MANAMA: Bahrain-based financial investment group GFH has kickstarted its US operations by acquiring a majority stake in Atlanta-based SQ Asset Management.
A property manager focused on student housing, SQ has more than $1.4 billion in aggregate transaction value with 32 housing properties totaling 10,300 beds currently under management across the US.
Through this acquisition, the Gulf firm will add 180 property professionals to its employee base, thus “bringing significant investment and asset management experience in US real estate,” the company said in a statement.
“We’re excited to announce this acquisition, which launches GFH’s operations in the US and provides us with direct access to the attractive living space and provides the group with local and well-positioned access in the US to help execute our real estate strategy,” said Hisham Alrayes, CEO of GFH.
The financial details of the agreement are yet to be disclosed.
Alrayes added, “We are looking forward to working with SQ on this exciting journey and enabling the platform to expand into other sectors and geographies. SQ has a successful track record of acquiring, owning, operating and disposing of investments and has managed to deliver attractive returns to its investor base.”
WEF: Economists warn of deepening human misery amid global economic fragmentation
Experts warn the pandemic and war in Ukraine have exacerbated the trend towards “deglobalization”
Chief Economists Outlook forecast warns inflation and supply chain disruption will deepen food insecurity
Updated 24 May 2022
DUBAI: The World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook report has sounded a warning of potentially dire human consequences that could result from the fragmentation of the global economy, exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
In their latest quarterly report, published on Monday, day two of the WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, experts forecast higher rates of inflation in the US, Europe and Latin America, with a resultant decline in real wages in both high-income and low-income countries.
The regions that appear particularly vulnerable to a lower rate of economic activity include the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which have already experienced worsening levels of food insecurity in recent years.
As supply chains enter a third year of disruption, governments and businesses are rethinking their approach to exposure, self-sufficiency and security. As a result, experts warn that firms are realigning their supply chains along geopolitical fault lines, creating a new “economic iron curtain.”
Economists fear these trends could set global development back decades.
“We are at the cusp of a vicious cycle that could impact societies for years,” Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s managing director, said in a statement issued on Monday.
“The pandemic and war in Ukraine have fragmented the global economy and created far-reaching consequences that risk wiping out the gains of the last 30 years.
“Leaders face difficult choices and trade-offs domestically when it comes to debt, inflation and investment. Yet business and government leaders must also recognize the absolute necessity of global cooperation to prevent economic misery and hunger for millions around the world.”
The most visible effect of this disruption has been the rising price of food. The war in Ukraine is expected to increase wheat prices by 40 percent this year, while the price of vegetable oils, cereals and meats continue to skyrocket.
The process of “deglobalization,” a term coined by the Chief Economists Outlook report in 2021 to describe the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been expedited by the economic and geopolitical fallout from the invasion of Ukraine.
The country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain and vegetable oils and the blockade of its Black Sea ports has disrupted the global supply of these commodities. In addition, Ukrainian farmers displaced by the conflict have been unable to tend this year’s crops, foreshadowing further shortages.
During a panel discussion at the Davos meeting, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, said that about “49 million people are knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries,” including Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Mali, Burkina Faso, Congo, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“This is going to be hell on earth,” Beasley said on the opening day of the WEF event. “Because of this crisis, we are taking food from the hungry to give to the starving.”
David Beasley (@WFPChief) warns of the devastating impact of the crisis in #Ukraine on food security.
It is not only rising food prices that concern economists. The World Bank expects energy prices to increase by 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023-24. Many fear that government efforts to mitigate the threat of energy insecurity will prioritize carbon-intensive sources rather than green renewables, setting back climate action.
In many advanced economies, the rising cost of living is already having a detrimental effect on quality of life.
Speaking during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, US President Joe Biden acknowledged the squeeze many Americans are feeling as a result of high inflation and supply-chain shortages but said a recession is not inevitable.
