OYO hotels eye Saudi recovery after COVID-19 pandemic

OYO hotels eye Saudi recovery after COVID-19 pandemic
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One of the key challenges hotel owners are facing is a shortage of manpower. (Supplied)
OYO hotels eye Saudi recovery after COVID-19 pandemic
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Bader Saidan, Head of Saudi Arabia at OYO Hotels and Homes. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 February 2021

OYO hotels eye Saudi recovery after COVID-19 pandemic

OYO hotels eye Saudi recovery after COVID-19 pandemic
  • Indian hospitality chain operates more than 200 hotels across 22 cities in Kingdom

RIYADH: Indian hotel and hospitality chain OYO Hotels and Homes is on track to return to pre-pandemic occupancy levels, with 15 percent of the company’s properties already hitting that mark, a spokesperson told Arab News.

A hospitality chain of leased and franchised hotels, homes and living spaces, OYO has had a presence in Saudi Arabia since September 2019, when an agreement was signed with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority to invest SR4 billion ($1.07 billion) developing its portfolio across the Kingdom.

Today, OYO accounts for more than 18,000 rooms in about 200 hotels across 22 Saudi cities and provinces.

Despite periods of “very low” revenue during the lockdown last year, Bader Saidan, head of OYO’s Saudi operation, told Arab News that business was now on an upward trajectory.

“The journey we have experienced in Saudi Arabia provides us with some key learnings, including how to further strengthen our foundation by better using our resources, as well as the technology we have, to deliver better value to our partners and customers in the country. Our supply is growing, and occupancy is coming back, with 15 percent of properties already at pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

While some of the chain’s properties remain closed, Saidan said that he expects “a significant proportion of the properties that are temporarily shut today to resume business over the next three months as the markets reopen.”

He added that the company’s primary method of booking, the OYO app, has rebounded faster than any other of their digital channels.

“We have also invested in revamping our technology platforms to more seamlessly integrate our customers and our partners, with improvements on the app for searches, contactless check-ins, and customized CRM (customer relationship management) based on properties the customer has stayed at,” he said.

However, the possibility of another lockdown or travel ban remains, but Saidan said that while he believed the government will do what is best to keep people safe and the economy running, the hospitality industry must also actively work on defining “Hospitality 2.0” in a new normal.

“We believe that technology combined with human commitment is the key in making all of this possible. We are seeing pent-up demand from travelers, fueling travel demand around the region in the next few months, as more countries lift domestic and international travel restrictions. The affordable hotel segment will recover quicker than the premium and luxury segment as people have less disposable income and are concerned about the economy. Businesses have also reduced the need for corporate travel,” he said.

Our supply is growing, and occupancy is coming back, with 15 percent of properties already at pre-pandemic levels.

Bader Saidan, Head of OYO’s Saudi operation

However, beyond just travel restrictions, Saidan said that one of the key challenges hotel owners are facing is a shortage of manpower needed to keep properties operational. In OYO’s case, he said technological solutions meant the company needed fewer personnel to manage front offices, customer support, and pricing, among other things.

“What is important to note is that right through the pandemic, OYO has continued to add properties to our network. Our network will continue to grow in the next quarter,” he said, adding that the OYO brand has a “healthy” business in the Kingdom.

“Due to the investments we made during the pandemic, in fixing operational issues, the availability of vaccines in the Kingdom, the return of Hajj pilgrims and building out our next generation technology platforms, we expect 2021 to be far stronger operationally than when we entered 2020,” he said.

However, going into 2021, with the pandemic still affecting the hospitality industry on a global scale, plans for the brand’s future expansions will have to wait until things become more clear.

“It’s difficult to commit to a number right now as the pandemic has made the future very unpredictable,” Saidan told Arab News. “Perhaps when we see the market stabilizing, whenever that may be, we can be in a better position to provide more concrete answers. Once the vaccine becomes available and is administered to a sizable population in the Kingdom, things will be clearer.”

He added that the company is not raising capital at the moment, and is instead opting to focus on improving operations and partner services.

“We are blessed to have liquidity, and our balance sheet gives us the necessary runway and confidence to navigate the business through these unprecedented times. We have a runway to tide through the various scenarios that may emerge as a result of the pandemic. However, if there are inbounds, we continue to engage.”


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.


UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank
Updated 27 February 2021

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank
  • Sunak to use budget to expand apprenticeships and extra funds for traineeships

LONDON: Britain is to launch a new infrastructure bank with £12 billion ($17 billion) in capital and £10 billion in government guarantees, the treasury said on Saturday, aimed at supporting the economy.

British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce the initial funding at Wednesday’s budget and the bank will launch in spring, the ministry said.

“Britain’s businesses and the Great British public deserve world-class infrastructure and that is exactly what this new bank will help us deliver for them,” Sunak was quoted as saying.

The bank is set to finance private sector projects in the green economy, focusing on areas such as carbon capture and renewable energy.

It will also provide loans to local authorities at low interest rates to support “complex infrastructure projects.”

The Finance Ministry said the bank would unlock billions more in private finance to support a £40 billion infrastructure investment to “fire up the economy” and help reach commitments on net zero emissions and reducing regional deprivation.

