Saudi Arabia to issue Umrah, visit permits for GCC residents who obtained tourist visa via app

Pilgrims arrive at King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah. (File/AFP)
Pilgrims arrive at King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 07 September 2022

Saudi Arabia to issue Umrah, visit permits for GCC residents who obtained tourist visa via app

Saudi Arabia to issue Umrah, visit permits for GCC residents who obtained tourist visa via app

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah confirmed the possibility of issuing Umrah and visit permits to residents coming from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, who obtained a visitor visa for the purpose of tourism through the Eatmarna app.
This comes as part of efforts to facilitate the arrival of pilgrims from all countries around the world, enrich their experience and raise the quality of services provided to them within a variety of solutions and options, in order to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the ministry said in a statement issued by the Saudi Press Agency.
The ministry said that those who obtained visitor visas for the purpose of tourism from residents of GCC countries, as well as those who obtained visas to enter the Schengen countries, the US, and UK, can, before coming to the Kingdom, book appointments to perform Umrah and visit holy sites using the app.
The procedures for the arrival of pilgrims to perform Umrah this year included several types of visas available to those who obtain them to perform Umrah, including visas for family visits for residents inside the Kingdom, personal visits to Saudi nationals, electronic tourist visas, and tourist visas upon arrival for holders of other types of visas.
Umrah pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom can choose the package of services through the “Maqam” platform, in addition to booking through local agencies approved in the pilgrim’s home country.


Filipino volunteers join Saudi ‘green’ initiative

Filipino volunteers join Saudi ‘green’ initiative
Updated 07 December 2022

Filipino volunteers join Saudi ‘green’ initiative

Filipino volunteers join Saudi ‘green’ initiative
  • Officials from the embassy and NCVC gathered for a jointly organized tree-planting event on Dec. 3 in the Saad National Park
  • The event was also intended to mark International Volunteer Day

RIYADH: As part of the Philippines Embassy’s initiative to celebrate the 53rd diplomatic anniversary with Saudi Arabia, the embassy recently took part in the “Let’s Make it Green” afforestation initiative being implemented by the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification across the Kingdom.
Officials from the embassy and NCVC gathered for a jointly organized tree-planting event on Dec. 3 in the Saad National Park, 100 km east of Riyadh.
The event was also intended to mark International Volunteer Day, which takes place annually on Dec. 5. This year’s theme is “Solidarity through volunteering.” According to the website of the UN Volunteers program, which coordinates IVD, the campaign “highlights the power of our collective humanity to drive positive change through volunteerism.”
Rommel Romato, charge d’affaires at the embassy, said: “The Filipino’s sense of volunteerism and commitment to environmental sustainability transcend our borders. Our dynamic Filipino community in Saudi Arabia fully supports the Saudi Green Initiative programs by undertaking clean-up drives and tree planting activities, among others.”
Amal Al-Daej, international relations and strategic partnership adviser of the NCVC, said: “The government of Saudi Arabia has decided to overcome environmental and ecological limitations through different initiatives. The most prominent among them is the Saudi Green Initiative which was launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021. It aims to plant 450 million trees by 2030 — with a long-term target of 10 billion trees.
“This initiative foresees that afforestation and land-restoration measures will increase the Kingdom’s forestry sink to over 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. Besides that, it is envisaged that the protected areas shall be increased to 30 percent of the total land area of Saudi Arabia by 2030.
Similar climate initiatives are also planned under the Middle East Green Initiative at the regional level, Al-Daej added.
She said: “Obviously it is difficult to draw comparisons between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia regarding the management of natural resources since it is a tropical country. Almost 90 percent of the total 25 percent forest cover of the Philippines is planted. We may learn from the plantation activities in mangrove forests in the Philippines, and also about nursery techniques for raising tree seedlings.
“The measures being taken by the Philippines to control the sharp rate of decline in forest cover over the past few decades would also be useful for us. Similarly, knowledge sharing may also be possible in regard to the management of protected areas.
“We very much appreciate the efforts being made by the volunteers from the Philippines. Indeed, the message to improve green cover through this event will help to encourage others to join in our efforts for greening Saudi Arabia,” Al-Daej added.


