Despite COVID-19 pandemic, cruise company debuts in Saudi Arabia

MSC Bellissima's pool area, which sailed a series of voyages around the Red Sea, as most of the daytime activities take place around the main pool deck. (AN Photo/MSC Cruises)
MSC Bellissima's pool area, which sailed a series of voyages around the Red Sea, as most of the daytime activities take place around the main pool deck. (AN Photo/MSC Cruises)
Short Url
Updated 14 October 2021

Despite COVID-19 pandemic, cruise company debuts in Saudi Arabia

MSC Bellissima's pool area, which sailed a series of voyages around the Red Sea, as most of the daytime activities take place around the main pool deck. (AN Photo/MSC Cruises)
  • As part of the Kingdom’s initiatives to open up tourism, the MSC Bellissima started its series of voyages around the Red Sea
  • MSC Cruises had to adapt to pandemic restrictions and hire ‘cruise ambassadors’ to meet the standards of Saudi guests

JEDDAH: Timing is everything in business so for a cruise ship company to launch its debut voyage in Saudi Arabia the same year as a global pandemic seemed like a dicey move.

But it did not slow down the well-known Geneva-headquartered MSC Cruises, which waited for COVID-19 restrictions to calm down before it hit the open water.

“After what happened with the cruising industry, everything stopped,” Giuseppe Pane, the hotel director of MSC Cruises, told Arab News. “MSC was the first company with big ships to start cruising again and open the sea.”

This was the first year for MSC to cruise in Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s initiatives to open up the country for tourism. The MSC Bellissima, which is longer than three football fields, started its series of voyages around the Red Sea from Jeddah Islamic Port to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt in July 2021. 

Even though MSC was hoping to make a big splash in a post-pandemic world, the company still had to adapt to restrictions and limitations that affected the entire industry. Cruise ships tend to make stops at different ports so each time the vessel docked, the crew and passengers were exposed to different protocols and circumstances.

“These protocols caused a lot of limitations,” Pane said. “What you experience now onboard a three- or four-day trip are just a little part of what cruising is really about.”

Mask mandates, vaccination status, and social distancing are all somewhat new concepts for an international cruising industry that really took off in the 1960s. 

But Pane said MSC was a leading example for other cruising companies who suffered during the pandemic, as it quickly adapted to protocols approved by different governments and ports.

The main example was the number of passengers the MSC Bellissima could take on board. The massive ship was built in 2019 with a capacity of 4,500 passengers, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the boat’s capacity was cut in half. 

The cruise ship’s theater can usually hold up to 975 guests but the empty seats during a show were vast and the same thing was felt inside the many dining areas onboard.

But despite the limitations, Pane said he was happy with the results this year, especially since cruising in the Kingdom is new. 

“The thing that makes me emotional is to see the children crying when they disembark because they are leaving something that they enjoyed,” he said. 

The ship is also equipped with an aquapark, bowling alley, Formula One simulator, kids club, cinema, and shopping gallery with more than 200 brands.

During a four-day cruise, Saudi comedians perform two interactive shows while mixing local flavor, excitement, and plenty of laughs.

Aside from the pandemic, Pane said MSC faced challenges when it launched the cruise in the Kingdom as some of the products the cruise offered did not match the Saudi standards. Especially when it came to entertainment along with food and beverage.

“Wherever you go around the world, the products offered have to adapt to the guests’ taste,” he said.

Pane said MSC had the local culture in mind when it planned out activities. It took some time but Saudis started to enjoy some of the new entertainment options offered. He said guests were shy to take dance lessons during the first few weeks of the trips. But after a while, the participation wheel turned and the dance floor was packed.  

To adapt to the guests’ food and beverage preferences, Pane said MSC recruited a team of Saudi chefs to help design a menu that would satisfy all guests. 

The crew did not want to get lost in translation when dealing with guests so the company hired many employees from the Kingdom who served as “cruise ambassadors” to smooth out communication. 

MSC announced earlier this year that it was open to train and qualify Saudi nationals in all areas of the cruise industry. Their emergence within the staff has been a successful one.

“The team on board was fantastic,” Pane said. 

“What makes me happy is that most of the guests say that they want to come back. They want to bring their families and friends and this means that we are doing a good job. But still, we are always trying to find how we can do better.”

