Digital nomads flee virus-hit Manila for shattered tourist towns

Digital nomads flee virus-hit Manila for shattered tourist towns
Tanya Mariano sitting at the porch of her hotel in San Juan town, Philippines. (AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2021

Digital nomads flee virus-hit Manila for shattered tourist towns

Digital nomads flee virus-hit Manila for shattered tourist towns
  • The impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on the sector has been dramatic: $37 billion slashed from the economy and the loss of over two million jobs, according to World Travel and Tourism Council data

SAN JUAN: After months cooped up in coronavirus-hit Manila, Tanya Mariano fled the Philippine capital to work from the beach, joining a growing number of digital nomads helping a devastated tourism industry stay afloat.
A ban on foreign holidaymakers entering the archipelago nation and domestic travel curbs since the pandemic began last year have forced many operators to close and wiped out millions of jobs.
Many digital workers in congested Manila, fearing COVID-19 and fed up with lockdowns and restrictions, are escaping to largely deserted nature hotspots to do their jobs — injecting much-needed money into communities dependent on outside visitors.
Sitting with her laptop on the balcony of the ocean-view apartment she rents in San Juan, a surf town several hours north of her home, Mariano says the move has been a “big quality of life improvement.”
“Being close to the ocean, being close to nature is very calming,” said Mariano, 37, a freelance writer and communications specialist.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The white-sand resort island of Boracay has been turned into a ‘ghost town,’ where most of the rooms are filled with long-term digital nomads from Manila. • Official figures show arrivals to the island fell to less than 335,000 last year, compared with more than 2 million in 2019.

“When I’m in a meeting, usually Zoom or Google Meet, I try not to use the beach as my background — I just show people the wall so they don’t hate me.”
There are no official figures on the number of people working remotely from the country’s picture-postcard beaches and dive spots, but it is certainly a fraction of the millions of tourists that usually flock to its shores.
The impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on the sector has been dramatic: $37 billion slashed from the economy and the loss of over two million jobs, according to World Travel and Tourism Council data.
Bravo Beach Resort on the southern island of Siargao — a renowned surfing destination — has felt the pain acutely.
Normally packed out with local and international tourists, it now averages around five to 10 guests at any one time — about 10 percent of its capacity — said general manager Dennis Serrano.
With the resort hemorrhaging as much as 200,000 pesos ($4,180) a month, he hopes the situation will be “back to normal” by next year.
Even the white sand resort island of Boracay has been turned into a “ghost town,” according Eugene Flores, manager of the La Banca House boutique hotel, where most of the rooms are filled with long-term digital nomads from Manila.
Official figures show arrivals to the island fell to less than 335,000 last year, compared with more than 2 million in 2019.
“When you go out you can see shops, you can see restaurants, you can see hotels that are really closed. Only a few are open,” Flores said. The glacial pace of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is likely to delay the full reopening of the country’s beleaguered tourism industry.
For now, digital nomads are a “target market,” said the Department of Tourism, encouraging resorts and hotels to cater to the “new breed” of travelers by offering fast internet and wellness activities.
The influx of mobile workers, whose Manila salaries stretch further in the provinces, is keeping businesses like Papa Bear restaurant in San Juan afloat.
“You are not completely bleeding out, you’re still bleeding out for sure, but you’re at least generating something to offset enough of it,” said owner Denny Antonino.
Digital nomads now make up 30-40 percent of his customers and he hopes the trend continues after the pandemic to even out the seasonal fluctuations.
“They’re able to do their work but in between meetings they can surf, they can go hiking, they can go to the falls — there are more things to do,” said Antonino.


Top Saudi leaders meet for ‘4th industrial revolution’ forum

Top Saudi leaders meet for ‘4th industrial revolution’ forum
Updated 18 min 54 sec ago

Top Saudi leaders meet for ‘4th industrial revolution’ forum

Top Saudi leaders meet for ‘4th industrial revolution’ forum

RIYADH: Saudi business leaders, as well as top ministers, are attending a first-of-its-kind forum to talk about the “4th industrial revolution” (4IR).

