Colombian fintech Addi secures $200m funding round led by Softbank, GIC

Colombian fintech Addi secures $200m funding round led by Softbank, GIC
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Updated 21 December 2021

Colombian fintech Addi secures $200m funding round led by Softbank, GIC

Colombian fintech Addi secures $200m funding round led by Softbank, GIC
  • Addi's valuation is above $700 million after it raised $80 million in equity from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund

RIYADH: Colombian fintech startup Addi has raised a $200 million funding round led by Softbank and GIC to help fuel an expansion in Latin America.

Despite closing a fundraising round in August, the financial technology company decided to increase its capital to support its ongoing growth, according to Bloomberg.

In order to pursue its goal of a five-fold growth increase next year, Addi plans to expand to other markets, in addition to Brazil and Mexico.

Addi's valuation is above $700 million after it raised $80 million in equity from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC Private, Softbank Group Corp.’s Latin America Fund and others, the Bogota-based startup said.

The round included an additional $125 million in debt financing, most of which came from Goldman Sachs Group, it said.

The startup’s payment processing system allows customers to purchase in instalments and is being used by over 1,000 retailers and 500,000 customers this year.


Aramco CEO warns of global oil crunch due to lack of investment

Aramco CEO warns of global oil crunch due to lack of investment
Updated 35 min 11 sec ago

Aramco CEO warns of global oil crunch due to lack of investment

Aramco CEO warns of global oil crunch due to lack of investment
  • Amin Nasser said COVID restrictions in China would not last long and global oil demand would therefore resume its growth
  • He also said dialogue between oil industry and policymakers over the transition from fossil fuels to energy which does not result in carbon emissions has been problematic

DAVOS: The world is facing a major oil supply crunch as most companies are afraid to invest in the sector as they face green energy pressures, the head of Saudi Aramco told Reuters, adding it cannot expand production capacity any faster than promised.
Amin Nasser, head of the world’s largest oil producer, said on Monday he was sticking to the target of expanding capacity to 13 million barrels per day from the current 12 million by 2027, despite calls to do it faster.
“The world is running with less than 2 percent of spare capacity. Before COVID the aviation industry was consuming 2.5 million bpd more than today. If the aviation industry picks up speed, you are going to have a major problem,” Nasser told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“What happened in Russia-Ukraine masked what would have happened. We were going through an energy crisis because of a lack of investment. And it started to bite following the pandemic,” he added.
Nasser said COVID restrictions in China would not last long and global oil demand would therefore resume its growth.
“If we could do it (expand capacity) before 2027 we would have done it. This is what we tell policymakers. It takes time.”
Nasser also said dialogue between the oil industry and policymakers over the transition from fossil fuels to energy which does not result in carbon emissions has been problematic.
“I don’t think there is a lot of constructive dialogue going on. In certain areas we are not brought to the table. We were not invited to COP in Glasgow,” he said referring the last year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
He also said last year’s message from the International Energy Agency that world oil demand was set to fall and no new investment in fossil fuel was needed had a profound impact.
“We need a more constructive dialogue. They say we don’t need you by 2030, so why would you go and build a project that takes 6-7 years. Your shareholder will not allow you to do it.”
The energy transition process was therefore often proving chaotic and disruptive, he said.
“There is no good plan... When you don’t have plan B ready, don’t demonize plan A,” he said. “The pressure and the rhetoric is — don’t invest, you will have stranded assets. It makes difficult for CEOs to make investments.”
So-called stranded asset theory is the notion that significant oil and gas reserves are left unused because they are longer required.
Nasser said missteps during the global energy transition would only encourage greater use of coal by many Asian countries.
“For policymakers in those countries the priority is to put food on the table for their people. If coal can do it half the price they will do it with coal.”
He said Aramco, where Saudi Arabia is the main shareholder, was different as it was investing in both fossil fuel and energy transition.
“That is our difference from others. But what we are adding is not enough to meet the energy security of the world.”


Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound

Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound
Updated 12 min 35 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound

Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector set to lead after seeing significant rebound
  • Kingdom’s hotels ‘enjoying higher occupancies of over 70% in most destinations’

RIYADH: Of all the industries impacted by the pandemic, the hospitality sector was the worst hit in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, as in all other territories.

In 2020, hotel occupancy rates declined to 49 percent in Riyadh from 60 percent in 2019. Likewise, Makkah witnessed a decline from 61 percent to 25 percent, and Jeddah from 58 percent to 37 percent, according to professional services firm Deloitte.

However, the Kingdom’s travel and tourism sector enjoyed an equally dramatic rebound. Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah witnessed revenue per available room recovery index rates of 88 percent, 85 percent and 56 percent, respectively, in 2021, as recently reported by the US-based hospitality research company STR. 

Furthermore, the pace of growth is set to gather steam as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program aims to attract 100 million annual visitors within eight years. 

The reforms will also focus on T&T outside the traditional destinations of Hajj and Umrah and in line with national gigaprojects such as NEOM and The Red Sea Development Company.