Legendary French animator Michel Ocelot talks inspiration, creativity and fame

Legendary French animator Michel Ocelot talks inspiration, creativity and fame
Updated 07 December 2022

Legendary French animator Michel Ocelot talks inspiration, creativity and fame

Legendary French animator Michel Ocelot talks inspiration, creativity and fame
  • Childhood in ‘beautiful’ Kenya shaped his vision
  • Key to artistry is facing fear, he says at Red Sea festival

JEDDAH: Legendary French animator Michel Ocelot says the key to becoming an accomplished artist is to continue to face one’s fears of failing and never giving up.
Ocelot, 79, offered this advice to fellow creatives on the sidelines of the Red Sea International Film Festival currently underway. He was speaking during one of the “In Conversation” sessions at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah on Dec. 6.
The Frenchman is a writer, designer, storyboard artist, and director of an array of acclaimed animated feature films. He is mostly recognized for “Kirikou et la Sorciere” released in 1998 which means “Kirikou and the Witch,” and also his remarkable animation “Azur and Asmar: The Princes’ Quest” released in 2006.
“Kirikou et la Sorciere” marked the rebirth of French animation in the cinema and it was a striking start to the passionate Ocelot’s artistic career. “I know what I want, I’m doing it and I love it,” he said.
The artwork for “Kirikou et la Sorciere” was completely handmade and drawn. After struggling “hard” as an artist he suddenly found international success.
He said he had produced the work with “not much money” and without the backing or support of a company or a board of directors. He had succeeded in creating a compelling fictional world from very few resources.
Ocelot’s brilliant work is an inspiration for generations of experts and emerging animation artists. “Kids who were kids at the time (and are) now adults … come to me and thank me. And sometimes they cry. So, I’m lucky.”
Despite his success, Ocelot’s start was challenging. “It was hard to find my way because when I started animation didn’t really exist.” He said there were no schools, and he did not have resources to pay for cameras or editing. “So, I lost quite some time. I learned by myself.”
“I think I started at the year of 1 or 2, I took a pencil and I drew and I never stopped. And then I was a happy child and I was always active. And I think I prepared myself for my job from my infancy. And I would draw in paint and cut (it out) and get into a disguise and decorate the house for the festivals, and make a little gift with a nice package. And that’s my vision today.”
His artistic sensibility was influenced by his formative years growing up in Kenya where he was inspired by the country’s “beautiful and benevolent people.”
“I remember the beauty of the people and the dresses of (the) women on festival days … True elegance, happy elegance, and the details within which made my infancy in the world of animation special.”
Ocelot eventually became president of the International Animated Film Association, a position which allowed him to showcase his understanding and affinity to different cultures, and to reflect his passion for Africa.
“So that’s always been a great part of my life. Being aware of different worlds and being at ease with them and being at ease with such different parts of the world. I can put myself in the place of other people easily, and I know the relatability of things.”
Ocelot said artists must overcome their fears and try to be as original as possible. “Give everything you have. Try not to listen to bad advice. Sometimes you get good advice, but it’s better not to follow them. Don’t be afraid to start.”
His new animated feature film that was released earlier this year, “The Black Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess,” was screened for the audience after the session.


Chinese President Xi arrives in Saudi Arabia on official visit

Chinese President Xi arrives in Saudi Arabia on official visit
Updated 23 min 23 sec ago

Chinese President Xi arrives in Saudi Arabia on official visit

Chinese President Xi arrives in Saudi Arabia on official visit
  • Xi was invited by King Salman to attend a Saudi-Chinese summit in the Kingdom
  • Xi’s visit reflects the leaders’ desire to strengthen bilateral relations

RIYADH: China’s President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as part of a three-day visit to the Kingdom. 
Xi was invited by King Salman to attend a Saudi-Chinese summit in the Kingdom, which will run until Dec. 9, state agency SPA reported. 
The summit, headed by King Salman, will also see the participation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
Xi is set to attend two more conferences, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development during his visit. 
All three summits will focus on ways to enhance joint relations in all fields and economic cooperation.
Leaders from GCC and Arab countries will also participate in the events held in Saudi Arabia. 
Xi’s visit reflects the leaders’ desire to strengthen bilateral relations, enhance strategic partnerships and highlight potential political and economic cooperation to serve common interests, SPA added.


