Pandemic fuels travel boom in virtual reality

Pandemic fuels travel boom in virtual reality
Virtual reality’s most popular applications are in gaming and fantasy worlds, but travel is seen as a new growth vector. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 28 March 2021

Pandemic fuels travel boom in virtual reality

Pandemic fuels travel boom in virtual reality
  • Data on VR travel usage is limited but developers have seen surging interest since the pandemic hit

WASHINGTON: Jem Jenkins Jones was stuck at home in Wales for much of the past year amid pandemic lockdowns but managed to fulfil a promise to her 10-year-old daughter to see the northern lights from Iceland and South Africa’s game reserves — in virtual reality.

“She was amazed,” she said, calling the VR travel experiences “a lifesaver for us.”

Strict lockdowns and travel limitations during the pandemic have sparked fresh interest in immersive virtual travel experiences, which have become more accessible and affordable with new apps and VR hardware.

Even those confined to their homes can take a virtual jaunt to Machu Picchu, the rainforests of Borneo or a road trip across the US in a convertible.

Data on VR travel usage is limited but developers have seen surging interest since the pandemic hit.

“It has been skyrocketing,” said Cezara Windrem, creator of the Alcove VR platform at AARP Innovation Labs. “We’re getting more adoption every month.”

Alcove enables users to visit exotic locales such as Australia’s coral reef or the island of Malta, while adding a “shared” experience which enables people to interact and even “lead” a family member without the technical skills to navigate in a VR headset.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people who discovered Alcove and decided buy a headset for their elderly family members,” Windrem said.

This allows for shared travel even during a lockdown and other kinds of experiences such as “playing chess with someone on the other side of the planet.”

With the tourism industry largely obliterated by the coronavirus outbreak, virtual reality has emerged as both a substitute for real-world travel and a complement to help people plan their next trip.

App developers have created a range of travel experiences: Touring the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the savannahs of Kenya or the Antarctic from a kayak. These come from commercial operators or organizations such as National Geographic or World Wildlife Fund.

Users can opt for hardware from Facebook’s Oculus, Sony’s PlayStation or the inexpensive Google Cardboard, among others. Some gear costs as little as $300 and many apps are free.

Virtual reality’s most popular applications are in gaming and fantasy worlds, but travel is seen as a new growth vector.


Saudi Re aims to boost capital to fund domestic, overseas expansion plans

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
Updated 16 min 20 sec ago

Saudi Re aims to boost capital to fund domestic, overseas expansion plans

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
  • Despite a difficult year in 2020, Saudi Re recorded SR 60.7 million in net profit before zakat, an increase of 2 percent year-on-year

RIYADH: The Saudi Reinsurance Company (Saudi Re) on Thursday announced plans to increase its capital in order to fund its expansion plans.

Saudi Re’s board recommended increasing the company’s capital from SR 810 million ($216 million) to SR 891 million and converting SR 81 million of retained earnings into capital, giving the company an extra SR 162 million to finance its expansion plans.

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re, said in a statement: “The capital increase will strengthen Saudi Re’s capital base and support the expansion plans in the domestic and international markets. The board’s recommendation comes in line with Saudi Re’s effort to generate better returns and create a greater shareholder value.”

Despite a difficult year in 2020, Saudi Re recorded SR 60.7 million in net profit before zakat, an increase of 2 percent year-on-year.

At the same time, total assets increased 7 percent to SR 2.8 billion and total gross written premiums (GWPs) increased 18 percent to SR 935 million. International business made up the bulk of the GWP growth — up 25 percent year-on-year — while domestic business increased 8 percent.


Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief
Updated 33 min 52 sec ago

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief
  • Lira slips 0.7% on announcement
  • Inflation could reach 19% before mid-year

