Occupancy rate of Makkah hotels sees over 30% rise in second half of Ramadan

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 May 2021

Occupancy rate of Makkah hotels sees over 30% rise in second half of Ramadan

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
  • Makkah is the main artery of hotels in Saudi Arabia, alone accounting for more than 64 percent of the sector

JEDDAH/MAKKAH: The occupancy rate at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan varied between 10 and 20 percent, while in the second half it rose to 30-38 percent, Rayan bin Osama Filali, chairman of the Hotel Committee, an affiliate of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Arab News.

Filali explained that for the first time, a relatively mild increase in the prices during the last days of Ramadan was witnessed — an unprecedented occurrence, as prices often increase by 300 percent during the last 10 days of Ramadan, compared with the rest days of the month.

“The size and impact of the pandemic caused the cancellation of offers promoted by hotels in the last 10 days of Ramadan,” Filali noted. The fact that only a small percentage of hotels was able to operate “showed the extent of the damage to the sector due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which disrupted the entire system, causing losses that are likely to cast a shadow for years to come.”

The chairman of the Hotel Committee said that the pandemic had directly disrupted much of the hotel sector’s dynamism, as it is one of the most productive, stimulating and job-creating market sectors.

He also said that only 26 hotels in Makkah’s central region are operating this Ramadan season with average prices dropping by 55 percent.

Makkah is the main artery of hotels in Saudi Arabia, alone accounting for more than 64 percent of the sector, which, according to Filali, needs at least four years to recover from the present crisis.

He also noted that the economic implications on the 1,200 hotels were extreme and that most hotels suspended their activities completely, closing their facilities and sending thousands of workers home.

“These workers are still waiting for hotels to open their doors after the end of the pandemic or the completion of the inoculation campaign of the entire community,” he added.

According to Filali, the hotel sector generates huge financial returns for all the countries of the world, and the holy capital depends mainly on the permanence of an industry that creates thousands of jobs annually.

Filali remarked that the sector was awaiting a major expansionary boom but that the virus threatened the industry despite the efforts of the Saudi leadership to maintain the salaries of its employees for several months with the unemployment insurance program “Saned.”

“The lack of demand on bookings and the high operating volume and cost of food have paralyzed the tourism sector, which has led many hotels to suspend their operations until the pandemic ends,” said Filali.

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Hotels surrounding the courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Makkah were on Tuesday authorized to issue Umrah permits to guests during Ramadan as part of an initiative to help revive the holy city’s struggling hospitality sector. Click here for more.

Bassam Khanfar, general manager of the Shaza Makkah Hotel, told Arab News that over 17,000 rooms remained vacant due to the pandemic.

He said that a gradual resumption of operations and purchasing power must be taken into account so that the sector can recover with the least possible losses.

He noted out that the average price of a room in the first 20 days of Ramadan was SR 1,300, increasing to an average of SR 1,900 in the last 10 days of the holy month.

Khanfar’s hotel offered a discount of 50 percent to health practitioners in recognition of their great efforts in fighting the virus — efforts echoed in the performance of the Kingdom as a whole in addressing the pandemic.

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started.

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a Jeddah cafe owner, told Arab News: “Before the pandemic, I was keen to perform Umrah in the last 10 days of every Ramadan, especially on the 27th night, which is when Laylat Al-Qadr (Night of Power) is believed to have occurred.”

He added that the Grand Mosque normally would see hundreds of thousands of worshippers during the last 10 days of Ramadan, in pre-COVID-19 times.

“Unluckily, I can’t perform Umrah this time because I have not yet received the first dose of the vaccine despite my attempts to get vaccinated. But it’s to be expected, as millions are trying to register for the vaccine,” he said.

Al-Ghamdi’s friend, retired army officer Salem bin Saleh, said he was lucky to get the first doses and is planning to perform Umrah in the few coming days.

“Performing Umrah in the last 10 days of Ramadan has been one of my habits for over 30 years,” Saleh told Arab News.

He said that performing Umrah in Ramadan is equal in reward to performing Hajj, as Prophet Muhammad said.

“The feeling you get during and after performing Umrah in Ramadan is indescribable,” Saleh added.


Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
Updated 12 June 2021

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
  • The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans

DUBAI: UAE waste management company Bee’ah and Greek sustainability firm Polygreen has launched a new company that will offer marine and environmental management solutions.

The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans, the UAE state news agency has reported.

“Evogreen will take the lead in promoting best practices in the maritime waste management industry and achieve remarkable outcomes for the UAE and wider region,” Salim bin Mohamed Al-Owais, Bee’ah chairman, said.

The new company has already established an alternative raw material facility in Bee’ah’s Sharjah complex. It processes maritime waste and marine-related hazardous waste to produce alternative materials for industrial use.

EvoGreen is currently building another facility that can process waste streams and convert materials into alternative fuel.

Both facilities will collect, recycle and recover hazardous and non-hazardous waste from ships visiting ports in the UAE.

“The launch of Evogreen is a milestone regarding the global effort to protect the environment and address the challenge of climate change,” Polygreen chief, Athanasios Polychronopoulos, said.

The company will also offer oil spill response services and management of distressed vessels, as well as recycling and recovery solutions.


Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
  • The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region
  • About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has signed deals worth $99.91 million to build an airport and a power plant in Turkmenistan.
The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region of the country.
It aims to improve airport infrastructure in the area and enhance air connectivity in central Asia.
The project includes building Jebel airport terminal with a capacity of 100 passengers per hour.
About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant that will provide clean energy for the people in Altyn Asyr.
Earlier this year, the ADFD signed agreements with the government of Turkmenistan for projects including including an investment company.


G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
Updated 12 June 2021

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013
  • More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure

CARBIS BAY: The Group of Seven will seek to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative on Saturday by announcing a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said.
The G7 is trying to find a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.
The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would also push the other G7 leaders for “concrete action on forced labor” in China, and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique from a three-day summit in southwest England.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” the official said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013, involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from Asia to Europe and beyond.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.

China’s rise
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Leaders of the G7 — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan — want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The US official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and coercive approach” of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
“So tomorrow we’ll be announcing ‘build back better for the world,’ an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI,” the official said.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20 percent of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hosting the G7 summit, that democratic countries should develop their own rival scheme.

Forced labor
In talks, Biden will also press the other leaders to make clear that they believe forced labor practices are an affront to human dignity and “an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
“We’re pushing on being specific on areas like Xinjiang where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7,” the official said of the final communique to be issued at the end of the summit on Sunday.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the official said.
The aim was to work with the US Congress to supplement existing development financing “with the hope that, together with G7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle income countries that need it.” (Reporting by Steve Holland and Michael Holden Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry)


Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
Updated 12 June 2021

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
  • Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai

BERLIN: Germany has bought a trove of data that could help treasury officials track down possible tax evasion by wealthy German citizens, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Friday.
“The data will now be evaluated by the regional tax authorities,” Scholz said in Berlin. “Tax evasion is not a minor offense it is a crime.”
Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai such as tracts of land and real estate owned by German nationals.
It said an anonymous informant approached German officials and offered to pass on the data, for which the Federal Tax Office paid about 2 million euros ($2.42 million), Spiegel said.
Scholz did not confirm or deny the details reported by Spiegel about how the CD was purchased or the price.
Tax authorities in Germany’s 16 states had in the past sought information from countries like Switzerland to unearth possible tax evasion by wealthy Germans.
Scholz, who leads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has made fair taxation a major election pledge before an election in September forecast to deal his center-left party its worst-ever result.


US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
Updated 12 June 2021

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
  • Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible
  • The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings

DUBAI: Washington DC-based Nexford University has completed a $10.8 million Pre-Series A funding round, led by UAE-based venture capital (VC) firm Global Ventures.
Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible despite the students’ physical location.
Other participating investors included Future Africa’s education fund, as well as angel investors, family offices and other VC firms from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings.
“Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides,” the university CEO Fadl Al-Tarzi said.
He added: “Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”
Nextford recorded a 300 percent increase in revenue in 2020 with learners enrolling from over 65 countries. It has formed partnerships with tech giants Microsoft, LinkedIn and IBM.