The announcement comes as Britain’s economy has been hit hard by pandemic lockdowns.

Analysts expect unemployment to surge when the UK government’s furlough scheme paying the bulk of wages for millions in the private sector ends — as currently planned — at the end of April.

Sunak last week hinted he would announce further employment support in the coming months.

He first announced the planned bank in November last year, saying its headquarters would be in northern England rather than in the financial hub of London.

Apprenticeships

The minister will also announce more funding for apprenticeships in England.

Employers taking part in the Apprenticeship Initiative Scheme will from April 1 receive £3,000 for each apprentice hired, regardless of age — an increase on current grants of between £1,500 and £2,000 depending on age.

The scheme will be extended by six months until the end of September, the Finance Ministry said.

Sunak will also announce an extra £126 million for traineeships for up to 43,000 placements.

‘Enormous strains’

Sunak will use the budget next week to level with the public over the “enormous strains” in the country’s finances, warning that a bill will have to be paid after further coronavirus support, according to an interview with the Financial Times.

Sunak told the newspaper there was an immediate need to spend more to protect jobs as the UK emerged from COVID-19, but warned that Britain’s finances were now “exposed.”

UK exposure to a rise of 1 percentage point across all interest rates was £25 billion a year to the government’s cost of servicing its debt, Sunak told FT.

Additionally, the government will also announce a new £100 million task force to crackdown on COVID-19 fraudsters exploiting government support schemes, it said.


S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy
Updated 27 February 2021

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy
  • Africa’s most industrialized nation — the hardest-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the continent — has put public works in sectors

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s National Treasury is proposing changing rules governing pension funds to encourage investment in infrastructure projects.

Africa’s most industrialized nation — the hardest-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the continent — has put public works in sectors such as transport, energy and water at the heart of its economic recovery plans.

The treasury is proposing changes to Regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act in draft amendments published for public comment on Friday. This rule sets the maximum percentage of a fund’s assets that can be invested in different asset classes and is aimed to shield savers from over-concentrated investments.

The proposed amendments do not introduce infrastructure as a new asset class alongside existing ones like equities, debt instruments and property but allow for infrastructure investments to be recognized within those asset classes.

They also say overall investment in infrastructure across all asset categories may not exceed 45 percent of domestic exposure and an additional 10 percent for the rest of Africa.

The changes should make it easier for retirement funds to invest in infrastructure and allow for better measurement of investment in projects, the Treasury said in a statement.

The changes are “informed by a number of calls for increased investment in infrastructure given the current low economic growth climate,” it said, stressing that the decision to invest in any asset class remained up to the board of trustees of each fund.

The public can comment on the amendments until late March.


G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises
Updated 28 February 2021

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises
  • Finance chiefs agree to avoid premature withdrawal of fiscal support

ROME/BRUSSELS: The world’s financial leaders committed to a more multilateral approach to the twin coronavirus and economic crises.

“We agreed that any premature withdrawal of fiscal and monetary support should be avoided,” Daniele Franco, Italy’s finance minister, told a news conference after an online meeting held by the G20 finance ministers and central bankers on Friday.

The financial chiefs agreed to maintain expansionary policies to help economies survive the effects of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

The Italian presidency of the G20 group of the world’s top economies said the gathering of finance chiefs had pledged to work more closely to accelerate a still fragile and uneven recovery.

The G20 is “committed to scaling up international coordination to tackle current global challenges by adopting a stronger multilateral approach and focusing on a set of core priorities,” the Italian presidency said in a statement.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the G20 Washington had dropped the Trump administration’s proposal to let some companies opt out of new global digital tax rules, raising hopes for an agreement by summer.

The move was hailed as a major breakthrough by Germany’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.

Scholz said Yellen told the G20 officials that Washington also planned to reform US minimum tax regulations in line with an Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) proposal for a global effective minimum tax.

“This is a giant step forward,” Scholz said.

 Franco said the new US stance should pave the way to an overarching deal on taxation of multinationals at a G20 meeting of finance chiefs in Venice in July.

The G20 also discussed how to help the world’s poorest countries, whose economies are being disproportionately hit by the crisis.

On this front there was broad support for boosting the capital of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it provide more loans, but no concrete numbers were proposed.

To give itself more firepower, the IMF proposed last year to increase its war chest by $500 billion in its own currency called the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), but the idea was blocked by former US President Donald Trump.

“There was no discussion on specific amounts of SDRs,” Franco said, adding that the issue would be looked at again on the basis of a proposal prepared by the IMF for April.


Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector
Updated 27 February 2021

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

The Saudi Center for International Strategic Partnerships (SCISP) signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) to boost the private sector’s role in international partnerships.

The move aims to stimulate the private sector’s participation and sustainability by providing all necessary support to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s international strategic partnerships.

SCISP CEO Faisal Al-Sugair said the agreement is part of the measures aimed at involving all relevant actors in the Kingdom’s economic system to achieve the strategic goals of Vision 2030.

The memorandum includes exchange of information, data and necessary reports that support the two parties’ work, Al-Sugair said.

Established in 2017, the SCISP is a government entity linked to the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.