UAE tourists expected to be among first wave returning to Thailand’s Phuket.

UAE tourists expected to be among first wave returning to Thailand’s Phuket.
The sun sets over outlying islands as a plane prepares to land on the resort island of Phuket. (AP)
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Updated 05 April 2021

UAE tourists expected to be among first wave returning to Thailand’s Phuket.

UAE tourists expected to be among first wave returning to Thailand’s Phuket.
  • Phuket aims to deliver shots to at least 460,000 people
  • Targets 100,000 tourists for Phuket in the third quarter

PHUKET: In Thailand, it’s the all-important tourism sector that has jumped to the head of the COVID-19 vaccination line, with the country’s most popular resort island embarking on a mass inoculation program two months ahead of the rest of the country.
Visitors from the United Arab Emirates, Europe and the United States are expected to return first, said Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
The island of Phuket aims to deliver shots to at least 460,000 people — most of its population — as it gears up for July 1, when vaccinated overseas visitors will no longer be required to quarantine.
Phuket also has its own international airport and tourists would be able to roam the island freely without posing any coronavirus risk to the rest of Thailand’s population.
“If we can build immunity for 70-80 percent of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong told Reuters.
While medical workers, members of the cabinet and the elderly were the first to be vaccinated, Thailand’s decision to prioritize Phuket over other parts of the country underscores the central role of tourism to the economy.
Spending by foreign tourists accounted for 11-12 percent of GDP pre-pandemic and the sector has been devastated by the virus with 1.45 million jobs lost since last year.
Just 6.7 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2020, spending some $11 billion. That compares with nearly 40 million in 2019, when they spent $61 billion.
The government wants to see at least 100,000 tourists come to Phuket in the third quarter. It also hopes that as vaccinations worldwide progress it will see a spike in demand in the fourth quarter and that nationwide some 6.5 million visitors will have spent 350 billion baht ($11 billion) by the end of the year.
“It’s a challenge. But that will contribute to GDP to some extent,” said Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
“We don’t expect tourists will come in like a broken dam but we hope to have quality visitors with high spending.”
Visitors from Europe, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are expected to return first, Yuthasak said.
Strict 14-day quarantine requirements for overseas visitors have helped Thailand limit coronavirus infections to around 29,100 cases and 95 deaths but have proven to be too great a hurdle for most tourists.
Programmes to attract long-term tourists who test negative for the coronavirus have largely flopped, even with creative measures such as quarantine at golf resorts.
Songklod Wongchai, an analyst at Finansia Syrus, believes Thailand could see a quick rebound in tourism, citing the example of the Maldives which has seen hotel occupancy rates bounce back to 70-80 percent despite cases of the virus.
“Pent-up demand may come back faster than expected. I think the Land of Smiles will start smiling again,” he said.


Oman becomes fourth GCC country to introduce VAT

Oman becomes fourth GCC country to introduce VAT
Updated 58 min 38 sec ago

Oman becomes fourth GCC country to introduce VAT

Oman becomes fourth GCC country to introduce VAT
  • Tax starts April 16 at 5%
  • Zero-rated items include essential foodstuffs

OMAN: Oman introduced a 5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on Friday, the fourth Gulf Cooperation Council country to implement a so-called consumption tax.

It followed the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia tripled its VAT rate to 15 percent last July to help fund its coronavirus relief efforts.

Oman has predicted it will raise OMR400 million ($1.04 billion) from the tax this year, equivalent to 1.5 percent of GDP, as it looks to narrow a widening fiscal deficit.

In June 2016, all six GCC states signed the Common VAT Agreement, pledging to introduce a 5% VAT rate. Kuwait’s parliament has pushed back the implementation date several times but the International Monetary Fund said last year that it expects it to be introduced by 2022. Qatar is expected to go ahead with VAT in the second or third quarter of this year and is said to be close to finalizing its tax administration system, Dhareeba.

Omanis had 6 months to prepare for the introduction of VAT, which may be followed by the Gulf’s first income tax in the coming years.

Goods and services exempt from VAT include financial services, health care, education, local passenger transport, bare land, resale of residential real estate and residential rents. Zero-rated goods and services include all exports, basic foodstuffs, medicine and medical equipment, investment in gold, silver and platinum, crude oil and derivatives and natural gas, among certain transport goods.


ADNOC to explore potential of hydrogen market with India

ADNOC to explore potential of hydrogen market with India
Updated 16 April 2021

ADNOC to explore potential of hydrogen market with India

ADNOC to explore potential of hydrogen market with India
  • Key to hydrogen economy will be aligning supply and demand - Al Jaber

RIYADH: The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) sees a potential market for hydrogen in public and private Indian companies to serve the country’s growing demand for energy and need for cleaner fuels, said Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, minister of industry and advanced technology and CEO of ADNOC.

“Today, India is one of our biggest and most important trading partners, particularly in the field of energy,” Al Jaber said during a high-level ministerial session at a virtual hydrogen roundtable on Thursday, WAM reported. “And as India’s demand for energy grows, we stand ready to help meet that demand by making the full portfolio of our products available to the Indian market.”

“Granted Hydrogen is still in its infancy, it could be a game-changer and a real opportunity to accelerate the broader energy transition, an opportunity that ADNOC and the UAE are well placed to capitalize on,” Al Jaber said. The “key to developing the hydrogen economy of the future will be aligning supply and demand,” he said.

