Saudi Arabia to roll out AI-powered security screening system at airports

Saudi Arabia to roll out AI-powered security screening system at airports
The announcement was made during the 2nd Global AI Summit in Riyadh on Sept.14. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 September 2022

Saudi Arabia to roll out AI-powered security screening system at airports

Saudi Arabia to roll out AI-powered security screening system at airports

RIYADH: Artificial Intelligence security screening technology, known as ICMOR, is set to be rolled out in airports across Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom's General Authority of Civil Aviation has said

The announcement was made during the 2nd Global AI Summit in Riyadh on Sept.14.

This follows GACA’s partnership with Smith Detection Group, a manufacturer of security equipment technologies, which will deploy X-ray baggage screening devices across airports, helping detect prohibited items entering airports.

As this screening system uses machine learning, it will help increase the capacity and efficiency of inspecting a larger volume of baggage quickly.

“The use of ICMOR will enhance Saudi airports operations, by accelerating the sorting process of baggage with high efficiency, achieving additional security control, enhancing the capabilities of the civil aviation sector to meet the expected growth of passengers and facilitating the flow of passengers and baggage,” said GACA in a press release.

The adoption of AI in airport operations will also encourage innovation in the field of civil aviation, and facilitate the travel process to enhance the passenger experience, enhance security quality and reduce human interaction, the press release noted.

Since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s aviation strategy which is a part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, GACA has been implementing several initiatives to achieve the target of 330 million passengers and a cargo volume of 4.5 million tons by the end of this decade.

To achieve this target, GACA announced 80 new air routes connecting the Kingdom with destinations worldwide in August. 

The introduction of the latest routes would strengthen the Kingdom’s global connectivity and help encourage greater competition in the Saudi aviation sector, GACA said in a statement.

GACA has also said that Saudi Arabia would be reducing airport charges between 10 percent and 35 percent for airlines to support a competitive aviation environment in the Kingdom.


FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market

FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market
Updated 27 November 2022

FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market

FIFA World Cup is a match-winner for the regional property market
  • Taking place in the Arab world for the first time, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an unprecedented event

RIYADH: Before the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, real estate prices were surging in Qatar and neighboring countries, causing people to rent their properties at high prices and cash in on the increased market demand.

Taking place in the Arab world for the first time, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an unprecedented event.

During the tournament, FIFA Tournament Time Demand Model has forecast that upward of 1.7 million people will visit the host country, with 500,000 visitors on the busiest days. Because of this, visitors to the emirate of just 2.8 million people are concerned about accommodation or prefer to stay in neighboring countries.

Despite some concerns, organizers are reassuring people there would be enough accommodation for all fans. Thousands of hotel rooms FIFA had reserved were recently released to ease the crunch, possibly decreasing prices.

The authorities have continued to provide housing to all World Cup fans. Still, according to Doha News, landlords have recently capitalized on the opportunity to charge outrageous prices, though residents claim this is at their expense.

Doha News reported that residents are being evicted, asked to sign short-term or 24-month lease agreements, or even had their rent raised significantly.

The World Cup is widely responsible for this situation, with many believing landlords are trying to take advantage of the visitors’ profits, making living conditions challenging for long-term residents, Doha News added.

According to Qatari law, a lease renewal can increase rent by up to 10 percent. Still, Anum Hassan, head of research for Valustrat’s Qatar office, disclosed that rents have increased by 40 percent in some districts of Doha over the past year.

During the World Cup period in 2022, the government removed the price cap, allowing landlords to charge between SR15,500 ($4,124) and SR20,600 per night.

Booking a villa through Airbnb for 29 days of the World Cup costs at least SR48,860, but prices can reach hundreds of thousands.

Despite this, the real estate market continues to benefit from the games. A recent report from Property Finder, one of the region’s leading property technology companies, revealed a 2.97 percent increase in residential sales in September and October due to this month’s FIFA World Cup.

Afaf Hashim, the country manager at Property Finder in Qatar, said: “Investors and first-time property purchasers are now more confident to invest in the Qatari property market in response to renowned sporting events happening in the country.” 

