Thanks to COVID-19, holiday homes are now open for business

Thanks to COVID-19, holiday homes are now open for business
A general view of luxury area of Dubai. The city has become a safe halfway house for businesses to operate. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 08 May 2022

Thanks to COVID-19, holiday homes are now open for business

Thanks to COVID-19, holiday homes are now open for business
  • Foreign businesses are operating out of short-term rental villas, says CEO of Luxury Explorers Collection

DUBAI: It is not just holidaymakers that have contributed to the boom in the luxury holiday-home market. Foreign businesses are operating out of short-term rental villas, said Mohammed Sultan, founder and CEO of Luxury Explorers Collection, who has been helping them.

Sultan is a veteran of the luxury hospitality industry, specializing in high-level conferences and VIP travel arrangements since 2004. But when the pandemic hit — essentially bringing events and travel to a halt — he had to shift his strategy quickly. 

His company spotted an urgent need in the market for short-term, high-end vacation rentals. So, in June 2020, mere months after COVID-19 swept the world, Luxury Holiday Homes was established.

The majority of the company’s clients are from Europe and Asia, mainly China. These are not typical digital nomads; they are high-profile men and women who see the appeal of doing business in Dubai. 

Compared to the restrictive COVID-19 measures in many of Asia’s main cities and the current war in Eastern Europe, Dubai has become a safe halfway house for businesses to operate.

“Since the pandemic, China has been our biggest market,” Sultan told Arab News. 

“We see a lot of high-net-worth individuals moving their business and bringing staff members to operate out of a villa in Dubai, besides the influx of Russian businessmen holidaying in Dubai and investing here. They need a base, so they use our ultra-luxury properties to discover the market and feel settled,” he added.

Luxury in demand

The global vacation rental market is expected to reach $111.2 billion by 2030, according to a 2021 Precedence Research study. The ultra-luxury market, however, is more nuanced. 

In addition to beautifully decorated properties, often in desired destinations such as the exclusive Emirates Hills area or a penthouse in Downtown Dubai, there are amenities on offer that wealthy clients demand. 

Private chefs, butler services and high-end toiletries are expected. The company operates 20 properties in Dubai and five in Makkah. The three-bedroom unit in Makkah that overlooks the Kaaba is one of the most coveted properties in his scope.

“Most of the hotels in Makkah are old and don’t offer value for money. It’s really hard to find a large three bedroom in Makkah that fits a whole family and overlooks the holy site for prayers,” said Sultan. “It’s a spiritual experience.”

In Dubai, the company’s properties are spread between Palm Jumeirah, Emirates Hills and Downtown Dubai. The majority of holiday homes have pianos for children to continue lessons. Some come with outdoor cinemas and seaside barbeque areas. Luxury Explorer Collection’s rates per night range from 6,000 dirhams ($1,634) to 65,000 dirhams. 

“When we first started with a few properties, guests would call us at odd hours asking how to turn on the gas to cook, so we realized these need to be fully serviced to a high degree,” said Sultan. “We set an impeccable ultra-luxury standard now, and we’ve seen the highest occupancy rates.”

Shifting trends

Luxury Holiday Homes is currently planning to expand in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to cater to rising demand. Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam are on the radar. In addition, the company will soon be working with a developer to create luxury mansion experiences from scratch within the next two to five years.

“It helped that I worked in the industry and had the right connections. I knew the habits of high-net-worth individuals in the region, so when we saw that hotel bookings were slowing in 2008 and private holiday homes were on the rise, I made a note of the consumer preference and acted when the time was right,” said Sultan. 

“Even hotel brands are moving into the short-term rental space,” he added.

Brands such as Marriott International launched Homes & Villas in 2018, encouraging guests to stay for longer periods.

“Hotels are definitely moving into the holiday-homes business. We talk about it at conferences all the time,” said Sultan. “But they have restrictions; we can upgrade easily and quickly; we offer more privacy.”

New data shed fresh insights into traveler habits that he did not anticipate, affecting renovation plans in some cases.

