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.


Bitcoin futures highlight some pitfalls for new exchange-traded funds: Crypto Wrap

Bitcoin futures highlight some pitfalls for new exchange-traded funds: Crypto Wrap
Updated 17 sec ago

Bitcoin futures highlight some pitfalls for new exchange-traded funds: Crypto Wrap

Bitcoin futures highlight some pitfalls for new exchange-traded funds: Crypto Wrap

RIYADH: Bitcoin hit a six-month high and was within striking distance of its all-time peak on Tuesday, as traders bet an anticipated listing of a futures-based US exchange-traded fund (ETF) could herald investment flows into cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has been known for its volatility for 13 years and has recently been trading fairly flat, but it has been surging around 40 percent this month on hopes that the emergence of Bitcoin ETFs will see billions of dollars managed by pension funds and other large investors flow into the sector.

ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF is expected to list on Tuesday under the ticker BITO, provided the U.S. regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, does not object.

Analysts said the ETF would also likely simplify access to cryptocurrencies for retail investors.

"It can attract flows from investors who prefer the ease of an ETF over the perceived risk of an exchange," Martha Reyes, head of research at crypto exchange Bequant said.

Other analysts have also cautioned that the fund will not invest directly in bitcoin rather in Chicago-traded futures, so any immediate effects of the flows may be limited.

Crypto ETFs have launched this year in Canada and Europe amid surging interest in digital assets. VanEck and Valkyrie are among fund managers pursuing such products listed in the US, although Invesco on Monday dropped its plans for a futures-based fund.

The Nasdaq on Friday approved the listing of the Valkyrie Bitcoin Strategy ETF and Grayscale, the world's largest digital currency manager, is planning to convert its Grayscale Bitcoin Trust into a spot bitcoin ETF, CNBC reported.

The launch of the first bitcoin futures ETF on Tuesday marks a major step toward legitimizing the cryptocurrency, but some investors in such funds may face higher costs compared with buying the digital currency itself, Reuters reported.

ProShares will be backed by the CME Group's bitcoin futures instead of the actual virtual asset itself. Its offering is expected to lead to more launches of futures-based ETFs in the coming days and weeks after years of regulatory roadblocks.

Market participants generally praised the relative ease and safety of owning an exchange-traded product instead of buying bitcoin from cryptocurrency exchanges and brokers.

Investors won't have to worry about custody and securing their digital wallets, although analysts said there are top-tier exchanges that offer these services to their customers as well.

Futures

A futures-based ETF price will not necessarily match the current price of the underlying asset.

"In most cases, such futures funds based on commodity assets such as gold tend to underperform physical ones," Mikkel Morch executive director at crypto and digital assets hedge fund ARK36 said.

In addition to the risk of a futures-based bitcoin fund underperforming bitcoin, it also comes with the cost of the futures roll-over, some analysts said. However, analysts believe investors will still buy the futures-based funds despite the higher cost.

Trading

Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded higher on Tuesday, rising by 0.99 percent to $62,494 at 5:20 pm Riyadh time. While Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $3,813, up 0.57 percent, according to data from Coindesk.


Shipping industry faces ESG heat from lenders

Shipping industry faces ESG heat from lenders
Updated 57 min 32 sec ago

Shipping industry faces ESG heat from lenders

Shipping industry faces ESG heat from lenders

LONDON: Banks are demanding much stricter environmental criteria when financing shipping companies as investor pressure grows on the sector to accelerate going greener, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Shipping, which transports about 90 percent of world trade, accounts for nearly 3 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions and BCG forecast the industry will need $2.4 trillion to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“ESG-driven requests are already prompting more action from banks. Shipping is already feeling it and they (shipping companies) are under pressure now,” said Peter Jameson, partner with BCG, which are consultants for the COP26 UN climate summit that starts on Oct. 31.

Standard Chartered has already provided loans linked to sustainability targets for drilling group Odfjell and the shipping division of Oman’s Asyad Group, the bank has said.

“When looking at lending on new assets, banks are going to create a bigger conduit for CO2 reductions through their policies,” Jameson told Reuters.

“The banks are also seeing insurance companies feeling shareholder pressure and this is also causing big pension funds to reassess.”

ESG-related assets under management are estimated to represent up to 80 percent of total lending to shipping by 2030, BCG said.

UN shipping agency the International Maritime Organization has said it aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships by 50 percent from 2008 levels by 2050, but industry groups are calling for more progress from governments.


Global FDI flows rise by over 70% despite a divergence in inflows for different countries: Economic wrap

Global FDI flows rise by over 70% despite a divergence in inflows for different countries: Economic wrap
Updated 19 October 2021

Global FDI flows rise by over 70% despite a divergence in inflows for different countries: Economic wrap

Global FDI flows rise by over 70% despite a divergence in inflows for different countries: Economic wrap

According to UN data, global foreign direct investment flows were valued at $852 billion in the first half of 2021. This reflected a partial-year growth of 78 percent when compared to 2020.

In the US, inflows were up by 90 percent, driven by a surge in cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

However, James Zhan, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s director of investment and enterprise, said that this “mask(s) the growing divergence in FDI flows between developed and developing economies.”