Investors and first-time property purchasers are now more confident to invest in the Qatari property market in response to renowned sporting events happening in the country.

Afaf Hashim, Country manager at Property Finder in Qatar

“The Ministry of Justice is also taking the required actions to make the market more transparent, which will pave the way for further investments shortly,” she added.

According to the report, investors and end-users are increasingly interested in properties listed for sale in Qatar, which has recently emerged as a hot spot for property investment.

There was a 4.98 percent increase in leads but a 7.71 percent increase in impressions. Some areas saw considerable gains in rental prices, while others saw substantial declines. For instance, Al-Hilal’s rent fell by 83.9 percent, while Salata’s increased by 93.75 percent.

Adam Stewart, the Qatar head of Knight Frank, told Arab News that the tourism and hospitality sector will contribute 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, worth about $55 billion, by which time tourist arrivals are projected to reach 7 million.

Set the ball rolling

Knight Frank does not expect a slowdown in the Dubai real estate market’s demand in the short to medium term; in fact, the opposite is expected, Faisal Durrani, partner and head of research in the Middle East at Knight Frank, told Arab News. 

The mainstream market is expected to register price growth of 5-7 percent by the end of 2022, with a similar figure expected in 2023.

Faisal Durrani, Partner and head of research in the Middle East at Knight Frank

“The mainstream market is expected to register price growth of 5-7 percent by the end of 2022, with a similar figure expected in 2023,” he said.

He also added that a new wave of tourism is expected in Saudi Arabia’s Dammam Metropolitan Area following the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

“Following the Saudi government’s recent announcement to allow Qatar World Cup ticket holders easy access to multiple entry tourist visas, the Kingdom is expecting to play host to some of the football fans unable to be accommodated in Qatar,” he said.

As a result of its proximity to Qatar and relative affordability, Dammam is expected to be a popular alternative to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama during the World Cup, he added.

However, Alex Galtsev, founder and CEO of Realiste, a personal artificial intelligence firm on real estate investing, believes Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup will benefit the Middle East real estate market.

“As a major tourist attraction and financial hub in the region, Dubai will be the main beneficiary outside Qatar,” he told Arab News.

There has already been an increase in demand for local hotel chains and resorts. “Because of limited accommodation options, tourists had to seek alternative options that were more affordable, such as short-term rentals. In turn, this has led to a 50 percent increase in rental prices in Dubai over the last three months,” Galtsev added.

Qatar’s FIFA guests opted for areas near downtown where the major tourist attractions are located rather than cheap suburban locations surrounded by desert. As a result, the districts near the waterfront are the following most popular renting areas.

However, Galtsev said that the demand for the short-time rental would significantly decrease after the event.

Despite these soaring prices and owners renting out their properties, what matters is the result and how they will affect the market overall.


Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals

Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals
Updated 27 November 2022

Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals

Johnson & Johnson develops digital solutions to reduce time spent in hospitals

RIYADH: Johnson & Johnson, the global medical technology provider, is providing digital solutions that will shorten the time spent by patients in hospitals.

According to Marzena Kulis, managing director of Johnson & Johnson MedTech Middle East, the move is crucial in countries with lower bed capacity.

“The digital solutions that we currently offer help to shorten the time of patients’ stay, so the capacity can absorb more patients, especially in the geographies where capacity is limited,” Kulis said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“Our digital procedure software empowers, for example, surgical teams to design, apply and analyze surgical workflows. It provides valuable data analytics to reduce variability in surgery time, improve procedural efficiency and enhance education approaches,” she said.

Johnson & Johnson MedTech provides a broad range of medical technology devices used in interventional solutions, orthopedics and surgery. Their offerings include products to treat cardiovascular diseases, hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke, and a combination of products supporting hips, knees, trauma, spine and others.

“We want to strengthen this industry by tapping the full potential of technology to save and sustain and improve lives of patients through a wide array of potential technologies that can be applied in the healthcare sector,” she said. 