“Our GDP is going to grow faster than China’s for the first time in 40 years,” he said. “Now, does that mean we don’t have problems? We do. We have problems that the rest of the world has, but less consequential than the rest of the world has because of our internal growth and strength.”
Biden’s rejection of an imminent economic slump in the wake of financial market jitters about “stagflation,” which means persistent high inflation combined with high unemployment and stagnant demand in an economy, found backing from another of the speakers at the Davos gathering, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
However, she admitted that the IMF expects weak growth in comparison with last year, when the world was emerging from the worst of the pandemic, and added that there is now a risk of further declines because of the war in Ukraine and the resulting fragmentation.
“The costs of further disintegration would be enormous across countries,” Georgieva said in a blog post ahead of the WEF meeting, highlighting the potential for new waves of cross-border migration.
“And people at every income level would be hurt — from highly paid professionals and middle-income factory workers who export, to low-paid workers who depend on food imports to survive.
“More people will embark on perilous journeys to seek opportunity elsewhere.”
TRSDC preparing a new breed of Saudi hospitality professionals to place Kingdom firmly on global tourism map
The company is committed to becoming an employer of choice, says top official
Updated 24 May 2022
RIYADH: A few years ago, it was a bit inconceivable to see tourists in large numbers swimming in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea or marveling at the breath-taking natural habitats in the nearby islands.
Frankly, the Kingdom was never on the radar screen of potential European, American and Asian tourists as most of these visitors preferred to spend their vacations in more popular tourist destinations.
However, this is about to change.
The Saudi government, which is keen to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil as the primary source of revenue, has embarked on an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan to turn the Red Sea into a significant tourist attraction.
To achieve this goal, the Kingdom set up The Red Sea Development Co., which was incorporated as a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The company’s main task is to develop and promote a new international luxury tourism destination that will set high standards for sustainable development and bring about the next generation of luxury travel.
According to the company, the development will offer unprecedented investment options and allow visitors to explore the five untouched treasures of the west coast of the Kingdom: the archipelago of over 90 islands with stunning coral reefs, dormant volcanoes and pristine nature reserves.
The new destination, which covers an area of 28,000 sq. km, is located between Umluj and Al Wajh, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Oasis of relief
The company’s executives are upbeat about the future and feel confident that the first wave of tourists will come to the Red Sea at the end of 2022.
“We are gearing up to welcome the world’s most discerning travelers to The Red Sea Project by the end of this year when our first hotels will open. We have marked significant progress to ensure we remain on track,” Anton Bawab, head of operations at TRSDC, told Arab News.
Bawab said the company has identified the hotel brands and partners and announced nine of them last October.
These include leading world brands such as Jumeirah, Six Senses, EDITION, St Regis, Fairmont, Raffles, SLS, Grand Hyatt and InterContinental.
“These offerings will form part of the 16 hotels that we planned for the first phase of development by 2023. Upon full completion, we will host 50 resorts offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. The destination will also include an international airport, luxury marinas, golf courses, and entertainment and leisure facilities,” Bawab explained.
Bawab hoped by 2030 the number of visitors to the Red Sea would reach one million.
“By 2030, annual visitors will be capped at one million to ensure we provide an exclusive experience while mitigating environmental impacts and protecting the local heritage, nature, and culture for future generations.
“Access will drive visitors, and visitors will drive access. To that effect, we are working hand in hand with regional airlines to ensure that our international airport is accessible with frequent flights at guest-friendly timings,” he noted.
According to the estimates of TRSDC, by 2030, TRSP will contribute SR22 billion ($5.9 billion) per year to the local gross domestic product, while construction and 10 years of steady-state operations will generate cumulative revenues of SR464 billion by 2044.
Nurturing local talent
The work of TRSDC does not stop here. The company has also created a talent team to groom young Saudi nationals to work on the project to create more jobs in the market.
One of the key people behind this team is Zehar Filemban, senior talent development director of TRSDC.