“Our data shows that the more you renovate your bathrooms, the more value you get. We renovated all bathrooms and set aside renovations for secondary bedrooms in villas with 11 bedrooms. It paid off,” he said. “We found out strikingly that revenue increases massively the more you upgrade bathrooms.”

Other preferences include entertainment facilities, including cinemas and sea-facing barbeque areas. As the lines stay blurred between work and home life, having everything you need in one place carries a particular appeal to the luxury travel consumer and business traveler.


GCC project awards plunged during 2022, reaching second lowest since 2005: report

GCC project awards plunged during 2022, reaching second lowest since 2005: report
Updated 20 sec ago

GCC project awards plunged during 2022, reaching second lowest since 2005: report

GCC project awards plunged during 2022, reaching second lowest since 2005: report

RIYADH: Faced with mounting global economic challenges, Gulf Cooperation Council region project awards plunged during 2022, with the total value of contracts handed out dropping 18.7 percent to $93.6 billion from $115.2 billion the previous year, according to Kamco Invest. 

This was the lowest project awards amount since 2005, barring the pandemic-induced decline in 2020, the regional non-banking financial powerhouse based in Kuwait stated in its report. 

The decline of GCC contract awards was affected by high inflation and continuing supply chain problems, mainly due to China’s intermittent COVID-19 restrictions which are now lifted, it added. 

The drop in 2022 also reflected limited big-ticket projects outside the Saudi project market.

All GCC countries, barring Saudi Arabia, witnessed a year-on-year decline in their aggregate 2022 value of projects awarded. 

In addition, total value of project awards was above the $100-billion mark every year for the last decade with the exception of the pandemic year and 2022, it stated. 

Saudi Arabia remained the largest projects market in the GCC during 2022 recording a total of $54.2 billion worth of contracts awarded as compared to $53.9 billion in 2021. 

The UAE ranked second recording total contract awards of $19.2 billion versus $25.9 billion during 2021, Kamco Invest said in its report. 

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar accounted for a combined 93.6 percent of the total value of contracts awarded in the GCC during the year. 

According to the report, total projects awarded in Kuwait during 2022 reached $2.8 billion against $5.2 billion in 2021.

Similarly, Oman witnessed new project awards drop by 27.1 percent year-on-year to hit $2.2 billion, while the aggregate value of contracts awarded in Bahrain reached $96 million in 2022 as compared to $2.7 billion during 2021. 

In terms of sector, the major share of new contract awards went to the construction industry with the value registering a $3.2 billion year-on-year increase to reach a total of $34.3 billion during 2022. 

The growth in the GCC construction sector was mainly driven by the jump in total value of contract awards in Saudi Arabia’s construction sector

Of the total value of projects awarded in the GCC, nearly 59.2 percent was awarded by the Kingdom, stated the report. 

The outlook for 2023 remains bright for the GCC projects market with more than $110 billion worth of projects already in the tender stage, according to MEED Projects, that would mostly translate into awards.


King Abdulaziz Port flags off MSC service to widen trade horizons

King Abdulaziz Port flags off MSC service to widen trade horizons
Updated 31 January 2023

King Abdulaziz Port flags off MSC service to widen trade horizons

King Abdulaziz Port flags off MSC service to widen trade horizons

RIYADH: The Saudi Ports Authority, also known as Mawani, has announced the launch of a new freight service at King Abdulaziz Port operated by the Swiss-based container group MSC.  

The latest connection will bolster the Dammam-based port as a focal point for regional and global trade while strengthening the Kingdom’s hub credentials in fulfillment of the ambitions of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy.

Dammam will also enjoy weekly sailings to eight maritime destinations spanning the Arabian Gulf, South Asia and Southern Africa.  

These include the ports of Khalifa bin Salman in Bahrain, Khalifa in UAE, Qasim in Pakistan, Mundra and Hazira in India, Port Louis in Mauritius, and Durban and Coega in South Africa.  

The service started on Jan. 21 and will feature five vessels with an average carrying capacity exceeding 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units.

As a world-class logistics center boasting top-tier infrastructure and capabilities, King Abdulaziz Port was an obvious choice for shipping liners looking to expand their routes in 2022.  