Volunteers at Grand Mosque in Makkah serve 30 million worshippers

Volunteers at Grand Mosque in Makkah serve 30 million worshippers
Updated 07 December 2022

Volunteers at Grand Mosque in Makkah serve 30 million worshippers

Volunteers at Grand Mosque in Makkah serve 30 million worshippers
  • In the Prophet’s Mosque, 7,000 volunteers served pilgrims over the past eight months

RIYADH: About 30 million worshippers have benefitted from volunteering services offered at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

According to figures released by Saudi Arabia’s Social, Volunteering and Humanitarian Department, volunteers from 35 entities across 17 fields exerted a total of 1.2 million hours in serving around 30 million worshippers from August last year until the first quarter of this year.

Volunteer services included serving breakfast to 5.9 million worshippers, providing 366,500 umbrellas, and distributing 2.3 million Zamzam water bottles.

In the Prophet’s Mosque in Al Madina, 7,000 volunteers served pilgrims over the past eight months, reported SPA.

The 350,000 volunteering hours covered helping elderly pilgrims and people with disabilities, organizing pedestrian flow, providing specialized first aid and offering guidance on locations in several languages.


What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 

What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 
Updated 07 December 2022

What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 

What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 
  • Research by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute indicates a “strong wave” in travel in 2023
  • Within 10 days of Saudi e-visa launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered the country, with China topping the list

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s carefully laid plan to expand its tourism sector is showing fruition as it marches forward to meet its target of attracting 100 million visitors to the Kingdom by 2030.

This is evident from the fact that the Kingdom recently topped the G20 countries list for the flow rating of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022, with international arrivals reaching 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

For its part, China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a huge source of potential tourists.

Speaking to CNBC in October, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said: “China used to be a very important market, but it is still closed. This year, we’ve seen a great demand from Europe and the US. I absolutely would love to see some of these restrictions ease because Chinese market is a very big market, not only for Saudi Arabia but for all the other countries.”

China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a huge source of potential tourists. (AFP)

China has a zero COVID-19 policy, which includes lockdowns, quarantining and rigorous testing, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, even as other countries ease travel and other restrictions and try to shift to a long-term strategy of living with the virus.

Following the launch of the e-visa in September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism issued more than 350,000 tourist visas in the first three months of that year alone.

Within the first 10 days of the launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia with China topping the list and the UK and the US in the second and third place respectively.

Research released by China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in May indicates a “strong wave” in Chinese outbound travel in 2023, with a return to 2019 numbers by 2024. “The preparation, the acquisition of knowledge and the adaptation of services needs to be done now, before the wave arrives,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, the institute’s CEO.  

Saudi Arabia is well prepared for the return of Chinese travelers, with many institutions adopting the guidelines of the Welcome Chinese Certification program, which is considered the international standard for travel and hospitality services for visitors from the country.

Saudi and Chinese flags at Tiananmen square in Beijing during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visit to China in 2019. (AFP)

The Riyadh Airports Co., which manages and operates King Khalid International Airport, said that it is working on implementing standards designed to make the airport and its services more accessible and user friendly for Chinese visitors.

The company said the new facilities will improve the visitor experience for tourists from China by helping to overcome the language barrier and providing key services, including payment systems that are compatible with those in their home country. The initiative also highlights the availability of e-visas for Chinese travelers who want to visit the Kingdom.

An important part of the strategy to boost the Kingdom’s entertainment and tourism offerings is Red Sea Global. RSG is currently overseeing the creation of two luxury tourism destinations in Saudi Arabia: The Red Sea and Amaala.

Anton Bawab, group head of operations at RSG, foresees an upswing in the number of Chinese tourists once restrictions are lifted, and that the Kingdom and RSG’s destinations are prepared to welcome them.

“The Chinese market has shown tremendous potential for any country that opened up to it – Europe, Dubai, Maldives,” he said.

“Pre-COVID, Chinese tourists accounted for almost one fifth of global tourism spending. Saudi has huge potential to attract Chinese travelers, and RSG in particular. At the Red Sea, Chinese tourists can get a similar experience to the Maldives, which is a popular destination choice for them. But they can also couple it with culture, shopping and heritage.”