The company’s surgery portfolios include advanced and general surgery offerings. These devices are used predominantly in the professional fields by physicians, nurses, hospitals, eyecare professionals and clinics, according to a statement issued by the company.

“We apply the expertise in medical devices and advanced technology to ensure that our healthcare solutions are smarter, less invasive, and more personalized,” Kulis added.

The healthtech provider participated in the 33rd Annual Conference of the Saudi Heart Association, one of the largest cardiac meetings in the Middle East that were held in Riyadh from Oct. 13-15.

Heart of the matter

The company unveiled its “Get Smart About AFib” global campaign at the conference with cardiac scientists, caregivers, and several cardiac working groups to improve care and treatment for patients suffering from atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

AFib is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, and nearly one in four adults currently over the age of 40 across the globe is at risk of developing it. According to statistics from Saudi Health Ministry, cardiovascular diseases account for 37 percent of all deaths in the Kingdom.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the disease to help reduce risks.

The health campaign will specifically focus on supporting education and detection of the life-threatening AFib condition that impacts nearly 40 million people globally.

Johnson & Johnson MedTech has been operating in the region for a couple of decades, establishing a headquarters in Riyadh back in 2017, along with two other offices in Jeddah and Dammam.

The US-based company employs around 180 people in Saudi Arabia, nearly half of them Saudis, with a target to increase its Saudization rates by 20 percent in the next couple of years.

“We are getting close to 50 percent in our medtech business, and we aim to grow by 10-20 percent in the next year or two,” said Kulis.

Kulis believes that the Saudi market is steadily growing and becoming one of the largest emerging markets for Johnson & Johnson. 

The digital solutions that we currently offer help to shorten the time of patients’ stay, so the capacity can absorb more patients, especially in the geographies where capacity is limited.

Marzena Kulis, Johnson & Johnson MedTech Middle East managing director

Saudi Arabia is planning to build medical facilities worth $13.8 billion by 2030, according to Faisal Durrani, Knight Frank’s partner and head of research in the Middle East.

“Vision 2030 has sharpened the focus on the public realm, liveability and habitability of Saudi cities. Wellness and well-being sit at its heart, with $13.8 billion worth of medical facilities expected to be built by the end of the decade,” Durrani told Arab News.

Digital health

The expenditure is part of a more comprehensive plan to invest $66.67 billion in the Kingdom’s healthcare infrastructure and boost private sector participation to 65 percent by 2030, targeting the privatization of 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centers.

“We look into the development of healthcare in the countries we operate in, and the healthcare market in Saudi Arabia is steadily growing, and we’ve seen and observed that for decades, and the forecast is to continue growing for the next decades as well,” Kulis said.

The Kingdom is expected to be the fastest-growing digital health market in the Gulf Cooperation Council, with the government allocating $1.5 billion for healthcare information technology and digital transformation programs.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel said during the opening of the digital event of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society last year that digital technologies were one of the essential tools for dealing with the pandemic.

It helped develop the first interactive map of COVID-19 data, providing accurate statistics and employing AI to analyze data and make national strategic decisions.

The Kingdom is allocating about 14.4 percent of its 2022 budget to healthcare and social development, which amounts to $36.8 billion, the third largest expense after education and military, according to Dubai-based Omnia Health, a global medical directory.

With life expectancy in Saudi Arabia projected to increase from 76.4 to 81.8 years by 2050 and the Kingdom’s population expected to grow to 39.4 million by 2030, increased investment in the healthcare infrastructure and innovation is necessary to drive strong growth in the Kingdom’s healthcare sector, the medical directory reported.


