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.”


Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups
Updated 59 min 41 sec ago

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups
SAN FRANCISCO: Lauren Foundos has excelled at just about everything she has put her mind to, from college sports and Wall Street trading to her Forte startup that takes workouts online.
Being a woman in the overwhelmingly male world of venture capital was still a barrier — but, like many other female entrepreneurs, she only worked harder to succeed.
“In some cases, before I even spoke, they were asking me if I would step down as chief executive,” Foundos said of encounters with venture capitalists.
“This was a whole new level.”
Men would speak past her in meetings, discussing whether she could emotionally handle the job as if she wasn’t there, or wondering out loud who would take care of the books.
“When that happens, I tell them I am right here,” Foundos said. “I am the finance guy; I worked at big banks for more than 10 years. I’ve been the best at everything I have ever gone into.”
Startups can only get by so long relying on friends, family or savings before eventually needing to find investors willing to put money into young companies in exchange for a stake in the business.
Money invested in startups in their earliest days, perhaps when they are no more than ideas or prototypes, is called “seed” funding.
When it comes to getting backing for a startup it is about trust, and that seems to be lacking when it comes to women entrepreneurs, according to Foundos and others interviewed by AFP.
“I don’t think women need to be given things,” Foundos said of venture capital backing. “But I think they are not seeing the same amount of deals.”
Forte has grown quickly as the pandemic has gyms and fitness centers scrambling to provide online sessions for members.
Foundos brought on a “right-hand man,” a male partner with a British accent, to provide a more traditional face to potential investors and increase the odds of getting funding.
She has taken to asking venture capitalists she meets if they have invested in women-led companies before, and the answer has always been “no.”


A paltry few percent of venture capital money goes to female-led startups in the United States, according to Allyson Kapin, General Partner at the W Fund and founder of Women Who Tech (WWT).
Being sexually propositioned in return for funding, or even an introduction to venture capitalists, is common for women founders of startups, according to a recent WWT survey.
Some 44 percent of female founders surveyed told of harassment such as sexual slurs or unwanted physical contact while seeking funding.
And while last year set a record for venture capital funding, backing for women-led startups plunged despite data that such companies actually deliver better return-on-investment, according to Kapin.
“This isn’t about altruism or charity, this is about making a (load) of money,” Kapin said of backing women-led startups.


Prospects for funding get even more dismal for women of color.
Black entrepreneur Fonta Gilliam worked overseas with financial institutions for the US State Department before creating social banking startup Invest Sou Sou.
Gilliam took the idea of village savings circles she had seen thrive in places such as Africa and built it into a free mobile app, adding artificial intelligence and partnering with financial institutions.
She created a Sou Sou prototype and started bringing in revenue to show it could make money, but still found it tougher to get funding than male peers.
“We always have to over-perform and overcompensate,” Gilliam said. “Where startups run by men would get believed, we’d have to prove it 10 times over.”
Gilliam got insultingly low valuations for her startup, some so predatory that she walked away.
“We are still lean and mean bootstrapping, but I think it is going to pay off in the end,” Gilliam said.
“One thing about women-owned, black-owned startups: because there is such a high bar to get support our businesses tend to be scrappier, stronger and more resilient.”


Women-led startups tend to be on the outside of the “pipeline” that unofficially funnels entrepreneurs to venture capitalists, according to Kapin and others.
In Silicon Valley, that channel is open to male, white tech entrepreneurs from select universities such as Stanford.
“The pipeline becomes filled with people from the same universities; from similar backgrounds,” Kapin said.
“It is not representative of the world, which is problematic because you are trying to solve the world’s problems through the lens of very few people — mostly white men.”
Investors competing for gems in the frothy tech startup scrum are missing out on a wealth of returns, and stability, to be had by investing in neglected women founders, according to Caroline Lewis, a managing partner in Rogue Women’s Fund, which does just that.
“At the end of the day, it is the right thing to do and it is a good thing to do,” Lewis said.

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report
Updated 28 February 2021

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report
  • The chancellor will say he needs to raise more than 40 billion pounds to tackle the budget deficit, the report said

British finance minister Rishi Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by 6 billion pounds ($8.36 billion), The Times reported on Sunday.
The chancellor will say he needs to raise more than 40 billion pounds to tackle the budget deficit and protect the economy from rising rates of interest on government borrowing, the report said.
The government on Saturday said Sunak will announce 5 billion pounds of additional grants to help businesses hit hard by pandemic lockdowns, in his budget.
Separately, the government said Sunak is also expected to announce an initial 12 billion pounds of capital and 10 billion pounds of guarantees for the new UK Infrastructure Bank.
A Telegraph report said Sunak is also weighing up bringing back the small profits rate, axed by George Osborne in 2014, to support small to medium-sized companies.


Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts
Updated 28 February 2021

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts
  • Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks

PARIS: Investors are watching inflation carefully, worried that a boiling over of prices will ruin the expected strong pandemic recovery although analysts believe Europe faces much less of a risk than the United States.
Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan — which was passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday — will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks.
A rise in yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds — a key indicator of expectations — shows the markets believe prices are set to rise much more sharply than last year’s gain of 1.4 percent, which could force the US Federal Reserve to hike interest rates earlier than it says it plans to do.
Bond yields have risen elsewhere too, with 10-year French government bonds turning positive on Thursday for the first time in months while the benchmark 10-year German Bund has also risen although it remains negative.
European inflation data for January showed a jump in prices of 0.9 percent compared to a minus 0.3 percent reading in December, as increased costs of raw materials fed through into services and industrial goods.
After having slowed considerably in 2020, inflation is expected to rise this year in Europe as the economy picks up following the relaxation of measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it is not so much a spike in inflation that worries investors but that the Fed would raise interest rates faster than it has communicated.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged Tuesday that the US central bank will keep benchmark lending rates low until the economy is at full employment and inflation has risen consistently above its 2.0 percent target.
But bond yields continued to rise, indicating investor concern about a rise in interest rates that would make borrowing and investment more expensive and slow the economy.
However, many analysts are skeptical that Biden’s stimulus program will spark considerable inflation.
“It isn’t clear that Biden’s recovery plan will create lots of inflation,” said Xavier Ragot, head of the French Economic Observatory think tank.
For the European Union, there is no likelihood that its pandemic recovery program would, he believes.
“The amounts of the European recovery plans pose absolutely no inflationary risk,” he said.