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s central bank held rates steady at 19 percent as expected on Thursday and dropped a pledge to tighten policy further if needed, in its first decision since President Tayyip Erdogan fired the hawkish former governor and sparked a market selloff.
In a statement, the bank also ditched last month’s pledge to “decisively” maintain a tight monetary policy “for an extended period” to address inflation, which has risen above 16 percent and been in double-digits for most of the last four years.
The lira slipped as much as 0.7 percent to 8.125 versus the dollar after the bank under new governor Sahap Kavcioglu replaced the hawkish guidance with a softer assessment of risks to inflation that analysts said signaled interest rate cuts were on the way.
Erdogan’s shock removal last month of Kavcioglu’s predecessor Naci Agbal, a respected policy hawk, sent foreign investors fleeing from Turkish assets on concerns that rates would be quickly slashed.
But Kavcioglu — who had previously criticized Agbal’s rate hikes — has since promised no abrupt changes. Those assurances as well as the more-than 10 percent lira selloff had convinced analysts that policy would remain steady for now.
The central bank said it maintained a tight stance in the face of lofty inflation expectations, adding rates would remain above inflation until it is clear that price pressure is easing.
John Hardy, FX strategy head at Saxo Bank, said the currency had weakened on Thursday because Agbal’s pledges were scrapped.
“Any daylight they see, they are going to want to cut rates. Holding them here (today) is just an acknowledgment they can’t get away with it for now,” he said.
In a Reuters poll, most economists had predicted no change to the one-week policy rate this week, but saw easing from around mid-year, to settle at 15 percent by year-end.
Last month, the central bank under Agbal had raised rates by a more-than-expected 200 basis points to levels last touched in mid-2019 to dampen inflation and support the currency.
Before taking the job, Kavcioglu had said such a policy was wrong for Turkey and also espoused Erdogan’s unorthodox view that high rates cause inflation.
Erdogan has repeatedly called for monetary stimulus to help the economic rebound. He has fired three bank chiefs in two years, eroding monetary credibility.
The lira plunged 15 percent immediately after Agbal’s dismissal before a rebound, and foreign investors dumped the most bonds and stocks in 15 years over the following week.
Depreciation boosts inflation via imports, delaying any rate cut plans, analysts say.
Inflation is expected to reach as much as 19 percent before mid-year. Yet few analysts see another rate hike given Erdogan’s repeated calls for stimulus — including one this month for single-digit rates.
The change in tone under Kavcioglu reflects “preparation being made to cut the policy rate,” said Haluk Burumcekci of Istanbul-based Burumcekci Consulting.
Ratings agencies say premature easing could again hammer the lira and raise risks of a balance-of-payments crisis given Turkey’s depleted FX reserves and its $160 billion in short-term foreign debt.
Citing sources, Reuters reported Erdogan ousted Agbal in part because he was uncomfortable with the bank’s investigation into some $128 billion in FX sales undertaken during his son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s stint as finance minister.


Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass
Updated 15 April 2021

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass
  • Passengers from Dubai to Barcelona on flight EK 185 on Thursday trialed the travel pass

DUBAI: Dubai carrier Emirates airline has started testing the COVID-19 digital travel pass, a mobile application that will help passengers manage their necessary travel requirements amid heightened security due to the pandemic.

Passengers from Dubai to Barcelona on flight EK 185 on Thursday trialed the travel pass, according to a company statement.

“The ability to process passengers’ COVID-19 relevant data for travel digitally will be the way forward,” Adel Al-Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates, said, as the global aviation industry slowly gets back up from the pandemic slump.

The airlines partnered with the maker of the travel pass, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to integrate the standardized process of verifying documents such as COVID-19 rest results and vaccination certificates into the airline’s operations.

The trial is ongoing on selected Emirates flights from the Dubai to Barcelona and London Heathrow to Dubai, and will be expanded soon to include other routes, the company said.

Other airlines in the region have teamed up with IATA to conduct trial runs of the application, including Saudi Arabia’s Saudia and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways.


Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets
Updated 15 April 2021

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets
  • Sustainable investing has become a hot topic in Gulf markets over the last year with increased awareness in part springing from the coronavirus pandemic

DUBAI: Changing regulations and consumer demand driven by environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues means that some structured finance asset classes are riskier than others, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Aircraft and tobacco asset-backed securities (ABS) as well as project finance and infrastructure collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) have “moderate vulnerability” to environmental risk, while most other asset classes have “low” environmental risk, Moody’s wrote in a report.
Student loan asset-backed securities are the only structured finance sector with “high” social risk, it said.
“Environmental and social risks vary across structured finance asset classes, reflecting the sector’s diverse array of transaction types and assets,” according to Moody’s Vice President Inga Smolyar. “Governance considerations, in contrast, are generally issuer specific.”
Sustainable investing has become a hot topic in Gulf markets over the last year with increased awareness in part springing from the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for ethical and sustainable investments is now on the rise and increasingly being adopted by a wide range of investors from socially aware individuals to family offices and sovereign wealth funds.
The Future Investment Initiative Institute’s “The Neo-Renaissance: Mobilizing ESG for a Sustainable Future” conference takes place online today between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. Riyadh time.
Several high profile regional business leaders are due to speak at the event including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan who also chairs the institute.


