egypt signs 1.7 billion euros of financing deals with France

Egypt signs 1.7 billion euros of financing deals with France
Updated 13 June 2021

Egypt signs 1.7 billion euros of financing deals with France

Egypt signs 1.7 billion euros of financing deals with France
  • Of the financing, 776 million euros came from the French government and 990 million euros from AFD
  • The signings came during a visit by French finance minister Bruno Le Maire to Cairo

CAIRO: Egypt has signed 1.7 billion euros ($2.06 billion) worth of deals with France to finance projects in the transportation, infrastructure, electricity and wholesale sectors, the cabinet said on Sunday.
Of that financing, 776 million euros will come from the French government and 990 million euros from AFD, France's development agency, the cabinet said.
The signings came during a visit by French finance minister Bruno Le Maire to Cairo.
In May, France announced a 4 billion euro deal to deliver 30 Dassault warplanes to Egypt beginning in 2024, strengthening ties with what it considers a vital partner in fighting Islamist militants.
Projects announced on Sunday by the cabinet include sanitation stations as well as a number of railway projects, including the provision of 55 new cars for the Cairo metro's oldest line and the construction of a railway line between Aswan in southern Egypt and Wadi Halfa in neighbouring Sudan.
AFD will provide 150 million euros in support of Egypt's universal health insurance programme, the cabinet said. ($1 = 0.8260 euros)


UAE builder Drake & Scull returns to profit in Q1

UAE builder Drake & Scull returns to profit in Q1
Updated 13 June 2021

UAE builder Drake & Scull returns to profit in Q1

UAE builder Drake & Scull returns to profit in Q1
  • This represents a return to profit from a net loss of 30 million dirhams for the same period in 2020, driven by ongoing operations across the region

DUBAI: Dubai contractor Drake & Scull International (DSI) recorded a net profit of 115 million dirhams ($31.3 million) in the first three months of the year.
This represents a return to profit from a net loss of 30 million dirhams for the same period in 2020, driven by ongoing operations across the region, including in countries such as Tunisia, Palestine, Kuwait, and Iraq.
DSI also recorded revenues of 46 million dirhams and the order backlog remained stable at 376 million dirhams, it said in a statement.
Drake & Scull was hit hard by the regional construction downturn since 2014 and has been involved in lengthy financial restructuring and cost cutting.
It signed contracts worth 376 million dirhams earlier this year.