Abu Dhabi theme parks get facial recognition – but how will it cope with masks?

Abu Dhabi theme parks get facial recognition – but how will it cope with masks?
The pandemic has posed new challenges for the developers of facial recognition algorithms. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 March 2021

Abu Dhabi theme parks get facial recognition – but how will it cope with masks?

Abu Dhabi theme parks get facial recognition – but how will it cope with masks?
  • The facial-technology system will allow contactless ticketing and payment across the parks
  • Businesses have been trying to circumvent the lasting impact of COVID-19

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi theme parks will soon use facial recognition technology for arriving visitors.
The technology will allow visitors to Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and Warner Bros World to enter the parks quickly and pay their tickets by having their faces scanned. It will also be available in some restaurants and retail shops across the parks.
But the technology will not see through masks, a spokesperson confirmed to Arab News.  Instead visitors would need to pull down their coverings momentarily for it to work reliably.
Businesses particularly those that require physical interaction with customers, have been trying to circumvent the lasting impact of COVID-19 by introducing contactless technology in their operations – one of which is facial recognition.
Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and Warner Bros World, located in the capital’s Yas Island, will be the first in the region to adopt FacePass technology, the island’s operator Miral said.
The pandemic has also posed new challenges for the developers of facial recognition algorithms with significant advances being made since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago.
Japanese company NEC is one developer that has created a system that it says can reliably identify people wearing masks. It focuses on parts of the face that are not covered up such as the eyes.
Yas Islands’ face recognition system will not have this capacity, Miral confirmed, but the company said the island is on track to become a “fully contactless destination” with this new initiative.
“This kind of contactless technology is the future for all consumer-facing businesses. It largely enhances guest safety and wellbeing through touchless interaction, ensuring world-class safety measures and ease of social distancing,” Mohamed Abdalla Al-Zaabi, chief executive officer of Miral, added.


World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to takeover its neighbor: CEO

World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to takeover its neighbor: CEO
Updated 30 sec ago

World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to takeover its neighbor: CEO

World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to takeover its neighbor: CEO
  • The consolidation deal will see The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC) taking over Amaala, both owned by the PIF

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is combining two giga project developers on the Red Sea coast to “leverage synergies” as the Kingdom goes ahead with ambitious tourism goals.

The consolidation deal will see The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC) taking over Amaala, both owned by the PIF, but the tourist destinations they are developing will retain “separate, distinct” identities, Chief Executive Officer John Pagano told Arab News.

“Amaala has its own unique positioning and branding, which is not going to change, as well as the Red Sea project,” he said on the sidelines of the Arabian and African Hospitality Investment conference in Dubai

Pagano added: “Amaala is focused on wellness, while the Red Sea project is very much focused on eco-tourism – that is not going to change.”

It follows a move that saw Pagano being appointed as the CEO of Amaala in January this year.

“We said we would look at the way at which we could combine the organizations, and look to leverage synergies between the two groups,” Pagano said.

He explained: “We are going to leverage the unique skill sets that both project teams have and use them for the better good of both projects.”

The consolidation will also allow both destinations to boost operational efficiencies, he added.

There was no value to the transaction, Pagano said, describing the move as just a consolidation of two companies, which are both owned by one entity anyway.

‘Regenerative tourism’

The Red Sea Development Co. alone is building over 28,000 square kilometers of land and water along the Kingdom’s west coast. It will feature mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, as well as ancient and cultural heritage sites.

Its first phase is expected to be finished by 2023, where 16 hotels will be opened. The project targets some 50 resorts with 8,000 hotel rooms by 2030.

These massive plans have raised questions from environment advocates, but Pagano maintains regeneration remains a key component of the project.

“Sustainability is no longer enough. We have moved our narrative to regeneration,” he said.

Pagano said it is not simply just about “causing no harm” to the environment, but actively looking for ways to improve the destination and “leave it in a better state than we found it.”

The company has announced a number of initiatives to keep this promise – from small regulations such as banning single-use plastic to big operational plans including using renewable energy to power the destination.

