New support measures announced to help Saudi Arabia’s tourism ‘renaissance’: Cabinet

Update New support measures announced to help Saudi Arabia’s tourism ‘renaissance’: Cabinet
The new regulatory system will help tourism’s development in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s objectives (Shutterstock)
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Updated 25 August 2022

New support measures announced to help Saudi Arabia’s tourism ‘renaissance’: Cabinet

New support measures announced to help Saudi Arabia’s tourism ‘renaissance’: Cabinet
  • Domestic cultural tourism in Saudi Arabia surged by 30% in 2021 compared to 2020: Culture Ministry report

RIYADH: Crisis management measures and financial guarantees will be part of a new tourism law unveiled by the Saudi Cabinet to boost a “renaissance” in the sector.

The incoming regulatory system, which will help tourism’s development in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s objectives, addresses the development of the regulatory and legislative environment of the sector.

The changes include measures to manage crises, ward off risks, and provide financial guarantees for certain tourism activities, strengthening the relation between investors, tourists and relevant authorities. 

Overall tourism spending in Saudi Arabia, including residents and foreigners, rose 52 percent in 2021 to SR95.6 billion ($25.5 billion) from SR63.4 billion the previous year, data published by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed earlier this month.

“The new system will enable us to carry out our tasks to ensure the provision of high-quality services that enrich the experience of the tourist and visitor and enable us to attract investments and supervise the sector efficiently and effectively,” Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb said on his Twitter account.

“The new system will contribute to a qualitative renaissance of the Saudi tourism sector and its development in line with the objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030,” he added.

In a separate statement, Al-Khateeb added: “This law follows the Kingdom’s recent announcement of the Regional Tourism Development Councils Regulation, a major milestone in advancing Saudi Arabia’s National Tourism Strategy. The regulation will accelerate the development of tourist destinations in the various regions, including NEOM, Al-Soudah, the Red Sea, and Diriyah Gate.”

The new system includes a set of articles related to the licensing of activities, their classifications, standards, requirements, and control over them, while also providing sufficient flexibility for the sector, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

It aims to support and facilitate the completion of procedures for obtaining licenses for hospitality facilities and other tourism activities. 

All tourism activities will now be processed through a comprehensive service center. 

The minister of tourism explained that the regulatory system comes as a culmination of the sector’s reform process, as it was built based on the best international practices selected from the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index.

“This system is not enough, it provides solutions to current problems, but sets a future vision for tourism patterns that may arise later,” Al-Khateeb said.

The Ministry of Tourism also intends to provide a set of incentives, such as the exemption from taxes or customs duties after the approval of the concerned authorities.

There will also be a database providing statistics and information on all aspects of the tourism sector in the Kingdom.

Jamil Attar, CEO of hospitality firm Tarfeeh Fakieh, told Arab News: “This pioneering national strategy aims to increase the tourism sector’s overall contribution to Saudi Arabia’s GDP from its current rate of 3 percent to more than 10 percent by 2030.” 

He said it will empower the private sector by offering various services and resources, helping organizations overcome challenges ranging from accessibility issues to quality management. 

“The framework also helps new projects secure permits for hospitality activities and events to cultivate the tourism experience further and help position Saudi Arabia as a key destination worldwide,” he further noted. 

The Cabinet also gave the green light for transfer of ownership of assets, as well as financial and contractual liabilities and rights related to healthcare services provided by the Ministry of Health, to Health Holding Co. or any of its subsidiaries.

Culture tourism up

Domestic cultural tourism in Saudi Arabia surged by 30 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to a report published by the Saudi Ministry of Culture. 

According to the report, the driving factors behind this rebound in cultural tourism are the lifting of pandemic restrictions and increase in cultural activities. 

The report also showed a consistent upward trend in demand for cultural activities, with domestic cultural tourism seeing annual growth rates of 4.5 percent between 2017 and 2021.

The report further noted that the Kingdom witnessed 85 percent growth in cinema ticket sales between 2020 and 2021 and the rate of those who attended a musical concert at least once rose by 12.5 percent in the same period. 

“The Kingdom is undergoing an unprecedented cultural transformation and which is continuing to gather pace. We have built an environment that enables creatives to flourish; proud of their shared history while eager to embrace their future,” said Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. 

 

 


Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead
Updated 07 February 2023

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead

Trust key to safe expansion of use of AI solutions, says PwC Middle East’s AI lead
  • Dr. Scott Nowson discussed evolving relationship between humans and tech on the sidelines of LEAP in Riyadh
  • “We’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities,” he told Arab News

RIYADH: Trust is key to the safe expansion of the use of AI solutions around the world, Dr. Scott Nowson, PwC Middle East’s artificial intelligence lead, has told Arab News.

As the debate ensues over human capabilities compared to artificial intelligence solutions, Nowson said that while there are “some skills and some tasks that are better suited to automation with technology” the use of AI is “still contingent upon human intelligence and awareness.”

Through his work in AI over the past 27 years, Nowson has examined the evolving relationship between AI and humans.