Indian fintech M2P bets its money on Saudi Arabia’s economic opportunity

Indian fintech M2P bets its money on Saudi Arabia’s economic opportunity
Updated 27 November 2022

Indian fintech M2P bets its money on Saudi Arabia’s economic opportunity

Indian fintech M2P bets its money on Saudi Arabia’s economic opportunity
  • Founded in 2014, the firm provides fintech companies, banks and financial institutions with the proper technology solutions

CAIRO: Far from the business frenzy around the FIFA World Cup in neighboring Qatar, Saudi Arabia is laying the ground for a business opportunity that could change the fortune of the Kingdom. In the last few months, its banking sector has invited a slew of financial technology companies that could not only offer digitization benefits to its customers but also bolster its economy with better spending avenues.

One of the latest players to join the bandwagon is India’s financial technology enabler M2P, which is expanding its regional footprint by offering financial solutions in Saudi Arabia by 2023.

Founded in 2014, M2P provides fintech companies, banks and financial institutions with the proper technology solutions to boost their financial services.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Madhusudanan R, founder of M2P, said that the company is entering the Saudi Arabian market after seeing massive growth in its fintech sector.

“We managed to support many companies with our products, and I believe we will be able to do the same in Saudi Arabia,” Madhusudanan said. 

We are present in about 20 markets; we serve 700 fintech companies, 100 banks and 120 non-banking financial institutions. India is our largest market with over 400 fintech.

Madhusudanan R, Founder of M2P

He added that the company will launch in the Kingdom by the end of January 2023 and announce a few of its partnerships.

Many regional companies have recognized Saudi Arabia’s growing financial technology sector as multiple players have been expanding their operations into the country.

UAE’s fintech startup Pemo is also planning to launch its services in Saudi Arabia by 2023, in addition to YAP, another Emirati fintech that expanded to the Kingdom in July.

The Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, has also been pushing toward digital transformation as the country plans to enable open banking in the first quarter of 2023.

India’s M2P first started its expansion in the UAE, where it established a regional headquarters to cement its presence in the Middle East.

The company later began to attract clients from different parts of the region, as it currently serves companies in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Madhusudanan explained that the company has over 900 clients worldwide, with about 20 current customers from the Kingdom.

“We are present in about 20 markets; we serve 700 fintech companies, 100 banks and 120 non-banking financial institutions. India is our largest market with over 400 fintech,” he added.

The founder also explained that M2P could easily reach over 50 clients in Saudi Arabia within the next year because it is a financial technology enabler and does not require licenses from the central bank or the government.

“Although it is not yet officially announced, we have already started working with several banks and companies in Saudi Arabia as we have huge plans for the market,” he added.

The company is in talks with three to four banks and around 14 fintech companies in Saudi Arabia looking to use M2P’s platform.

Economic force

The Kingdom has been pushing toward creating a regional financial technology hub by easing the process for fintech companies to operate in the country as it plans to develop over 500 fintech companies by 2030.

“Hopefully, we will be able to contribute to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 in making the Kingdom one of the most enabled fintech ecosystems in the region,” Madhusudanan added.

M2P aims to provide Saudi companies with all its 25 financial solutions that range from payment, buy now, pay later and banking services.

To highlight the Kingdom’s move to digital, Saudi Arabia’s banking sector saw massive advancement in 2021, with financial inclusion reaching 83 percent and around 16 million bank accounts opened digitally.

Moreover, the Kingdom has witnessed massive changes in its payment sector as Vision 2030 aims to increase the share of non-cash transactions to 70 percent by 2025.

The strategy also aims to increase the sector’s contribution toward the gross domestic product to $3.46 billion by 2030.

Global digital payment firms like Visa and Mastercard have also recognized the changes in consumer payment, with both companies agreeing that the Kingdom has witnessed one of the highest contactless payment growth curves in history.

Last month, Visa also announced the establishment of its innovation center in Riyadh to enable access to payment technologies.

“Payments executed via smart devices by individuals on point-of-sale terminals increased by 282 percent in 2021,” the Financial Sector Development Plan stated.

Easier payments

Madhusudanan explained that fintech startups could easily launch new payment offerings with its solutions that have already laid the foundations to integrate with banks easily.

The company managed to process over $10 billion in transactions through its solutions as well as serve more than 35 million end customers.