The latest series of MSC Bellissima voyages in Sadi Arabia ended Wednesday. Pane said MSC’s seven-day trips will open again Nov. 13 and continue until March 26, 2022. The ship will be cruising in Asia next summer.


Curtain set to rise on new era for Saudi performing arts

Curtain set to rise on new era for Saudi performing arts
Updated 27 sec ago

Curtain set to rise on new era for Saudi performing arts

Curtain set to rise on new era for Saudi performing arts
  • The new body will provide an umbrella organization for performers while promoting new talent and expertise

JEDDAH: The curtain is set to rise on a new era for Saudi performing arts with the establishment of a dedicated theater association.

As part of the Kingdom’s cultural transformation, the new body will provide an umbrella organization for performers while also attracting and promoting new talent and expertise.

Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi said the association would bring together professionals from the worlds of theater, folk arts, circus, stand-up comedy, and dance.

Headed by Saudi actor Nasser Al-Qasabi, the association’s board of directors will include academic researcher Sami Al-Jamaan, actors Rashid Al-Shamrani, Sami Al-Zahrani, and Fatima Al-Banawi, director Khaled Al-Baz, actor and playwright Yasser Madkhali, writer Fahd Al-Hoshani, kinetic arts performer Roaa Al-Sahhaf, comedian Yasser Bakr, and Saudi ballerina Samira Alkhamis.

Performing arts has been a part of human culture down the ages and was even used as a way to inform people about the negative impact of social practices.

However, although well-represented in the West, only recently have theatrical shows and their performers been supported in the Kingdom by official bodies such as the Ministry of Culture’s Theater and Performing Arts Commission, set up under the National Strategy for Culture framework. 

In a tweet, association president, Al-Qasabi said: “I am honored to work with my colleagues in the new association to overcome difficulties and advance this lofty profession. In a few months, the work of the association will be launched, and we look forward to your participation in a new creative journey.”

Performing arts are considered to have benefits on a personal, social, and community level, with live theater helping to encourage social dialogue, highlight issues, and provide an outlet for society to find solutions to problems.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Ministry of Culture has been behind a number of significant initiatives and organizational developments that have taken place in the Saudi theater sector this year.

• These have included the establishment of the National Theater, and subsequently the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, and partnership projects with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development to improve professionalism in the sector.

Mohammed Al-Subaih, director of the Jeddah-based Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, described the establishment of the new association as “a most welcome move” that would offer a strong voice for performers in Saudi Arabia.

He told Arab News: “It will definitely contribute to the work of actors and performers and also bring up the level of work of Saudi theater.”

Saudi actor Abdullah Al-Sinani said: “(The association is) a wonderful step that reinforces our permanent ambition toward the status of Saudi theatrical superlatives. I wish the association and its members success in enriching the local theatrical movement.”

In a tweet, Wael Al-Harbi said: “I was honored to be chosen as a founding member of the first association for theater and performing arts.”

And Sultan Al-Bazie, chief executive officer of the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, said: “We expect the association to be an active element in the development of the sector.”

The Ministry of Culture has been behind a number of significant initiatives and organizational developments that have taken place in the Saudi theater sector this year.

These have included the establishment of the National Theater, and subsequently the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, and partnership projects with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development to improve professionalism in the sector.

In 2016, the General Entertainment Authority was formed, followed by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission last year. The current registration of the Cinema Society will represent the first specialized civil body of its kind in the Kingdom concerned with the film industry.


Saudi air defenses destroy Houthi drones targeting Abha airport, Najran

Saudi air defenses destroy Houthi drones targeting Abha airport, Najran
Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi air defenses destroy Houthi drones targeting Abha airport, Najran

Saudi air defenses destroy Houthi drones targeting Abha airport, Najran

RIYADH: Saudi air defenses destroyed explosive drones by Yemen’s Houthi militia targeting Abha airport and Najran, both located in southern Saudi Arabia.
The militia has continued to target the Kingdom on a near daily basis, often selecting civilian targets in the south of the country.
Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom. 
The militia has attacked civilian infrastructure in the past including the international airports in Abha and Jazan.
The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced a roadmap called the Riyadh Initiative to halt fighting in Yemen and reopen Sanaa airport, as well as continuing talks to find a solution to the conflict. The proposal was seen as a welcome step internationally, but has been rejected by Houthi leadership.
Fighting in Marib province has claimed thousands of lives, among both government and Houthi forces. The resource-rich region has been heavily contested as the militia seek to strengthen their control of northern Yemen.
Saudi relief agency, KSrelief, has poured billions of dollars worth of aid into Yemen and has hundreds of projects focusing on food and health.
In July, The World Food Programme welcomed Saudi contributions to the fund saying humanitarian action in Yemen could not be sustained without it.