“There’s as much optimism as there is pessimism over AI,” he told Arab News during the second edition of the LEAP technology conference.

“People believe AI will completely replace us when I really don’t think it will. I think we’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities,” he added.

Dr. Scott Nowson, Artificial Intelligence Lead at PwC Middle East discusses the growing capabilities of AI in the MENA region. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

However, we must acknowledge that AI can perform some tasks better than humans, Nowson said, using the evolution of AI-assisted unmanned aerial vehicles as an example.

Recent research has also shown that self-driving cars can employ a more accurate view of roads than humans, making them safer and more functional than traditional vehicles.

According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error accounts for 94 percent of all road accidents.

Nowson began studying AI 27 years ago at the University of Edinburgh, which opened one of the first dedicated undergraduate programs for AI in the world.

After studying cognitive science and completing a Ph.D. in natural language processing, Nowson has spent the past 16 years exploring the constantly evolving relationship between humans and technology across four continents. He has worked at PwC since 2019.

AI and its development, said Nowson, is not as new as most people think. “AI has been around for 60-80 years now,” says Nowson. “But it is only now that the rise of technology is pushing it into the published consciousness with ChatGPT and DALL-E.”

The latter is a model developed by OpenAI to generate digital images from natural language descriptions, called “prompts.”

Nowson added: “People are now thinking about AI and its implications on daily life more. We already witnessed technological change with the industrial revolution through robotic process automation. AI is just the next step in that.”

FASTFACTS

  • AI the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
  • Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition and machine vision.

Undeniably, the development of AI technology is moving fast. For many people, there are psychological hurdles to overcome in order to grasp the influence of AI on daily life.

Nowson said: “We need governments and leaders to be able to understand the capabilities of AI and understand the economic, political and societal implications, and handle them with good governance and responsibility.”

Building trust is the most important factor in expanding AI, he said, adding: “Trust is paramount among clients of PwC.”

Nowson said that PwC internally tests AI before taking new solutions to clients.

“This way, we have confidence in any solution, any approach, any strategy that we use because we’ve done it internally first,” he added.

“To that end, we have upskilled hundreds, if not thousands, across the Middle East region from our teams on the different AI technologies. This broadens the conversation to enable finding the best solutions through AI for problem solving.”

 


India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn
Updated 07 February 2023

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn

India’s Adani crisis spills over into street protests as losses top $110bn
  • The billionaire and Modi are from the same state and Adani has repeatedly denied allegations by Modi’s opponents that he had benefited from their close ties. Modi’s government too has denied allegations of favoring Adani

NEW DELHI: The crisis engulfing the Adani Group intensified on Monday as hundreds of members of India’s opposition parties took to the streets to press for a probe into allegations by a US short-seller against the conglomerate which triggered its market rout.
Shares in billionaire Gautam Adani’s companies have been in free-fall since a Jan. 24 critical report by Hindenberg Research, with group cumulative market losses now topping $110 billion, sparking fears of wider financial contagion.
Opposition parties, who last week called for a parliamentary panel to investigate the saga and disrupted proceedings, have questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closeness with Adani.
Protesters on Monday also expressed anger about investments made by state-backed Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and State Bank of India (SBI) in the Adani Group.
Adani has rejected in detailed rebuttals the Hindenberg report’s allegations of stock manipulation, use of tax havens and criticism that it had unsustainable debt.
The billionaire and Modi are from the same state and Adani has repeatedly denied allegations by Modi’s opponents that he had benefited from their close ties. Modi’s government too has denied allegations of favoring Adani.
At New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, a Mughal-era observatory that doubles up as a protest site for all causes, protesters held up banners and shouted slogans against Adani. Some broke through barricades, forcing the police to detain them.
“Common man has invested his money in a businessman’s (Gautam Adani) company and the government is trying to save him. The government is supporting the businessman (Adani) and not the common man,” Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee General Secretary Shiv Panday was quoted as saying by ANI news agency.
Hundreds of members of the Congress party protested across the country, including outside several offices of state-owned insurer Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and State Bank of India (SBI), both of which have exposure to Adani group companies.
At Jantar Mantar some burnt a suitcase with an SBI logo on it. In Mumbai, a protester held a placard with Adani’s photo and the LIC logo, explaining with a bar chart “How much has LIC invested in Adani Group.”
LIC holds a 4.23 percent stake in the flagship Adani firm, while its other exposures include a 9.14 percent stake in Adani Ports and 5.96 percent in Adani Total Gas. SBI said last week its total exposure to Adani Group was 0.9 percent of its total loan book, or around 270 billion rupees ($3.30 billion).
LIC and SBI did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, a move by Adani Group on Monday to calm investor nerves failed to stem the market rout. It said it would pre-pay loans of around $1.1 billion taken against pledged stocks in Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, Adani Transmission and Adani Green Energy, allowing it to get back the shares.
Shares of Adani Enterprises closed down 0.9 percent on Monday after sinking as much as 9.6 percent in early trade. Adani Transmission dropped lost 10 percent, while Adani Green, Adani Total Gas Ltd. , Adani Power, and Adani Wilmar fell 5 percent each.
Adani Ports rose 9.3 percent, the only stock to buck the trend.
WORSENING CRISIS
The crisis has snowballed into the biggest business and reputational challenge for 60-year-old Adani, whose fortunes had rapidly risen in recent years as he expanded his conglomerate’s business interests that stretch from ports to mining.
Both houses of India’s parliament were adjourned on Monday, the third consecutive day, amid sloganeering and demands to launch an inquiry.
In the brutal fallout of Hindenburg’s report, Adani group flagship company Adani Enterprises Ltd. was forced to abandon a $2.5 billion share sale last week, and Adani lost his crown as Asia’s richest person and slipped down the global rankings of the wealthy.
Adani had planned to issue a credit report by Friday to address concerns raised by Hindenburg about its liquidity, Reuters reported. The report is expected to be released this week, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The stock market rout triggered a series of credit ratings warnings on Friday with Moody’s saying the group may struggle to raise capital, and S&P cutting its outlook on two group companies.
India’s banking and markets regulators, as well as the government, have initiated inquiries to calm spooked investors. The latter has written to various custodian banks asking for details on beneficial owners of offshore funds and foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), Reuters reported.