Top 20 Saudi Ramadan electronics deals

Top 20 Saudi Ramadan electronics deals
Updated 15 April 2021

Top 20 Saudi Ramadan electronics deals

Top 20 Saudi Ramadan electronics deals
  • From smartphones to smart TVs

If you are looking to buy a new smartphone, TV or laptop, electronics items have some of the biggest discounts available this Ramdan. Here is a selection of some of the best deals available online and instore this week across the Kingdom, hand picked by Arab News editors.

Lenovo K12 Note

Lenovo K12 Note

NOW: SR569

WAS: SR899

SAVING: 36%

Available from Carrefour

Huawei Y8P

NOW: SR699

WAS: SR849

SAVING: 17%

Available from Carrefour

Samsung Galaxy A51

Samsung Galaxy A51

NOW: SR949

WAS: SR1199

SAVING: 21%

Available from Carrefour

iPhone 11 Pro 256GB

NOW: SR3999

WAS: SR4799

SAVING: 16%

Available from Carrefour

iPad 8th generation (2020)

iPad 8th generation (2020)

NOW: SR1499

WAS: SR1699

SAVING: 11%

Available from Carrefour

Ikon Tab-e learning tablet

NOW: SR399

WAS: SR549

SAVING: 27%

Available from Lulu

Ikon Portable bluetooth speaker

NOW: SR349

WAS: SR450

SAVING: 22%

Available from Lulu

Samsung 65-Inch Curved Smart QLED TV QA65Q8C Black

Samsung 65-Inch Curved Smart QLED TV QA65Q8C Black

NOW: SR6499

WAS: SR16999

SAVING: 61%

Available from noon.com

65 Inch UHD Smart Netflix Ready TV NETV65SM1 Black

NOW: SR2099

WAS: SR4669

SAVING: 55%

Available from noon.com

58 Inch UHD Smart Netflix Ready TV NETV58SM1 Black

NOW: SR1699

WAS: SR3779

SAVING: 55%

Available from noon.com

LG 65-Inch 4K UHD Smart AI ThinQ LED TV 65UN7340 Black

LG 65-Inch 4K UHD Smart AI ThinQ LED TV 65UN7340 Black

NOW: SR3199

WAS: SR5999

SAVING: 46%

Available from noon.com

Class pro 40-Inch Full HD LED TV BK40FHD Black

NOW: SR599

WAS: SR999

SAVING: 40%

Available from noon.com

Xiaomi Mi Wi-Fi IP Day/Night Vision Dome 2MP 1080P FHD Stand Alone Camera

Xiaomi Mi Wi-Fi IP Day/Night Vision Dome 2MP 1080P FHD Stand Alone Camera

NOW: SR134

WAS: SR199

SAVING: 32%

Available from noon.com

10000 mAh Boost+ Power Bank Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Fast Charging & PD (Small Size For Mobiles, Laptop, Tablets, Nintendo) Black

NOW: SR 37

WAS: SR 99

SAVING: 62%

Available from noon.com

Goui 30000 mAh Econ.30 Power Bank 5x9.9x3cm Black/Green

Goui 30000 mAh Econ.30 Power Bank 5x9.9x3cm Black/Green

NOW: SR149

WAS: SR299

SAVING: 50%

Available from noon.com

Energizer 10000 mAh Fast Charge Power Bank Dual USB- Pack of 2 Titanium Grey

NOW: SR 89

WAS: SR 150

SAVING: 40%

Available from noon.com

MacBook Pro With Touch Bar And Touch ID, 13.3-Inch Display

MacBook Pro With Touch Bar And Touch ID, 13.3-Inch Display, Core i5, 8th Generation, 4 Ghz Quad Core Processor/8GB RAM/512GB SSD/Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645/Retina Display, English Keyboard-2020 Space Grey

NOW: SR6499

WAS: SR 10078.60

SAVING: 35%

Available from noon.com

Rockstar Games Red Dead Redemption 2 (English) - Intl Version - Adventure - PlayStation 4 (PS4)

NOW: SR109.55

WAS: SR247

SAVING: 55%

Available from noon.com

EA FIFA 20: Standard (SPL) Edition (KSA- English/Arabic) - PlayStation 4 (PS4)

NOW: SR66.6

WAS: SR101

SAVING: 34%

Available from noon.com

Sony DualShock 4 Wireless Controller For PlayStation 4

Sony DualShock 4 Wireless Controller For PlayStation 4

NOW: SR147

WAS: SR315.56

SAVING: 53%

Available from noon.com