World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to take over its neighbor: CEO

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Updated 22 September 2021

World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to take over its neighbor: CEO

World’s largest eco-tourism project, TRDSC, to take over its neighbor: CEO
  • The consolidation deal will see The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC) taking over Amaala, both owned by the PIF

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is combining two giga project developers on the Red Sea coast to “leverage synergies” as the Kingdom goes ahead with ambitious tourism goals.

The consolidation deal will see The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC) taking over Amaala, both owned by the PIF, but the tourist destinations they are developing will retain “separate, distinct” identities, Chief Executive Officer John Pagano told Arab News.

“Amaala has its own unique positioning and branding, which is not going to change, as well as the Red Sea project,” he said on the sidelines of the Arabian and African Hospitality Investment conference in Dubai

Pagano added: “Amaala is focused on wellness, while the Red Sea project is very much focused on eco-tourism – that is not going to change.”

It follows a move that saw Pagano being appointed as the CEO of Amaala in January this year.

“We said we would look at the way at which we could combine the organizations, and look to leverage synergies between the two groups,” Pagano said.

He explained: “We are going to leverage the unique skill sets that both project teams have and use them for the better good of both projects.”

The consolidation will also allow both destinations to boost operational efficiencies, he added.

There was no value to the transaction, Pagano said, describing the move as just a consolidation of two companies, which are both owned by one entity anyway.

‘Regenerative tourism’

The Red Sea Development Co. alone is building over 28,000 square kilometers of land and water along the Kingdom’s west coast. It will feature mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, as well as ancient and cultural heritage sites.

Its first phase is expected to be finished by 2023, where 16 hotels will be opened. The project targets some 50 resorts with 8,000 hotel rooms by 2030.

These massive plans have raised questions from environment advocates, but Pagano maintains regeneration remains a key component of the project.

“Sustainability is no longer enough. We have moved our narrative to regeneration,” he said.

Pagano said it is not simply just about “causing no harm” to the environment, but actively looking for ways to improve the destination and “leave it in a better state than we found it.”

The company has announced a number of initiatives to keep this promise – from small regulations such as banning single-use plastic to big operational plans including using renewable energy to power the destination.

“We are going to be the largest tourism destination in the world powered by 100 percent renewable energy – 24 hours a day, completely off-grid,” Pagano said.

To achieve this, Pagano said they are installing what he claims to be the largest battery storage system in the world.

The company also engages in improving biodiversity on the Red Sea, including working with the scientific community to grow corals.

This level of commitment is also shared by international brands who plan to invest in the Red Sea project, Pagano said, as the bigger hotel industry becomes more conscious about global environmental goals.

“International brands support our vision, otherwise we would not be dealing with them,” he said. These brands will be announced at the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh next month.

Financing the ambition

The CEO said they “will come to market next year with a similar approach for Amaala,” referring to the $3.7 billion financing it secured in April that already covered capital infrastructure for the Red Sea project’s first phase.

“It will be a senior debt facility – conventional finance – that’s what we need at this stage. It will come in the not-so-distant future,” he said.

Pagano said they have already built credibility with lending institutions, which he expects will make it easier for them to secure financing.  

According to a Reuters report, Saudi Arabia is planning to raise up to 10 billion riyals ($2.67 billion) next year for Amaala, citing the CEO.

‘Saudi Arabia is changing’

All these projects are part of an ongoing transformation in the Kingdom, primarily driven by its pursuit to diversify income sources away from oil.

The Kingdom identified tourism as one of its key sectors in this diversification, with many infrastructure developments in the pipeline, as well as regulatory changes that make it easier for tourists to visit the previously closed-off Gulf state.

“It is fair to say that Saudi Arabia is changing from a policy perspective, and it’s changing dramatically,” Pagano said.

For the Red Sea destinations, Pagano said they are building a special economic zone that will set a more relaxed regulatory environment.

“It will be conducive to attracting investments, and it is going to allow us to adjust the social norms to make the destinations attractive to foreign visitors,” he said.

Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies
Updated 6 sec ago

Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

MOSCOW: Russian gas consumption is running at a record high but Moscow is still ready to increase supplies to Europe should it receive such requests, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.

European spot gas prices have surged by 800 percent this year as demand has recovered after the coronavirus pandemic. Prices eased earlier this month after Russia, Europe’s key gas supplier, said it could deliver more, but these supplies have yet to materialize.

“I want to underline that we in Russia have record high gas consumption figures this year, which is also due to active economic recovery,” Novak said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel broadcast, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia, whose gas production and exports to EU are already near record highs, has said it needs to finish filling its own gas storage reserves before it increases supplies to Europe’s spot market. It plans to complete this by the end of October.

Novak did not say how large Russia’s gas reserves were but estimated that European underground facilities were short of around 25 billion cubic meters of gas.

He insisted high domestic demand would not stop Russia offering more supplies to Europe if it received such requests.

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’
Updated 8 min 28 sec ago

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

BEIJING: China's central bank said on Friday that financial risks from China Evergrande Group’s debt problems are “controllable” and unlikely to spill over, amid growing investor concerns that the crisis could ripple through other developers.
Evergrande is the world's most indebted developer, with over $300 billion in liabilities. The company missed a third round of interest payments on its offshore bonds this week, spooking investors globally and sparking concern that other companies in the sector may also default on payments.
“Of the total liabilities of Evergrande Group, financial liabilities are less than one-third. Creditors are also relatively dispersed, and individual financial institutions have little risk exposure,” People’s Bank of China official Zou Lan said at a news briefing on Friday.
“Overall, the risk of the spillover to the financial industry is controllable,” he added.
Evergrande came under pressure after Chinese authorities ordered property developers to reduce their debt levels. The authorities are trying to direct the industry toward a more sustainable pace of development after many years of stimulus-fueled growth.