“Our commitment to injecting the local market with 70,000 jobs while engaging with the public, private, and start-up sectors, will reenergize a thriving economy. Our mission is to redefine the relationship between luxury and sustainability while inviting the world to witness previously undiscovered local treasures. This will spotlight the country’s credentials as an ambitious nation on the global tourism stage,” Filemban said.
To achieve these strategic imperatives, the company is taking great care and caution to produce economic, environmental, and social co-benefits for the entirety of the tourism value chain.
“The overarching nature of the tourism industry means we are inspiring growth in supporting economic sectors like renewable energy, clean transportation, low-impact building and construction, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, and wildlife management,” Filemban said.
He emphasized that TRSDC is committed to becoming an employer of choice by recruiting, developing and retaining exceptional talent, promoting Saudization and supporting diversity and inclusion.
“In this pursuit, we will continue to facilitate knowledge transfer within the local, regional, and international industry; enhance professional development opportunities and develop young Saudi talent,” Filemban said.
Preparing for the future
Filemban added that the company is creating the changemakers of tomorrow through robust learning and development courses such as the annual Elite Graduate Program, preparation programs in local towns, community workshops, and advanced training and mentorships opportunities.
“We do this in close partnership with industry leaders like National eLearning Center, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Human Resources Development Fund, Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation, Saudi Entertainment Academy, the University of Tabuk and the University of Prince Mugrin.”
Filemban also supervised different departments to harness the abilities of the young Saudi nationals and prepare them to assume new responsibilities in the future.
“Over 600 students are currently enrolled in educational programs that support the provision of high-quality education and improve the learning experience to meet the needs of all employees and students. Programs that vary between vocational training and scholarships, under a wide range of tracks including hospitality management, airport services and technical services,” he added.
Filemban insisted that people are the company’s greatest assets and are the center of its organizational development, supported by its education and learning systems.
On May 19, TRSDC achieved another key milestone geared towards upskilling young Saudi talent through signing the second agreement with the Human Resources Development Fund to deliver high-quality training programs. General Manager of HRDF Turki Aljawini visited the site to sign the new agreement and get introduced to the project site.
This partnership will create a substantial pipeline to support and equip 1,000 young Saudis with the knowledge and expertise needed to start successful careers at TRSDC spanning across various areas such as hospitality, tourism security and information technology.
Eager to learn
Students also shared their company experience and closely followed the progress of work.
Lojain Labban, a student at the University of Prince Mugrin under a TRSDC scholarship program, learned about the program through a Twitter personality that had advertised the hospitality scholarship, and it triggered her interest.
“I honestly had no idea what I was going into, I didn’t know much about the major, but it seemed like a fantastic opportunity with one of the biggest companies in the Kingdom,” Labban said.
She expressed her admiration for the project and was even more impressed by the determination of officials to attract tourists to the Red Sea.
“I love that they are developing areas of Saudi soon to be one of the top places for tourism; they are creating a tourist hotspot right here. One does not need to look far to see luxury places to holiday in. It is helping the whole and the Saudi citizens themselves to truly explore and appreciate the beauty of the Kingdom,” Labban said.
Abdulrahman Hamid Alshithiwani, a high school student at Umluj, was also among the young Saudis who saw work progress at the Red Sea.
“First of all, I am proud of this most wonderful achievement because they set a very ambitious goal, and it is in my region that I was born and grew in. And to know that I am part of a giga-project that will draw the world’s attention by 2030,” Alshithiwani said.
He believes that these projects will offer massive numbers of job opportunities in many fields such as hospitality, renewable energy, aviation, the environment and much more.
“This project will take us to another level that will enable us to compete and excel in these markets,” Alshithiwani concluded.
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
Updated 23 May 2022
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
Kingdom’s hotels ‘enjoying higher occupancies of over 70% in most destinations’
Updated 23 May 2022
George Charles Darley
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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
Updated 23 May 2022
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.
“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.