Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East
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Updated 27 September 2022

Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East

Google launches new tools to help travel industry in Middle East
  • The free tools, available in Arabic and English, provide insights that can help destinations and hotels quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly

DUBAI: Google unveiled two new tools on Tuesday, World Tourism Day, designed to help travel-related businesses in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Destination Insights and Hotel Insights, which were launched on the Travel Insights With Google website, aim to help businesses quickly identify travel trends and plan accordingly. They are free to use and available in English and Arabic.

For example, in the past eight months internet users in Saudi Arabia searched for information about many countries, including Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Thailand, the UAE and the UK, according to Google Trends. In addition, searches for “booking tickets” increased by 153 percent in the Kingdom compared with the previous year.

Over the same period in the UAE, people searched for local entertainment destinations including the Dubai Fountain and Dubai Butterfly Garden, along with hotels in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The number of searches for “ticket prices” in the UAE increased by 122 percent compared with the previous year.

“From our continuous conversations with travel partners around the region, we heard that timely insights are very much necessary for the travel industry at this period, especially with many local and regional events coming up,” said Anthony Nakache, managing director of Google MENA.

“This is why we’re very excited to bring a new insights portal for the region’s travel and tourism sector, to help businesses reach regular and new travelers.”

Google said its Destination Insights tool provides travel businesses, governments and tourism boards with a clearer picture of the leading sources of demand for a destination, and the places and attractions within their countries that travelers are most interested in visiting.

It also allows businesses and authorities to explore the ways in which tourism demand is changing compared with previous months or years, and adjust their marketing campaigns accordingly.

According to Google, the Hotel Insights tool provides businesses with in-depth information about interest in their accommodations, aiding understanding about the sources of that interest and how best to attract new guests by creating a stronger digital presence.

The launch of the tools comes as the travel industry begins to bounce back following a challenging few years as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The value of the travel and tourism sector in the Middle East alone is expected to reach $246 billion this year, based on a recent study, Nakache said.

Google said it will continue to develop tech-driven tools that can help businesses in the travel and tourism sector better engage with customers.


Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder
Updated 01 December 2022

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder

Israel slams Netflix movie scene of 1948 Palestinian family murder
  • Israel threatens to withdraw Al-Saraya Theater funding for screeing Farha

LONDON: Officials in Israel have slammed a Netflix film showing the murder of a Palestinian family by Zionist forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as “creating a false narrative.”

“Farha,” a historical drama by Jordanian filmmaker Darin J. Sallam and Jordan’s Oscars entry for 2023, has premiered at several film festivals globally since its release in 2021 and will begin streaming on Netflix on Thursday.

The movie tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who, while locked in a storage room by her father during the events of the Nakba, witnesses through a crack in the pantry door Israeli soldiers murdering an entire family, including a baby and two small children.

In a statement reported by The Guardian, Israel’s outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said: “It’s crazy that Netflix decided to stream a movie whose whole purpose is to create a false pretence and incite against Israeli soldiers.”

And he added that he would consider revoking state funding from Al-Saraya Theater in the Arab-majority town of Jaffa for having screened “Farha.”

Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said the movie depicted “lies and libels,” describing its screening in an Israeli cinema as “a disgrace.”

In an email to The Guardian on Thursday, the theater’s manager, Mahmoud Abo Arisheh, said: “We responded to incitement with the fact that we (went ahead with) showing the movie.

“As for the public’s response, Saraya’s supporters once again proved to be many. We are committed to defending our right to exist and to express ourselves … We are committed to freedom of art, all art.”

The Palestinian Nakba of 1948 saw the ethnic cleansing and displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians by pre-Israeli-state Irgun and Stern Gang Zionist militias. On April 9 of the same year, Zionist forces, in one of their most infamous crimes, killed more than 110 men, women, and children in the village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Portrayals of genocide committed by Zionist forces during the 1948 war remain a highly sensitive subject in Israel.

In interviews, Sallam said that she made “Farha” because very few narrative films about Palestine explored the root cause of the conflict. She noted that “Farha” told the story of her mother’s friend, who first met Sallam’s mom in Syria.

In a 2021 interview with Arab News, Sallam said: “The story traveled over the years to reach me. It stayed with me. When I was a child, I had this fear of closed, dark places and I kept thinking of this girl and what happened to her.”


MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles
Updated 01 December 2022

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles

MBC Group to expand Shahid catalog with hit anime titles
  • Group secured rights to various series, including TV Tokyo’s ‘Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War,’ ‘Bleach’ and ‘One Piece’

LONDON: MBC Group, the Middle East and North Africa region’s leading media company, announced new partnerships on Thursday to expand the number of anime titles available on its streaming platform Shahid.

The Riyadh-based organization said in a statement it had teamed up “with key anime studios and production houses in Japan beyond to bring more anime content to its streaming platform.”

“Anime is extremely popular in the Middle East region — particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — so needless to say, we are incredibly excited to be making new additions to our ever-expanding anime catalog on Shahid, bringing new and hit titles that audiences will love exploring,” said Tareq Al-Ibrahim, director of content for subscription video on demand at Shahid.