“There is a palpable excitement about Saudi Arabia – not just locally, but globally,” said Philip Wooller, area director, Middle East & Africa at STR.

“Despite the challenges of the last two years, the acceleration of Saudi Arabia as both a leisure and business destination has been remarkable, and the ambitious plans laid out in Vision 2030 are on track.” 

These remarks were echoed by Haitham Mattar, managing director of India, Middle East & Africa at UK-headquartered IHG Hotels & Resorts, the world’s third-largest hotel company, which has been active in the Kingdom since 1975. He expected the resurgence of Saudi Arabia’s T&T sector in the broader international context.

Too big to fail

“The global pandemic was a crisis that brought the industry to its knees for the first time,” Mattar told Arab News. “However, I always say the hospitality sector is too big to fail. We’ve gone through the 2008 financial crisis, foot and mouth disease, SARS and other global problems, and the industry always seems to bounce right back.

“Saudi Arabia’s hotel performance registered year-on-year gains in 2021, and the sector’s recovery is expected to persist throughout the coming year, with pent-up demand driving further improvements as COVID-19-related restrictions continue to ease.

“Our hotels are now enjoying higher occupancies of over 70 percent in most destinations from domestic and international customers.” 

Haitham Mattar, managing director of India, Middle East & Africa at UK-headquartered IHG Hotels & Resorts.

Mattar is an authority on Saudi Arabia’s hospitality sector. He was a senior advisor to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism from 2019 to 2021, where he helped develop a national tourism strategy based on research into global markets, demographics, events, infrastructure, supply chains and identification of key tourism destinations.

Mattar credited the government of Saudi Arabia for helping the hospitality industry through the worst of times and bringing it back to its feet.

“The government supported the entire private sector, including the hotel industry, with subsidization of wages, reduced energy costs and flexible or deferred loan repayments, all of which helped our owners in their recovery plan.

“And today, the government of Saudi and the tourism ministry has been extremely active in bringing great events to the country, which generate demand both domestically and internationally. In addition, we’ve seen increased demand as the borders have started to open with the easing of restrictions.”

Evolving dynamics

According to STR, over 30,000 hotel rooms are currently under construction in the Kingdom.

“STR’s findings clearly point to ongoing and sustained recovery. We are looking forward to exploring the vast untapped potential of the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector,” said Danielle Curtis, exhibition director of Arabian Travel Market.

“Travelers today are seeking new destinations and new experiences, with sustainable tourism being high on their agenda,” Mattar said.

“And sustainability goes a long way. It’s not just about being environmentally friendly; it’s more about preserving wildlife, contributing to zero poverty, creating jobs, and protecting culture and heritage. That’s what travelers today want to associate themselves with.”

Mattar noted that the push for sustainable tourism is changing the very nature of hotel design in Saudi Arabia and worldwide.

“It’s critical to ensure that our hotels are designed with zero emissions, renewable energy and zero usage of single-use plastic.

“Also, consumers want to move away from large lobbies, conglomerates and queues at the reception. New designs will allow people access to their accommodation with minimal touchpoints with other people, for example, online check-ins and services.”

Technology impact

These technical advances are coordinated with the Kingdom’s wider harnessing of artificial intelligence and internet-connected smart devices as Vision 2030 drives it towards a more knowledge-based economy.

NEOM, The Line and TRSDC, all slated to be global tourist hubs, are implementing digital technology from the ground up, emphasizing sustainability.

“A hundred years from now, we will experience exactly the same natural treasures in the Red Sea,” said Najwah Hamzeh, senior smart destinations director at The Red Sea Development Co.

These initiatives will give the Kingdom an edge in the highly competitive global hospitality industry in the future. Still, according to Mattar, other attributes make it uniquely attractive to international travelers.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful and diverse landscapes, from snow-topped mountains to green mountains to beautiful, lush valleys, great cultural experiences, a rich gastronomy, and preserved authenticity, with 7,000 years of history,” he said.

“There’s a great opportunity for the Kingdom to be a global player in the global tourism arena. The government is working with us, the operators, to ensure that they deliver to their plans.”


How Saudi developer TRSDC is turning Sheybarah Island into an iconic resort

How Saudi developer TRSDC is turning Sheybarah Island into an iconic resort
Updated 23 May 2022

How Saudi developer TRSDC is turning Sheybarah Island into an iconic resort

How Saudi developer TRSDC is turning Sheybarah Island into an iconic resort
  • Located in the southeast of TRSDC’s archipelago in the Red Sea, Sheybarah Hotel is a 73-room hyper luxury resort situated on Sheybarah Island

DUBAI: The Red Sea Development Co., the property developer known for building some of the most futuristic hospitality projects, is raising eyebrows across the design world with its overwater imprint of floating orbs on Sheybarah Island.

Located in the southeast of TRSDC’s archipelago in the Red Sea, Sheybarah Hotel is a 73-room hyper luxury resort situated on Sheybarah Island, which uses a design vocabulary involving a highly reflective stainless-steel skin polished to get a mirror finish.