Some notable liners include SeaLead Shipping’s Far East to Middle East service, Emirates Shipping Line’s Jebel Ali Bahrain Shuwaikh service, Gulf-India Express 2 service by Aladin Express and Maersk’s Shaheen Express service. 

As Saudi Arabia’s eastern maritime gateway and the Kingdom’s main port on the Arabian Gulf, King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam is the primary entryway for cargo headed to the country’s eastern and central regions from all over the world.  

It has a direct railway connection with the dry port in Riyadh. Saudi Arabian Oil Co. built the dock to meet the rapidly increasing demands of the national oil industry under the orders of King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman.  

After further expansions, the port was officially renamed from Dammam Port to King Abdulaziz Port in 1961.

The port has 43 fully equipped berths with mega-ship capabilities, modern cargo handling equipment and general cargo support terminals. Other support terminals include a refrigerated cargo terminal, two cement terminals, a bulk grain terminal, an iron ore terminal, a vessel building berth, and oil and gas terminals.

The announcement comes just over a week after another trade link was added to the Kingdom’s Jubail Commercial Port.

The new shipping service line, India Gulf Service 1, has been added by Hapag-Lloyd, a German international shipping firm.

It will connect the Saudi port to Jebel Ali in the UAE, Karachi in Pakistan, Mundra in India, Sohar in Oman, Shuaiba in Kuwait, and Um Qasr in Iraq.

The new service will be launched weekly starting from Feb. 12 through voyages that include three ships with a total capacity of 2,400 twenty-foot equivalent units each.


China foreign minister seeks stronger economic ties with Saudi Arabia 

China foreign minister seeks stronger economic ties with Saudi Arabia 
Updated 31 January 2023

China foreign minister seeks stronger economic ties with Saudi Arabia 

China foreign minister seeks stronger economic ties with Saudi Arabia 

RIYADH: China's new foreign minister Qin Gang wants to build stronger ties with Saudi Arabia and set up a China-Gulf free trade zone "as soon as possible", according to a ministry statement published late on Monday. 

Qin, who was just recently named to the position, made the suggestion in a telephone conversation with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, adding that China highly appreciates Saudi Arabia's consistent firm support on issues involving China's core interests. 

He said the sides should further expand cooperation on economy, trade, energy, infrastructure, investment, finance, and high technology. 

In addition, Qin pressed for continuously strengthening the China-Gulf strategic partnership and building "the China-Gulf Free Trade Zone as soon as possible." 

During the phone call, Prince Faisal congratulated Qin Gang on his new post as foreign minister and the two officials reviewed Saudi-Chinese relations. 

Prince Faisal said that Saudi Arabia regards relations with China as an important cornerstone of foreign relations, and that Saudi Arabia fully adheres to the one-China principle, according to the statement from the Chinese foreign ministry. 

They also discussed bilateral cooperation, developments in regional and international events, efforts exerted with regard to these events in order to enhance security and stability, and the most important issues of common concern. 

Qin, who just wrapped up a tour to several African countries, also had telephone conversations with Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafierro, according to state media. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. 

During the call, the two leaders reviewed bilateral relations and ways of developing them in various fields. 

A number of issues of common concern were also discussed. 

This comes as Saudi Arabia remained the top supplier of crude oil to China in 2022, according to Reuters. 

The Kingdom shipped a total of 87.49 million tons of crude to China in 2022, equivalent to 1.75 million bpd, customs data showed, on par with the level in 2021. 

China’s state-backed oil refiners largely fulfilled their term contracts with Saudi Arabia in 2022 despite the sluggish domestic demand. 

Saudi Arabia is expected to remain a key, if not the dominant, crude exporter to China after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh in December, where he told Gulf leaders that China would work to buy oil in Chinese yuan, rather than US dollars. 