While FDI inflows to high-income countries leapt by a massive partial-year rate of 117 percent, low-income countries faced a 9 percent decline in inflows.

Eurozone’s construction

The euro area’s construction output fell by 1.6 percent year-on-year in August, data released by Eurostat revealed. This was driven by a 2.9 percent annual decline in civil engineering production and a 1.3 percent fall in building construction.

Construction fell the most in Spain and Romania as they saw their annual construction output slip by 13.9 percent and 7 percent respectively. 

On the other hand, Hungary experienced the highest jump in yearly construction production, growing by 10.2 percent. Poland was the second highest with a 7.9 percent year-on-year rise.

On a monthly basis, the zone’s construction also declined by 1.3 percent in August when compared to July.

European trade balances

Switzerland’s trade surplus decreased to CHF4.4 billion in September down from the all-time high of CHF4.6 billion recorded in the previous month, official data showed. 

Exports declined by a monthly rate of 0.2 percent in September. This was driven by a fall in exports to a number of countries. Most notably, exports to the US and Japan slumped by 22.2 percent and 9.6 percent respectively. 

On the other hand, imports rose by 0.9 percent to reach its highest level in 20 months. Imports of pharmaceutical products experienced the highest increase as it grew by 5.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Spain's trade deficit steeply expanded to €3.87 billion in August from a deficit of €1.73 billion in the same month last year, according to official data. 

This was the largest monthly trade deficit since September 2019 as imports leaped by 33.9 percent year-on-year to €26 billion. This was fuelled by an 11.4 percent rise in energy purchases and a 7.9 percent jump in imports of chemical products. Meanwhile, exports rose at a slower 25.1 percent growth rate to reach €22 billion.

During the first eight months of the year, Spain's trade deficit rose to €10.87 billion, from €9.6 billion in the same period a year earlier.

Indonesia’s interest rate on hold

Indonesia's central bank kept interest rates steady at its record low level of 3.5 percent on Monday. Rates remain low to boost economic activity, the bank said.

Bank Indonesia expects the economy to grow by 3.5-4.3 percent in 2021.


UK sets out net zero strategy as it gears up to host COP26

UK sets out net zero strategy as it gears up to host COP26
Updated 19 October 2021

UK sets out net zero strategy as it gears up to host COP26

UK sets out net zero strategy as it gears up to host COP26

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday set out his ambition for a green revolution that he hopes will force Western economies to kick their addiction to fossil fuels.

Britain at the end of the month hosts the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, which aim to strengthen global action on global warming.

“With the major climate summit COP26 just around the corner, our strategy sets the example for other countries to build back greener too as we lead the charge towards global net zero,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who once expressed skepticism about climate change, presented his 368-page net zero strategy as a document that would put the UK at the vanguard of green economies.

“The UK leads the world in the race to net zero,” he said in the foreword to the “Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener.”

“The likes of China and Russia are following our lead with their own net zero targets, as prices tumble and green tech becomes the global norm,” he said.

The net-zero strategy is essentially a series of long-term promises, some with caveats, to shift the world's fifth largest economy towards green technologies — from moving to clean electricity “subject to security and supply” to “setting a path” to low-carbon heating in British homes.

It aims to secure 440,000 jobs and unlock £90 billion ($124 billion) of private investment by 2030.

It also aims to help Britain gain a competitive edge in low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps, electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen.

The government aims to be powered entirely by clean electricity, subject to security of supply, by 2035. It aims to have 40 GW of offshore wind power by 2030, as well as 1 GW of floating offshore wind.

Britain will also deliver 5 GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030 while cutting its emissions from oil and gas by half.

The government aims to deploy at least 5 million tons of CO2 a year of engineered greenhouse gas removals by 2030.

Earlier on Tuesday, Johnson announced nearly £10 billion of private investment in green projects at an investment summit in London.


Indonesia plans to ‘hit the brakes’ on raw commodity exports

Indonesia plans to ‘hit the brakes’ on raw commodity exports
Updated 19 October 2021

Indonesia plans to ‘hit the brakes’ on raw commodity exports

Indonesia plans to ‘hit the brakes’ on raw commodity exports

BEBATU: Indonesia is planning to “hit the brakes” on the export of all raw commodities in an effort to attract investment in onshore resource processing and create jobs, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday.

Indonesia has banned a number of unprocessed ore exports including nickel, tin and copper in a bid to encourage downstream industries, including producing batteries for electric vehicles and aluminum industry, among others.

The government is currently conducting a study for the downstreaming of other commodities with a long-term goal of no longer selling just raw materials, the president, who is popularly known as Jokowi, said in an interview in the village of Bebatu on Borneo island.

A new policy would hopefully emerge next year, he said.

“Don’t be surprised. We had nickel (export ban) before. Next year, we may stop bauxite, the next year we may stop something else,” Jokowi said.

Under current regulations, Indonesia will ban bauxite shipments in 2023.

Stopping exports of unprocessed palm oil was being considered, he said, although he declined to provide an estimate of when such policy could be issued.