These floating orbs reflect the colors and surface patterns of the ocean and the colors of the sky as they change throughout the day. This approach alleviates the visual impact of the architecture on the surroundings and harnesses solar energy with its reflective mirror surface.

The brains behind Dubai’s new Museum of the Future, Killa Design, designed these stainless-steel orbs, which promise to be a unique experience for guests in 2023 when the resort opens.

Speaking about these orbs, Yatindra Mudbidri, director of Grankraft Industries, said that the most crucial challenge to building the orbs was how to manufacture something seamless.

Grankraft is a partner of TRSDC empaneled to create over 70 futuristic ‘floating bubble’ overwater villas with seamless polished stainless-steel surfaces that reflect the environment. 

Yatindra Mudbidri, Director of Grankraft

“It’s like water; it reflects what you project onto it,” said Mudbidri.

Due to the company’s commitment to sustainability, the orbs are currently manufactured and built off-site at Grankraft’s facility in Sharjah Free Zone. The spheres are expected to be shipped this summer to the destination to be effectively “plugged” into the project.

Grankraft designed the orbs so that the skin is thermally isolated from the structure, he said, while adding that each sphere takes about 45 days to construct.

According to Killa Designs, the entire project is powered by a centralized solar farm, and freshwater is supplied from a solar-powered desalination plant. 

Recycling the waste material takes place on the island, minimizing the need to bring or remove materials from the site.

The entire infrastructural backbone of the project forms part of a visitor experience where guests can learn about the approach followed to make the project a self-sustained human development, said the design company in its concept note.

So, can one cook an egg on the stainless-steel orb?

“Unless you walk on top of the villa and place it directly at the location where the sun’s reflection is,” quipped Mudbidri, revealing a possibility not worth trying.


Fuel price cap ‘beat inflation’ in Saudi Arabia, says finance minister in economic forecast

Fuel price cap ‘beat inflation’ in Saudi Arabia, says finance minister in economic forecast
Updated 23 May 2022

Fuel price cap ‘beat inflation’ in Saudi Arabia, says finance minister in economic forecast

Fuel price cap ‘beat inflation’ in Saudi Arabia, says finance minister in economic forecast
  • Inflation in Saudi Arabia was 1.6 percent at the end of March and is expected to be no higher that 2.3 percent by the end of the year

DAVOS: A cap on the domestic price of gasoline when crude oil passed $70 a barrel helped to insulate Saudi Arabia from the danger of inflation, the Kingdom’s finance minister said on Monday.
Inflation in Saudi Arabia was 1.6 percent at the end of March and is expected to be no higher that 2.3 percent by the end of the year, Mohammed Al-Jadaan said. Many Western economies are nearing double-digit inflation, partly driven by domestic energy costs.
“It was the end of last year we froze the price escalation of gasoline for the internal economy and households at $70. So anything above $70, the economy will not feel that heat,” Al-Jadaan told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The minister said the economic outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region was generally positive, but geopolitical challenges such as the war in Ukraine were putting pressure on food prices. “In this particular area, let us remember that the MENA region is a significant importer of wheat,” he said.
“If you look at just some basic figures, we represent about 6 percent of the world’s population, and the World Bank is saying 20 percent of the world’s potential starvation will be in MENA.”


70% of UAE, Saudi professionals consider changing jobs due to lack of flexibility, LinkedIn research shows

70% of UAE, Saudi professionals consider changing jobs due to lack of flexibility, LinkedIn research shows
Updated 23 May 2022

70% of UAE, Saudi professionals consider changing jobs due to lack of flexibility, LinkedIn research shows

70% of UAE, Saudi professionals consider changing jobs due to lack of flexibility, LinkedIn research shows

RIYADH: A new research from professional networking site LinkedIn has shed light on employee sentiment in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with 70 percent of those surveyed saying they have considered leaving (or have left) a job due to lack of flexibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rise in demand for flexible work. “The impact of the pandemic on how we work has been transformative, and research globally is pointing to an increased urgency for greater flexibility and empowerment in the workplace,” said Ali Matar, head of LinkedIn MENA and EMEA Venture Markets.

The research follows the launch of LinkedIn’s “career break” feature, which aims to destigmatize career gaps and support flexible careers. Last year, LinkedIn added stay-at-home parent job titles on the website in an effort to break biases around career gaps.

These initiatives align with what employees want, as 56 percent of those surveyed by LinkedIn said they plan on taking a career break in the near future.

LinkedIn refers to this shift toward flexible work as a “flexidus.” However, research showed there is still a disconnect between what companies offer in terms of flexibility and what employees want. 

While 74 percent of professionals in the UAE and Saudi Arabia said they thought the pandemic exposed a need for flexible work arrangements, more than 50 percent said that no new policies had been introduced by their firms to promote flexible work.

Additionally, LinkedIn research showed that a lack of workplace flexibility significantly impacts women’s careers, with 20 percent of women who had to leave a job due to lack of flexibility saying their career progression was affected.

“We have been given an incredible opportunity to reshape the world of work, and it’s critical we remember to keep people at the heart of it to truly build ‘work that works’ for everyone,” said Matar.