The European Commission’s recovery program is worth 750 billion euros ($920 billion), with several EU members also having their own national programs.
“We have a European recovery program... considerably less strong, and a loss of growth that is much greater, so there aren’t the same risks of overheating as in the United States,” said Fabien Tripier, an economist at CEPII, a Paris-based research center on the world economy.
The US economy shrank 3.5 percent last year while the drop for the eurozone was nearly double that.
There is “no risk of overheating or a sustained rise in inflation” in the eurozone, the head of the Banque de France, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, insisted this past week.
The French Economic Observatory’s Ragot also does not believe that if the Fed is pushed by the markets into raising rates that the European Central Bank would be forced to follow suit.
“It doesn’t work like that in macroeconomics,” he said, noting that the monetary policy of the Fed and ECB had diverged considerably at the start of the last decade.
“With loose financial conditions still necessary to support the economy, the ECB is unlikely to react to the coming inflation overshoot,” said Capital Economics economist Jack Allen-Reynolds.
Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who as head of the Banque de France also sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said the central bank wants to “maintain favorable financing conditions.”
For Fabien Tripier, the ECB needs to send “a strong signal” to the markets against the idea that “just because inflation hits 1.5 percent or 2.2 percent, speculation it will hike rates should begin.”
The ECB issued a reassuring message on Friday as executive board member Isabel Schnabel said it could broaden its support for the economy in case of a sharp rise in interest rates.


Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package
Updated 28 February 2021

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package
  • The package passed the House just after 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed the overnight passage by the US House of Representatives of an enormous, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, saying it moves the country closer to full Covid-19 vaccination and economic recovery.
The package passed the House just after 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote, with not one Republican vote, and moves next week to the Senate.
"I hope it will receive quick action," Biden said in a brief address from the White House.
"We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus."
The vote in the House meant that "we're one step closer to vaccinating the nation, we are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans, we're one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them."
He said the bill -- which would be the second-largest US stimulus ever, after a $2 trillion package approved in March -- would also help schools reopen safely and allow local and state governments to avoid "massive layoffs for essential workers."
The House vote came just days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 in the United States, the world's worst total.
Democrats have called the aid package a critical step in supporting millions of families and businesses devastated by the pandemic. It extends unemployment benefits, set to expire mid-March, by about six months.
But Republicans say it is too expensive, fails to target aid payments to those most in need, and could spur damaging inflation.
The administration appears poised to use a special approach requiring only 51 votes in the 100-seat Senate -- meaning the vote of every Democrat, plus a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, would be required.
But progressives suffered a major setback when a key Senate official ruled Thursday that the final version of the bill in that chamber could not include a minimum wage hike.
Biden campaigned extensively on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, from the $7.25 rate that has stood since 2009. Progressives have been pushing the raise as a Democratic priority.
In his remarks Saturday, the president made no mention of the issue, a source of discord within the party.
Most Republicans, and a few Democrats, opposed the higher wage, so having it stripped from the Senate version of the legislation could actually ease its passage.


Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
Updated 28 February 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
  • The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas

RIYADH: Oil prices made another big weekly gain, as WTI rose above $60 per barrel and the Brent crude price settled above $65 per barrel, amid a sharp drop in US output due to the weather crisis in Texas. The week closed with Brent crude at $66.13 per barrel and WTI at $61.50.

The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas. The impact on US crude production is still unclear. Some American producers reported production losses of about four million barrels per day (bpd) during the cold blast, but the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a drop of only one million bpd.

US commercial crude stocks climbed by 1.28 million barrels to 463.04 million last week as the Texas freeze pushed refinery demand to 12-year lows. Global Platts S&P has reported the total U.S. refinery net crude input plunged 2.59 million bpd to 12.23 million bpd, the lowest since the week ended September 2008, as refinery utilization fell 14.5 percent to 68.6 percent of capacity.

Even before the striking impact of the Texas snowstorm on the US energy industry, output had fallen greatly. The EIA reported that US oil production has decreased to 9.7 million bpd, down 1.1 million from the week before and 3.4 million lower than the US peak of 13.1 million bpd a year ago. Coming in addition to the 8.2 million bpd output cuts from OPEC+ (including Saudi Arabia’s additional 1 million bpd voluntary cut), this has reduced global supplies by about 11.6 million bpd, which has so far kept the market intact and helped oil prices to head for their fourth monthly gain.

There has been bullish talk that prices might reach $100. This is completely false, despite the upcoming spring refineries maintenance season in Asia, where China is getting ready with lower crude oil imports. Continuing fears over the coronavirus may even push Asian refineries to make deeper run cuts until oil prices advance into the $70s in coming months.

Ironically, ahead of the OPEC+ meeting in early March, market participants and major shale oil producers are giving OPEC+ bullish signs to consider a modest production boost. These signals show the declining influence of US shale on OPEC and suggest that the organisation no longer needs to worry about the threat posed by the sector.