M2P has been well-positioned to cater to fintech companies with the right solutions. The company received a total of $110 million in funding, with its last fundraising of $20 million announced in January 2022.

Investors include New York-based private equity firm Insight Partners, MUFG Innovation Partners, Tiger Global and Better Capital.

Madhusudanan stated that the company is currently valued at $620 million to invest its money into expanding its regional footprint.

The company reached profitability two years ago but decided to sacrifice its positive cash flow to reach more customers and grow its client base as it plans to get back to a green balance sheet by next year.

“Now we are focusing a lot more on growth, we’ve also been acquiring many companies, and so we have to compromise on the profitability because we’ve hired many team members and we’re going to new markets,” Madhusudanan explained.

He added that the company currently has an office in Riyadh and is adding 10 more members to the team by next year.

The company is not yet considering going public, but Madhusudanan said, “we will think of doing it, maybe sometime in the next three or four years.”


Qatar reviewing London investments after advert ban: Report

Qatar reviewing London investments after advert ban: Report
Updated 26 November 2022

Qatar reviewing London investments after advert ban: Report

Qatar reviewing London investments after advert ban: Report
  • City’s transport authority bans adverts by Gulf state reportedly due to human rights concerns
  • Decision ‘interpreted as message that Qatari business not welcome in London,’ source tells FT

LONDON: Qatar is reviewing its London investments following a decision by the city’s transport authority to ban Qatari adverts from its bus, taxi, train and underground network, the Financial Times reported.

Transport for London’s decision is reportedly due to concerns about the World Cup host’s human rights record.

A person involved with the review told the FT that the Gulf state is “reviewing current and future” London investments and “considering investment opportunities in other UK cities.”

The source added that the ban has been “interpreted as a message that Qatari business is not welcome in London.”

Through its sovereign wealth fund, Qatar is now one of the biggest investors in London, and owns nearly 2.1 million sq. meters of property in the UK.

Among its London assets are the Harrods department store; Britain’s tallest building, The Shard, built with £2 billion ($2.4 billion) of Qatari investment; the Savoy and Grosvenor House hotels; co-owning Canary Wharf; and a 20 percent stake in Heathrow Airport.

In May, Qatar pledged to invest £10 billion in the UK over the next five years, including in the technology, healthcare, infrastructure and clean energy sectors.


Saudi Arabia, Morocco sign deal to enhance cooperation in tourism

Saudi Arabia, Morocco sign deal to enhance cooperation in tourism
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi Arabia, Morocco sign deal to enhance cooperation in tourism

Saudi Arabia, Morocco sign deal to enhance cooperation in tourism

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Morocco signed a memorandum of understanding on Friday to encourage and develop cooperation in tourism, and coordinate efforts to achieve the sustainable development of the industry in both countries, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The memorandum was signed in the presence of Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, and Fatima-Zahra Ammor, the Moroccan minister of tourism, handicrafts, and social and solidarity economy, on the sidelines of the 117th session of the executive council meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization.

Al-Khateeb said: “Saudi Arabia and Morocco enjoy a common commitment to protecting the rich heritage sites and natural marine, mountainous and desert areas in both countries, in addition to their keenness to give priority to youth in their development plans.

“The issue of sustainability occupies an important place in Saudi tourism ambitions, so cooperation with partners who have a similar vision, like Morocco, helps to strengthen the sector in our region and the world as a whole, and contributes to consolidating the sustainability, flexibility, and inclusiveness of the tourism sector for the benefit of people and societies.”

The Moroccan tourism minister said: “The memorandum reflects the strong relations between the two countries and the common vision toward strengthening partnership and raising prospects for cooperation in the tourism sector.

“It will lead to more joint initiatives and the exchange of experiences and best practices, allowing the two countries to develop their capabilities in tourism.”

The agreement will also help to support an increase in training and knowledge-sharing opportunities, and provide new openings for investment.

Saudi Arabia is currently one of Morocco’s largest trading partners in the Arab world. In 2020 the Kingdom invested $26.6 million in its real estate, tourism, and agricultural sectors.