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project
Updated 12 min 35 sec ago

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

PIF to use oil platforms to attract tourists through 'The Rig' project

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on Saturday launched “THE RIG,” first-of-its-kind tourism destination inspired by offshore oil platforms.

Located in the Arabian Gulf, the innovative project will span a combined area of more than 150,000 square meters, said a statement issued by the sovereign wealth fund.

The tourist destination will provide a multitude of hospitality offerings, adventures, and aquatic sporting experiences.


The PIF said to ensure sustainable preservation of the environment, the project will follow global standards and best practices in line with the Kingdom’s efforts to ensure preservation of environment.

“THE RIG” will feature a number of touristic attractions, including three hotels, world-class restaurants, helipads, and a range of adventurous activities, including extreme sports.

The project is in line with PIF’s strategy 2021-2025 to modernize Saudi Arabia’s tourism and entertainment sectors and introduce innovative ideas to boost the number of local, regional and international tourists in the Kingdom.

El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes

 El Salvador explores bitcoin mining powered by volcanoes
  • Geothermal power accounts for about a quarter of the country’s total energy mix

BERLIN, EL SALVADOR: At a geothermal power plant near El Salvador’s Tecapa volcano, 300 computers whir inside a trailer as they make complex mathematical calculations day and night verifying transactions for the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The pilot project has inspired a rash of volcano emojis from President Nayib Bukele, who made bitcoin legal tender in September, and promises of cheap, renewable energy for so-called bitcoin “mining.” Bukele and others say El Salvador’s geothermal resources — generating electricity from high-pressure steam produced by the volcano’s subterranean heat — could be a solution. But the picture in the tiny Central American country is more complicated.
“We don’t spend resources that contaminate the environment, we don’t depend on oil, we don’t depend on natural gas, on any resource that isn’t renewable,” Daniel Alvarez, president of the Rio Lempa Hydroelectric Executive Commission, which oversees the plant, said during a tour on Friday.
Cheap power and a supportive government are the two critical factors for attracting bitcoin mining operations, said Brandon Arvanaghi, a bitcoin mining consultant.
Two years ago, China provided about three-quarters of all the electricity used for crypto mining, with operations flocking to take advantage of its cheap hydroelectric power. But the government began restricting mining and in September declared all transactions involving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies illegal.
That has led to a scramble to set up mining operations in other countries.
It would appear to be fortuitous for Bukele, who shocked the nation and many around the world with his announcement last summer that bitcoin would become legal tender beside the US dollar in El Salvador. The president sold the plan in part as a way for Salvadorans living overseas — mostly in the US — to send money home to their families more cheaply. It also made him a darling of the bitcoin world.
Bitcoin mining in El Salvador would appear to have a supportive government in Bukele, but cheap electricity is so far just a promise.
El Salvador imports about one-fifth to one-quarter of its electricity. The rest of production is divided among hydroelectric, geothermal and plants fired by fossil fuels.
Geothermal accounts for about a quarter of the country’s energy. El Salvador has 23 volcanoes.
“When you add these renewable sources like these vast abundant areas, a ton of renewable sources and a friendly regime it can be very attractive and El Salvador may very well fit that model,” Arvanaghi said.
Right now, El Salvador’s electricity is not considered particularly cheap.
The website, which publishes retail energy prices around the world, puts electric costs to households and businesses in El Salvador well above the global average.
Arvanaghi said that bitcoin mining incentivizes the expansion of renewable energy production by providing high demand for cheap power and that miners have shown themselves to be willing to pause a portion of their machines at times when there is less power available from the grid.
Bukele’s promise of cheap power for bitcoin mining then would have to involve a subsidy, at least until renewable capacity expanded and rates declined.

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’
Updated 16 October 2021

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

US regulators slap $41m fine on company behind Tether ‘token’

NEW YORK:The company behind a digital token called Tether has agreed to pay $41 million to settle charges that it misled investors by claiming the token was fully backed at all times by US dollars and other fiat currencies.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday it charged Tether Holdings Limited with making untrue or misleading statements and omissions in relation to its claims. Specifically, the US regulator found that since launching the token in 2014, Tether Holdings represented that its was a “stablecoin” with its value pegged to fiat currency, including US dollars and euros.

A stablecoin is a digital currency backed by real-world assets such as national currencies or other commodities. Unlike Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, stablecoins are designed to not fluctuate wildly in value.

However, the CFTC determined that at least from June 1, 2016 through Feb. 25, 2019, Tether misrepresented to customers and the market that it maintained sufficient US dollar reserves to back every Tether token in circulation with the equivalent amount of “corresponding fiat currency.”

The agency also found that Tether failed to disclose that it included unsecured receivables and non-fiat assets in its reserves, and that the company falsely represented it would undergo regular audits to prove it was maintaining the fiat currency reserves it needed to back Tether tokens.

In a statement, Tether, which is headquartered Hong Kong and maintains an office in Santa Monica, California, said the CFTC’s findings pertained to certain disclosures about the company’s reserves that were “fully resolved” in February 2019, when the company updated its terms of service.

“As to the Tether reserves, there is no finding that Tether tokens were not fully backed at all times — simply that the reserves were not all in cash and all in a bank account titled in Tether’s name, at all times,” the company said, noting that it has “always maintained adequate reserves and has never failed to satisfy a redemption request.”

Separately, the CFTC also ordered Bitfinex to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty after finding that the cryptocurrency trading platform made illegal, off-exchange retail commodity transactions involving digital assets with US investors and operated as a futures commission merchant without registering to do so.