ADNOC currently produces about 300,000 tons of hydrogen a year as part of its current industrial processes, and can become a major player in the developing blue hydrogen market, Al Jaber said.

The company is also exploring the potential of green Hydrogen through the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance, which was recently established by ADNOC, Mubadala Investment Company and ADQ, he said.


Sakani housing program served 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021

Sakani housing program served 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021
Updated 16 April 2021

Sakani housing program served 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021

Sakani housing program served 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021
  • Sakani beat target of 51,000 familes in Q1
  • Sakani announces launch of home finance app

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Sakani program helped 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021, surpassing its target of serving 51,000 families.

Sakani was formed in 2017 by the Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund with the aim of facilitating home ownership in the Kingdom through the creation of new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals and financing their purchase. It has a goal of reaching 70% home ownership by 2030.

Sakani revealed the data at an event in Riyadh on Thursday where it announced the launch of an online home finance app, SPA reported.

The program aims to serve 220,000 Saudi families this year, through the creation of 50,000 housing units, facilitating the reservation of 30,000 residential land plots and arranging 140,000 real estate loans, said CEO Marwan Zawawi.

More than 66,000 financing contracts were signed in the first quarter of 2021, supported by SR40 billion, a 23 percent increase compared to the same period of 2020. This brings the total number of families benefiting from the subsidized mortgage since its inception in mid-2017 until the end of the first quarter of 2021, to more than 487,000 families in various regions of the Kingdom, said Mansour bin Madi, general supervisor of the Real Estate Development Fund.

Sakani has enabled more than 350 thousand families to own homes to date, Bin Madi said.

About 178 infrastructure projects covering 244 million square meters have been developed at a cost of more than SR8 billion, said National Housing Company CEO Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Bati.

“In 2017, housing options under construction were limited, but now developers are racing to obtain licenses,” said General Supervisor of Real Estate Development Deputyship at the Ministry of Housing, Sultan Al-Sheikh. “Reservation of residential units on new developments is often complete within a few days and in some cases hours.”


Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes

Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes
Updated 16 April 2021

Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes

Oil rises above $67 in fifth day of gains on demand hopes
  • Brent on track for weekly gain of about 7%
  • U.S., China economic recoveries bolster sentiment

LONDON: Oil rose above $67 a barrel on Friday, gaining for a fifth session, as a stronger demand outlook and signs of economic recovery in China and the United States offset rising COVID-19 infections in some other major economies.
China’s first-quarter gross domestic product jumped 18.3% year on year, official data showed on Friday. On Thursday figures showed a rise in US retail sales and a drop in unemployment claims.
“Given the improving outlook for the world’s two biggest economies, there is little chance of the market’s feel-good glow being extinguished any time soon,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
Brent crude rose 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $67.20 a barrel by 0950 GMT, heading for a weekly gain of about 7 percent. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude added 16 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $63.62.
New US sanctions imposed on Russia, one of the world’s top oil producers, over alleged election interference and hacking could also support prices.
“Though they do not affect the oil sector directly, they could lead to higher financing costs and general uncertainty in trade with Russia,” said Eugen Weinberg of Commerzbank.
Helping the rally this week, the International Energy Agency and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) both made upward revisions to oil demand growth forecasts for 2021.
Figures on Wednesday also showed US crude inventories fell by 5.9 million barrels.
Demand hopes offset concern about rising coronavirus cases in other big economies. India’s infection rate hit a record high while Germany’s chancellor on Friday said a third wave of the virus has the country in its grip.
Oil has recovered from pandemic-induced lows last year, helped by record cuts to oil output by OPEC and its allies, a group known as OPEC+.
Some of the OPEC+ cuts will be eased from May, with the group meeting on April 28 to consider further tweaks to the supply pact.


Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses
Updated 16 April 2021

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses
  • Smallest vials sell for SR400 ($106).
  • Harvest falls during Ramadan this year

TAIF: Every spring, roses bloom in the western Saudi city of Taif, turning pockets of the Kingdom’s vast desert landscape a vivid and fragrant pink.
In April, they are harvested for the essential oil used to cleanse the outer walls of the sacred Kaaba in Makkah.
This year, the harvest falls during Ramadan.
Workers at the Bin Salman farm tend rose bushes and pick tens of thousands of flowers each day to produce rose water and oil, also prized components in the cosmetic and culinary industries.
The perfumed oil has become popular among the millions of Muslims who visit the Kingdom every year for pilgrimages.
Patterns of plants and flowers have long been part of Islamic art.
Known as the city of roses, with approximately 300 million blooms every year, Taif has more than 800 flower farms, many of which have opened their doors to visitors.
While workers pick flowers in the fields, others labor in sheds, filling and weighing baskets by hand.
The flowers are then boiled and distilled.
“We start boiling the roses on high heat until they are almost evaporated, and this takes around 30 to 35 minutes,” Khalaf Al-Tuweiri, who owns the Bin Salman farm, told AFP.
“After that we lower the heat for around 15 to 30 minutes until the distilling process starts, which lasts for eight hours.”
Once the oil floats to the top of the glass jars, the extraction process begins.
The oil is then extracted with a large syringe to fill different-sized vials, the smallest going for SR400 ($106).