Who’s Who: Hassan Al-Shawi, director at Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information

Who’s Who: Hassan Al-Shawi, director at Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information
Updated 38 min 55 sec ago

Who’s Who: Hassan Al-Shawi, director at Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information

Who’s Who: Hassan Al-Shawi, director at Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information

Hassan Al-Shawi has been director of the licensing and permits department at the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information since January 2021. He has also been a member of the geospatial data governance team since September 2019.
Before joining the authority, he was a manager at the department of photogrammetry and aerial survey from March 2020 until January 2021. He prepared the rules and conditions for issuing permits for photogrammetry and aerial surveys, panoramic photography, similar technologies and marine hydrographic surveys and their guidelines.
He was a manager of the technical affairs department at the General Administration of Map Production from October 2020 until January 2021, a secretariat member of the National Geospatial Center from October 2019 until August 2020, and was a member of the development team at the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information from September 2019 to February 2020.
Before that, he was a surveying engineer in the General Administration of Map Production at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs from January 2019 to September 2019, and project manager at Aerial Imaging Saudi Arabia Co. Ltd. from August 2018 until June 2019.
He was also a surveyor at Badan Agricultural & Contracting Co. Ltd from December 2017 until June 2019, and a surveyor at Al Fozan Trading & General Construction Co. from April to October in 2015.
He specializes in strategies, policies and rules governing the survey and geospatial information sector, stimulating investment, raising spending efficiency, monitoring and supervision, and creating, producing and analyzing geospatial data.
Al-Shawi has more than seven years’ experience and knowledge in implementing strategies, programs and organizational projects to improve the national geospatial infrastructure.
He has experience dealing with diverse systems that contribute to raising the quality of life in the economic, social, environmental and strategic aspects of the transition to digital twinning, smart cities, ecological balances and harmony between the components of the national data infrastructure. He has also managed operational projects of photogrammetry and aerial and ground surveys.
He is a member of several advisory and executive committees and has represented the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information at the Council of Ministers.
Al-Shawi holds a bachelor’s degree in surveying engineering. He is completing a master’s degree at King Saud University in geospatial information systems.


Saudi-French relationship rich, long-standing and based on trust, says envoy

Saudi-French relationship rich, long-standing and based on trust, says envoy
Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi-French relationship rich, long-standing and based on trust, says envoy

Saudi-French relationship rich, long-standing and based on trust, says envoy

The deep relationship between France and Saudi Arabia is rich, long-standing and based on trust, Ludovic Pouille, the French ambassador to the Kingdom, said on Tuesday. The nations have forged partnerships at all levels based on mutual interests and a common view of international issues, he added. “We feel the energy in all our partnerships that revive French-Saudi cooperation in all fields included in the Saudi Vision 2030,” Pouille said. On the opening day of the fifth Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, the ambassador said the event has become a benchmark for assessing the quality of other investment forums worldwide. He added that its international scale has contributed to the opening up and promotion of the Saudi economy to a global audience of international investors in a bid to achieve the objectives Saudi Vision 2030.


Saudi authorities foil port drug-smuggling bid

Saudi authorities foil port drug-smuggling bid
Updated 26 October 2021

Saudi authorities foil port drug-smuggling bid

Saudi authorities foil port drug-smuggling bid

RIYADH: Saudi authorities have foiled an attempt to smuggle 5,246,000 amphetamine tablets through Jeddah’s Islamic Port.

Maj. Raed Al-Najidi, spokesperson for the Saudi General Directorate of Narcotics Control, said the pills had been hidden inside crates of grapes intended for distribution throughout the Kingdom.

A Syrian and two Jordanians were arrested in connection with the incident.

The drugs seizure was carried out as part of a coordinated operation between the directorate and the Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority.

Saudi border patrols in Jazan, Najran, and Asir recently thwarted attempts to sneak more than one ton of cannabis and 66 tons of qat into the Kingdom.

And in May, Saudi authorities foiled a plot to smuggle almost 1,000 kilograms of hashish into the country through its southern borders. Twenty-four people — 18 Ethiopians, four Yemenis, and two Saudis — were arrested.