As part of the new deals, MBC Group said it has secured exclusive rights in MENA to TV Tokyo’s “Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War,” the 52-episode Japanese anime television series based on the “Bleach” manga series by Tite Kubo, and a direct sequel to the “Bleach” anime series.

The title, which returns after an eight-year hiatus, is available to stream on Shahid at the same time as in Japan and the US.

The group also announced the extension of the partnership with TOEI Animation, the Japanese anime studio behind the 25-year global hit manga series “One Piece.” As part of the renewed collaboration, MBC Group will air the new upcoming episodes of the series exclusively on its platform.

Following the success of the anime adaptation of “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai” on Shahid, the media group has also expanded its partnership with its production company, Aniplex.

Under the new collaboration, fans will enjoy more than 200 hours of Aniplex content on Shahid, including “Fate/Stay Night,” “Sword Art Online,” and “Gurren Lagann.”

The move reinforces MBC Group’s commitment to expanding its anime offering, continuing to add to an already rich catalog that includes renowned titles “Hunter x Hunter,” “Legend of the Galactic Heroes,” “Belle,” as well as the Japanese–Saudi Arabian animated action fantasy film, “The Journey.”

The company said the new titles will be available to stream on Shahid by the end of the year.

The news comes at an exciting moment for the MBC Group. The company was reported last month to be working with HSBC Holdings and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to go public as early as next year.


Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content
Updated 01 December 2022

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content

Netflix to let more subscribers preview content
  • Feature allows selected members to preview shows or films

LONDON: Netflix Inc. is planning to let tens of thousands of users around the world to preview content from early next year, expanding beyond its current previewer base of 2,000-plus subscribers, sources reported on Thursday.
Netflix’s Preview Club, which started more than a year ago, allows its members to watch some shows or films before they appear broadly on the platform and review them, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The video streaming giant did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The move underpins Netflix’s efforts to ensure quality content, at a time when investors and analysts focus more on the profitability of streaming firms.


Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan
Updated 01 December 2022

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan

Taliban silence Voice of America broadcasts in Afghanistan
  • Voice of America and Radio Free Europe are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence
  • Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover

WASHINGTON: The Voice of America said Wednesday that Taliban authorities have banned FM radio broadcasts from VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Afghanistan, starting Thursday.
VOA said Taliban authorities cited “complaints they have received about programming content” without providing specifics.
VOA and RFE are funded by the US government, though they claim editorial independence.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August 2021 as American and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, they have restricted rights and freedoms and widely implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday that Afghanistan has press laws and any network found “repeatedly contravening” these laws will have their privilege of working in the country taken away.
“VOA and Azadi Radio (Radio Liberty) failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down,” he said.
The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said recently that Afghanistan has lost 40 percent of its media outlets and 60 percent of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.


YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content
Updated 01 December 2022

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content

YouTube reveals year’s top-trending regional creators and content
  • The video-sharing platform unveiled five lists covering general videos, music videos, short-form videos, top creators and breakout creators in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: YouTube has released five lists that reveal the top-trending videos, music videos, shorts and creators in the Middle East and North Africa region over the past year.

The growth of popularity in short-form video platforms such as TikTok prompted YouTube to launch Shorts, its own version of the format, globally in 2020 and in MENA in 2021. The platform said more than 1.5 billion logged-in users watch Shorts each month, with an average of more than 30 billion daily views.

This year, for the first time, YouTube has released a top shorts list, which was topped by Omani football freestyler, Mohammed Alnoufali.

Meanwhile, YouTube’s top-trending videos list is based on a range of factors, including total views, engagement, shares and likes, that the platform said indicate how “trending” a video is.

A video by comedy creator Abdo Asalsily, which has racked up 20 million views, topped this list.

The top music video in the region this year was “Aleky Eyoun” by Ahmed Saad, followed by “El-Bakht” by Egyptian rapper Wegz, and “Hatha El-Helo” by Lebanese singer Myriam Fares.

The list revealed a growing interest in regional performers, with North African rap and hip-hop artists, including Mc Artisan, Didine Canon 16, and Marwa Loud, taking almost half of the spots.

Entertainment and gaming creator AboFlah was not only the top creator for a second year in a row but also appeared in Asalsily’s top-trending video of the year. Football specialist Mohamad Adnan took second spot, followed by cooking channel Afnanrecipes in third.

The top creators list includes producers active all formats — shorts, long-form and multiformat — and is based on the number of subscribers acquired during 2022 in the MENA region.

The final list unveiled by YouTube was its Breakout Creators list, which ranks channels that have at least tripled in size based on number of subscribers gained in the region this year compared with 2021.

With nearly 2 million subscribers, Mr. Beast in Arabic topped the list, followed by UAE-based Husam Kwaik in second place and Egypt-based Omar Migo in third.

“Every year, the YouTube End-of-Year Top Lists give us a glimpse into emerging trends and the diverse interests of people in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Tarek Amin, director of partnerships at YouTube MENA.

“Whether it’s the growing North African rap scene or creators helping people fall in love with learning and reading, one thing is for certain — no matter what your interest or curiosity is there is probably a community on YouTube for it.”

YouTube said it has has paid more than $50 billion to creators, artists and media companies in the region in the three years up to June 2022.