 


UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom
Updated 07 February 2023

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom

UAE’s Burjeel Holdings and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company plan joint venture in Kingdom
  • They intend to develop a network of more than 60 physiotherapy, rehabilitation and wellness centers across the country

ABU DHABI: Burjeel Holdings, an Emirati healthcare company, and Saudi Arabia’s Leejam Sports Company, owner of the Fitness Time chain of gyms, has signed a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture, Emirates News Agency reported.

Under the terms of the agreement, signed on Monday at the headquarters of the Ministry of Investment in Riyadh, the companies will develop a network of more than 60 physiotherapy, rehabilitation and wellness centers in Leejam facilities across the Kingdom. Initially, six centers will open in Riyadh and expand across the Leejam network over the next year.

“Our collaboration with Leejam to provide high-quality services in rehabilitation and sports medicine is significant as we commence operations in (Saudi Arabia, which is) renowned for its love of sports, and especially football,” said Shamsheer Vayalil, the founder of Burjeel Holdings.

“Professional and recreational athletes of all levels, and passionate youngsters, stand to benefit from comprehensive care, ranging from prevention to rehabilitation, which will be tailored to their specific needs.

“These offerings will create a world-class support system enabling sportspersons to elevate their performance. We are also committed to supporting the transformative (Saudi) Vision 2030, which acknowledges the importance of partnerships with the private sector to promote sports for well-being.”

Ali Al-Sagri, the chairman of Leejam Sports, said: “The MoU confirms the company's commitment to harnessing the full extent of its capabilities to raise the level of healthcare and physical fitness, and to achieve a healthier life for body and mind.

“Our partnership with Burjeel Holdings, a leader in the field of healthcare services, ensures integrated sports medicine services of the best international standards.”


Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city
Updated 06 February 2023

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city

Hong Kong says it would support Aramco to list in the city
  • Hong Kong leader John Lee posted on Facebook said the city would be able to assist the Saudi oil firm

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader John Lee said on Monday the financial hub would support Saudi oil giant Aramco if it chose to list in the city.

Hong Kong will be able to handle any of Aramco's future funding arrangements and investment opportunities, John Lee said in a post on his official Facebook account after meeting the group's chief executive.

On Monday, Aramco also announced a strategic partnership with Zoom and an increase in funding for Wa’ed Ventures during the second edition of LEAP, being held in Saudi Arabia.


PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure
Updated 06 February 2023

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company signs MoU with MCIT to build digital infrastructure

RIYADH: The PIF-owned Saudi Downtown Company on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to develop digital infrastructure and communication technologies.

The MoU was signed at the second edition of LEAP, a major international technology conference held annually in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Downtown Company aims to build and develop downtown areas and mixed-use destinations in 12 Saudi cities.

The 12 cities include Madinah, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa, Buraidah, Najran, Jazan, Hail, Al-Baha, Arar, Taif, Dumat Al-Jandal, and Tabuk. The company will develop over 10 million sq. m of land across all projects, creating modern destinations drawn from Saudi Arabia’s diverse local culture and traditional architectural motifs, while using cutting-edge technology in every project.

The agreement was signed between Nayef bin Saleh Al-Hamdan, a member of the board of directors and acting CEO of Saudi Downtown Company, and Bassam bin Abdullah Al-Bassam, undersecretary of the Ministry of Communications and IT for communications and infrastructure.

Al-Hamdan said the deal aims to encourage investment in the digital infrastructure of the company’s projects.

With more than 700 speakers from 50 counties and 900 local and international companies in attendance at the Riyadh Front Center for Exhibitions and Conventions, this year’s edition of LEAP represents a huge economic advance in the Kingdom through many partnerships, deals, and investment tours.