(With inputs from Reuters)


Saudi Millennials show higher drive toward career advancement than Gen Z, LinkedIn data reveals 

Saudi Millennials show higher drive toward career advancement than Gen Z, LinkedIn data reveals 
Updated 31 January 2023

Saudi Millennials show higher drive toward career advancement than Gen Z, LinkedIn data reveals 

Saudi Millennials show higher drive toward career advancement than Gen Z, LinkedIn data reveals 

CAIRO: Almost two-thirds of Saudi workers are considering changing jobs in 2023 as they seek higher pay,  a better work-life balance, and feel confident in their ability to land better positions, according to a survey by networking firm LinkedIn. 

Despite hiring levels slowing down in the Middle East in 2022 compared to 2021, LinkedIn’s research has shown that 68 percent of the Saudi workforce are optimistic about securing a new job. 

The growing appetite for switching employers is highest among millennials, who show almost 15 percent more confidence in job searching, interviewing and in their abilities to secure new and better jobs in 2023 than their younger colleagues. 

This is attributed to the fact that around 80 percent of the millennial age group – typically those born between 1980 and 1995 – feel a lack of investment from their employer, in addition to feeling undervalued, unmotivated, and underpaid. 

Gen Z employees – those under 25 years old – have reported great worry about job security as they are concerned that their employers have not dealt with the current economic uncertainty very well. 

“Despite economic uncertainty and the slump in global hiring that’s trickled its way into the region, we’re still seeing a significant number of professionals looking to either grow within their organizations or switch jobs in 2023, many driven by the desire for bigger salaries as the global cost of living goes up,” Ali Matar, Head of LinkedIn in the Middle East and North Africa growth hub, said. 

Additionally, Saudi professionals are also confident in pushing for promotions and new opportunities with their current employers as seven out of ten employees feel assured of a pay raise. 

“Workforces clearly know their value within the job market and are taking charge of their career by investing in new skills. It’s clear that since the pandemic, professionals have become much more resilient and we’re seeing this in their confidence to tackle the year ahead,” Matar added. 

The survey reveals that while many workers feel more confident in their career prospects, concerns about job security and a preference for remote work options remain prevalent.

 Six out of every ten workers surveyed said that they would decline new in-office job offers in favor of hybrid or remote work. 


Saudi Arabia’s real GDP grows by 5.4% in Q4 2022: GASTAT

Saudi Arabia’s real GDP grows by 5.4% in Q4 2022: GASTAT
Updated 19 min 49 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s real GDP grows by 5.4% in Q4 2022: GASTAT

Saudi Arabia’s real GDP grows by 5.4% in Q4 2022: GASTAT

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s real gross domestic product grew by 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, driven by a high increase in non-oil activities, according to the latest report released by the General Authority for Statistics.

The GASTAT report noted that non-oil activities in the Kingdom rose 6.2 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2022, while oil activities rose by 6.1 percent during the same period.

The report further added that government services activities increased by 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, compared to the same quarter in 2021.

Compared to the third quarter of 2022, the real GDP of Saudi Arabia grew by 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter.

The GASTAT report noted that this quarter-on-quarter rise in GDP was due to the growth in non-oil activities by 1.7 percent and government services activities by 0.5 percent.

The growth of oil activities, however, decreased by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the previous quarter.

According to the GASTAT report, Saudi Arabia’s economy grew by 8.7 percent in 2022, compared to 3.2 percent recorded in 2021, driven by a growth in oil activities by 15.4 percent.

In 2022, non-oil activities and government services activities rose by 5.4 percent and 2.2 percent respectively.

Earlier in January, during the World Economic Forum at Davos, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund noted that Saudi Arabia is an economic bright spot at a difficult time for the world’s economies.

“We look at the high growth rates of Saudi Arabia with gratitude … also because we need that for the regional and the world economy,” said Georgieva.

The IMF managing director further pointed out that she is pretty much impressed with the way Saudi Arabia is progressing in line with the goals outlined in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“They (Saudis) are using the increase in revenue very effectively to create the investment environment for future growth for diversifying the economy,” added Georgieva.

Meanwhile, the IMF, in its World Economic Outlook report, lowered Saudi Arabia’s economic growth forecast to 2.6 percent for 2023, 1.1 percentage points lower than its October estimate of 3.7 percent.