The two-day event – held by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology – will discuss opportunities to develop, manage, and deploy emerging technologies.

Members of the World Economic Forum network will also attend the event to share insights on global implications of 4IR issues.

High-profile speakers include Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, as well as Saudi ministers of communications and information technology, health, economy, and environment.

Developing...


Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P
Updated 28 July 2021

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P
  • S&P expects more capital raises mergers to improve profitability

RIYADH: Islamic insurers in the GCC may see profitability wane in the second half of 2021 as they face a tough competitive environment amid weak performance in some sectors hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, according to S&P Global Ratings.

Some smaller Takaful companies will need to raise capital or merge, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where losses have persisted, S&P credit analyst Emir Mujkic wrote in a report.

“Our outlook on the sector for the next 12 months remains stable,” he said. “However, given that risks related to the pandemic persist, we could take rating actions in the event of a sharp decline in asset prices, unexpected and severe technical losses, or governance and internal control failures.”

Takaful insurers recorded modest growth of about 1.5 percent in 2020 and about 1.0 percent in first-quarter 2021 according to S&P Global Ratings calculations.

The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) in January reiterated the need for insurance companies to look at M&A deals since the sector was a key driver of the Kingdom’s economy and a pillar of the Financial Sector Development Program, one of 12 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

The sector has witnessed a number of agreements and mergers this year, including between Walaa Cooperative Insurance Co. and Metlife AIG ANB Cooperative Insurance Co., and between Al-Ahlia Insurance and Gulf Union National.

Profit in the Kingdom’s insurance sector, including conventional insurers, rose 96.1 percent in the first nine months of 2020 to SR1.32 billion, according to KPMG.

“Despite a recent material improvement in profitability in Saudi Arabia’s insurance sector, more than one third of insurers continue to report losses,” said Mujkic. “Pressure on solvency and certain regulatory incentives have led to a number of mergers in Saudi Arabia over the past year and we expect this trend to continue throughout 2021.”

A new insurance law in Kuwait that requires higher reserve requirements is due to come into force over the next year, putting pressure on small and unprofitable Takaful players in Kuwait, S&P said.

The pandemic did not only affect Islamic Insurance companies in the Kingdom, but also non-Islamic companies, and they are doing great efforts by attracting new subscriptions or new customers, to get a customer with a low risk level that will have a good profit return by the end of the year,” Faiz Alhomrani, a financial market analyst told Arab News.” Many companies and sectors have been greatly affected by the pandemic, thus it became very tough to collect mandatory premiums for these companies, which pressured insurance companies to put financial provisions for non-performing debts.”

Growth in the sector will be unevenly spread, with larger conventional insurers taking more of the gains, said Mujkic.


Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand
  • Spread between Urals and Middle East benchmark is widest on record
  • India has also cut purchases of Russian oil

MOSCOW: Russia’s flagship Urals crude oil has mostly been used in Europe so far this year due to relatively low output and high prices, while Asian markets have shunned the blend, data showed on Wednesday.
As a result, Russia has lagged behind Saudi Arabia in China’s energy market, one of the world’s largest.
According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the port of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest oil hub, received 9.7 million tons of Urals in the first half of this year, up from 7.3 million tons in the same period last year.
At the same time, supplies of seaborne Urals cargoes to China plunged to 1.8 million tons from 7.86 million in the first half of 2020.
This year, the spread between Brent — to which Urals is linked — and the Middle Eastern Dubai blend has reached an all-time high of more than $4 per barrel, making Russian oil uncompetitive in Asia.
India has also cut purchases of Urals, while South Korea and Thailand have completely stopped intake of the blend.
Some European countries, notably Finland, have also reduced purchases of seaborne Urals amid the move to greener economies.
Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania have kept inflows of Urals steady this year, while Poland and Germany have increased imports of the seaborne blend.
According to Refinitiv Eikon, the port of Gdansk in Poland imported 2.7 million tons of Urals in January-June, up from 1.7 million in the first half of 2020.
Seaborne supplies have also risen amid reduced flows via the Soviet-built Druzhba pipeline as some companies have failed to agree supply deals. For example, Poland’s Grupa Lotos has not extended a contract with Russia’s Rosneft.
The United States also increased imports of Urals to 500,000 tons in the first half of the year from 100,000 tons in the same period of 2020.
Some traders believe Russia will increase supplies of Urals as the OPEC+ group of oil producers, of which it is a member, eases production curbs.


Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers
Updated 28 July 2021

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers
  • Dubai house prices were up 1 percent in the second quarter of 2021
  • 128 sales of homes worth over $5.45 million in the first half of 2021

DUBAI: Egyptians have been the biggest winners when it comes to buying property in Dubai over the last few years when currency fluctuations are taken into account, according to research by real estate consultancy Knight Frank.

While the overall Dubai market is 26.3 percent down from its peak, house prices were up 1 percent in the emirate during the second quarter of 2021, the report said. That’s the biggest quarterly gain since the summer of 2014, according to Reuters.

However, the value of properties over the last six years differs depending on the nationality of buyers, or the currency they paid in, with Egyptians and Pakistanis the big winners and Europeans and Jordanians the biggest losers.

“Egyptian pound purchasers for instance have seen their investments appreciate by an impressive 51.4 percent, while Pakistani rupee buyers are currently enjoying gains of over 12 percent,” Faisal Durrani, partner and head of Middle East research at Knight Frank, said in a press statement of the valuations for different currency buyers compared to 2015.

“And if we rewind further back in time to the heady days of 2007, Egyptian and Pakistani buyers would have seen their investments increase in value by a staggering 200 percent plus,” he said. “European buyers meanwhile would be looking at gains of 20.5 percent since 2007, while for British buyers, it would be nearer 68 percent. The flipside to the story is of course some of those who held off, or were unable to step onto the property ladder, relative prices are much more attractive today than they were in 2015.”

Knight Frank’s research found that for euro buyers a home in Dubai is now 32.3 percent cheaper than in 2015, followed by British sterling (19 percent cheaper) and Indian rupee buyers (14 percent cheaper).

Earlier this week, the UAE press was awash with reports of a $30 million sale of a villa on Palm Jumeirah, the most expensive ever sold on the manmade island. Moreover, research by Knight Frank showed there has been an increase in sales of high-end luxury homes in Dubai.

The data showed there were 128 sales of homes worth over 20 million dirhams ($5.45 million) in the first half of 2021, the highest level since 2015 when 137 deals were recorded and compared with just 75 last year and 71 in 2019.

“Rather than subdue super prime sales activity, the pandemic has accelerated it,” Durrani said. “Families are looking for larger homes, with more outdoor space and even room for a home office as many are hedging their bets on greater remote working going forward, echoing what we have been seeing elsewhere in the world. And what’s more, they are willing to spend more for the privilege.”


Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline
Updated 28 July 2021

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline
  • Bulgartransgaz to use $278 million of proceeds to make advance payments to Saudi-led group Arkad

SOFIA: Russia’s state gas company Gazprom has agreed to pay 349 million euros ($412 million) in advance for capacity on the Bulgarian extension of the TurkStream gas pipeline, Bulgarian state network operator Bulgartransgaz said on Tuesday.
Bulgartransgaz said it would use 461 million levs ($278 million) of the proceeds to make advance payments to Saudi-led group Arkad, which built the pipeline for 1.1 billion euros.
Gazprom’s export unit Gazprom Export has agreed to pay upfront for booked capacity from July 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, Bulgartransgaz said in a statement.
Bulgaria’s 474 km gas pipeline, which transports Russian gas from its southern border with Turkey to its western border with Serbia — providing a link to the Russia-backed TurkStream twin pipeline to Serbia and Hungary, became operational in January.
The Bulgarian gas network operator will also use the money to cover 65 million euros in loans to commercial banks.
Bulgaria meets most of its gas needs with supplies from Gazprom.