“We are going to be the largest tourism destination in the world powered by 100 percent renewable energy – 24 hours a day, completely off-grid,” Pagano said.

To achieve this, Pagano said they are installing what he claims to be the largest battery storage system in the world.

The company also engages in improving biodiversity on the Red Sea, including working with the scientific community to grow corals.

This level of commitment is also shared by international brands who plan to invest in the Red Sea project, Pagano said, as the bigger hotel industry becomes more conscious about global environmental goals.

“International brands support our vision, otherwise we would not be dealing with them,” he said. These brands will be announced at the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh next month.

Financing the ambition

The CEO said they “will come to market next year with a similar approach for Amaala,” referring to the $3.7 billion financing it secured in April that already covered capital infrastructure for the Red Sea project’s first phase.

“It will be a senior debt facility – conventional finance – that’s what we need at this stage. It will come in the not-so-distant future,” he said.

Pagano said they have already built credibility with lending institutions, which he expects will make it easier for them to secure financing.  

According to a Reuters report, Saudi Arabia is planning to raise up to 10 billion riyals ($2.67 billion) next year for Amaala, citing the CEO.

‘Saudi Arabia is changing’

All these projects are part of an ongoing transformation in the Kingdom, primarily driven by its pursuit to diversify income sources away from oil.

The Kingdom identified tourism as one of its key sectors in this diversification, with many infrastructure developments in the pipeline, as well as regulatory changes that make it easier for tourists to visit the previously closed-off Gulf state.

“It is fair to say that Saudi Arabia is changing from a policy perspective, and it’s changing dramatically,” Pagano said.

For the Red Sea destinations, Pagano said they are building a special economic zone that will set a more relaxed regulatory environment.

“It will be conducive to attracting investments, and it is going to allow us to adjust the social norms to make the destinations attractive to foreign visitors,” he said.


Saudi Venture Capital launches new investment funds

Saudi Venture Capital launches new investment funds
Updated 11 min 4 sec ago

Saudi Venture Capital launches new investment funds

Saudi Venture Capital launches new investment funds
  • SVC, in partnership with angel investors, aims to bridge financing gaps, stimulate investment in emerging companies

RIYADH: The Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC) has launched an investment product in debt funds and venture capital funds, SPA reported.

This came after the approval of the Financial Sector Development Program Committee. Approval to launch SVC’s investment products in debt funds and venture capital funds aims to diversify sources of funding and fill financing gaps for emerging companies and small and medium enterprises (SME), the program director general, Faisal Al-Sharif said.

SVC, in partnership with angel investors, aims to bridge financing gaps and stimulate investment in emerging companies and small and medium enterprises.

Since its launch in 2018 SVC has invested SR2.8 billion in Saudi startups and SMEs.

“Funds that offer debt instruments and venture capital instruments still represent a financing gap in the venture capital and growth investment system in the Kingdom, and debt instruments and venture capital instruments have emerged globally as an extension of the evolution of the venture capital and growth investment system,” SVC CEO Nabeel Koshak said.

SVC is a government company that was established as a result of one of the initiatives of the Financial Sector Development Program, which was led by Monshaat.


Egypt's B2B Marketplace Cartona raises $4.5m Pre-Series A

Egypt's B2B Marketplace Cartona raises $4.5m Pre-Series A
Updated 21 September 2021

Egypt's B2B Marketplace Cartona raises $4.5m Pre-Series A

Egypt's B2B Marketplace Cartona raises $4.5m Pre-Series A
  • The Egypt-based team plans to use its newly acquired funds to further develop its Tech Stack
  • MENA-based E-commerce startups have observed steady growth this year

Cartona, the Egypt-based B2B platform connecting retailers to manufacturers and wholesalers, has successfully raised $4.5 million in its latest funding round, led by Global Ventures, MAGNiTT reported.

Kepple Africa Ventures, T5 Ventures, and a group of key angel investors also participated in leading the Pre-Series A round.

The Egypt-based team plans to use its newly acquired funds to further develop its Tech Stack, launch new products and expand geographically across Egypt. The technology stack is a combination of programming languages, frameworks, and tools that developers use to build a web or mobile app.

Cartona was launched in August last year to digitize the traditional, predominantly offline trade market in Egypt, enabling grocery retailers to order their store needs digitally from a curated network of sellers.

Since its launch, Cartona has aggregated over 30,000 users in Cairo and Alexandria. It has processed over 400,000 delivered orders with an annualized gross merchandise value of  over $63 million. 

Cartona works with 100 fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, 1,000 distributors, and wholesalers, offering consumers over 10,000 products listed on its platform including dry, fresh, and frozen food.


MENA-based E-commerce startups have observed steady growth this year, according to MAGNiTT's August 2021 Venture Investment Dashboard.

The E-commerce industry has been the second most active and third most funded industry in MENA over 2021 year to date, driven by an eight percent year-on-year increase in number of deals closed in the region, and a solid 78 percent year-on-year growth in amount of funding.


NEOM to see increase in construction projects: CNBC

NEOM to see increase in construction projects: CNBC
Updated 21 September 2021

NEOM to see increase in construction projects: CNBC

NEOM to see increase in construction projects: CNBC
  • The state-owned company plans to offer tenders for building labor cities

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is working to increase the construction of projects in its NEOM megaproject, CNBC Arabia reported, citing sources. 

The state-owned company plans to offer tenders for building labor cities accommodating up to 100,000 workers, the sources added according to Argaam, the news portal.

Originally, the project, which was scheduled to be completed last year, was set to accommodate around 30,000 workers. 

The company is close to offering five to 10 tenders over the next six months, with each city planned to accommodate nearly 10,000 workers.

Deloitte is advising the Saudi government on the project of establishing labor cities.

In October 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of a new investment city, NEOM, in northwest Saudi Arabia, at a total investment of $500 billion, financed by the Saudi government, Public Investment Fund, as well as local and global investors.


Regulators not up to speed on banks' digital marketplaces: EU watchdog

Regulators not up to speed on banks' digital marketplaces: EU watchdog
Image: EBA
Updated 21 September 2021

Regulators not up to speed on banks' digital marketplaces: EU watchdog

Regulators not up to speed on banks' digital marketplaces: EU watchdog
  • Finance and tech companies are coming closer together as banks set up digital marketplaces for products like payments and mortgages
  • EU watchdog said reliance on digital platforms for marketing and distribution of services creates new forms of financial, operational and reputational interdependencies

Regulators have little understanding of risks from banks creating digital marketplaces with tech companies and a framework is needed to spot potential contagion if things go wrong, the European Union's banking watchdog said on Tuesday.


The European Banking Authority's warning is the latest sign that financial regulators are starting to pay more attention to Big Tech's increasing links with finance, such as in cloud computing.


Finance and tech companies are coming closer together as banks set up digital marketplaces for products like payments and mortgages, as well as other financial and non-financial services, a process which has accelerated since the pandemic began.


This means customers can make payments or buy things using their mobile phone which links directly to their bank account. This so-called platformisation helps banks to cut costs and reach a wider range of customers, and includes partnerships with tech groups.


Apple Pay, for example, allows banks' debit and credit card holders to set up an Apple wallet to make payments. Google and Citi have teamed up to enable users of the Google Pay app to open an account with Citi.


But the EU watchdog said reliance on digital platforms for marketing and distribution of services creates new forms of financial, operational and reputational interdependencies.


The trend is posing "some challenges" for regulators in monitoring market developments and any risks from these interdependencies, the watchdog said.


"Indeed, it appears that the vast majority of competent authorities currently have a limited understanding of platform-based business models," EBA said.


EBA said it proposes to develop a framework next year to collect information about dependencies among banks on digital platforms, and create indicators to assess potential concentration, contagion and systemic risks.

But it said new legislation is not needed at this stage.


The watchdog called on the EU to update guidance on when a digital activity should be considered a crossborder provision of services and therefore come under EU and national laws that require information to be reported to regulators to improve visibility.


EBA said a small number of banks say they had encountered some issues in accessing digital platforms on terms they considered fair.