DOHA: Uber’s Middle Eastern business Careem will cease operations in Qatar on Tuesday, the company announced in a message sent to customers in the Gulf Arab state on Monday.
The surprise announcement comes two months after the World Cup in Qatar, when Careem-branded vehicles were part of the tournament’s official plans to transport visiting fans, alongside cars from Uber and local taxi provider Karwa.
“Unfortunately, Careem’s ride hailing operations will no longer operate in Qatar as of February 28, 2023,” said the message, which also informed customers holding Careem credit that the company would issue a full refund by March 15.
Careem’s message did not offer any explanation for why it will cease operating. Careem did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Careem was bought by Uber Technologies Inc. in 2019 for $3.1 billion, giving the US firm market dominance across the Middle East and Pakistan.
Careem only offered ride-hailing services in Qatar, unlike in larger Middle Eastern markets like the United Arab Emirates where the company offered a more robust slate of services on its application, including food delivery, digital payments and courier services.
Uber’s smart phone application offers ride-hailing services in Qatar and continued to operate normally late Monday.
Wizz Air aspires to become part of Saudi aviation’s success story
Multinational airlines plans expansion to boost tourism in KSA, president tells Arab News
Updated 55 min 37 sec ago
Reina Takla Nour El Shaeri
RIYADH: With its tourism sector growing by leaps and bounds, Saudi Arabia is also witnessing the entry of major international aviation players keen to capitalize on the opportunities the Kingdom’s travel market has to offer. Wizz Air, a multinational airline, is among the frontrunners that have made substantial investments to boost its operations in the Kingdom.
The airline’s president, Robert Carey, told Arab News that the company’s debut in Saudi Arabia represented its “fastest ramp-up” ever achieved in a single market.
The official explained that out of the total fleet of 185 “we have around 10 aircraft operating in the Kingdom, representing about 7 percent of our total capacity.”
Carey said the number of passengers is growing quite favorably, accompanied by positive feedback, and there is still ample room to enhance the airline’s fare structure.
“When we get to full-scale operations, we will have about 1 million seats from and to Saudi Arabia this summer,” he told Arab News.
The airline’s chief elaborated that a standard full-scale operation usually spans about three years, the first being an investment year, followed by a breakeven point and finally growth. However, in Saudi Arabia, certain aspects are progressing more swiftly than usual, he added.
Having already established operations in four cities, the company has secured its foothold in the Saudi market and plans to broaden its services.
“We serve four cities in Saudi Arabia — Dammam, Riyadh, Jeddah, and Madinah. We also see potential in other cities such as Taif and Tabuk. We’re going to start exploring those cities. We think there are some natural connection points there,” Carey said.
He said the airline is also in the process of submitting a proposal to establish a base in Dammam.
Wizz Air is known for its ultra-low fares, providing customers with an accessible price point that invites a broader range of travelers.
Carey said if the company succeeded in securing the Dammam bid, it could leverage its strategic advantage within the Saudi market.
“We’re hopeful that we will be selected. I think we can bring a lot to the Kingdom if we are selected. We can bring a new price point,” Carey said.
He said the airline operates at a “30 percent lower cost than any other competitor” in the region. “That allows us to introduce flying to new passengers who don’t otherwise have a choice. We fly full flights with very high satisfaction rates.”
The airline aspires to stimulate the Kingdom’s aviation sector by linking Saudi Arabia not only with Europe but also with other regions such as Africa and Central Asia.
“We want to connect them to and from Saudi Arabia. We also want to tackle domestic travel in the Kingdom to introduce a new price point,” Carey said.
The company is collaborating intensively with various Saudi entities to increase its presence in the Kingdom.
Last year, Wizz Air forged partnerships with Saudi Arabia’s tourism and investment ministries and the General Authority of Civil Aviation to strengthen its operations in the Kingdom.
Carey lauded the Investment Ministry for its cooperation in identifying potential investment partners.
“We want to come in, we have the expertise in operating an airline, but we want to be a Saudi airline which requires a Saudi partner,” he added.
“The Tourism Ministry has also been a valuable partner. We’re doing a lot together with the Saudi Tourism Authority, and the Air Connectivity Program to identify those markets that show growth potential and how can we bring new services and stimulate new lines,” he added.
Carey said the airline is focused on ways to boost the volume of inbound tourism by increasing collaboration with the local authorities to maximize benefits for the Saudi travel and tourism sector.
“We’re serving a different market and we’re very happy that there are lots of other players in the market today. They serve a different market. They serve connecting traffic. We do all point to point. We’re focused on bringing customers to the Kingdom,” he said.
Carey was optimistic that following a successful bid for a base in Dammam, the airline would expand further using it as its launching point.
Responding to Arab News’ question about Wizz Air’s focus on bringing tourists to the Kingdom, he said being a low-cost airline “we create markets from scratch” and Saudi Arabia has “great natural sites and a lot of tourism potential.”
Carey said the company is dedicated to helping the Kingdom achieve its Vision 2030 objectives, which include attracting 100 million visitors by 2030.
The company has also demonstrated a keen interest in addressing global environmental concerns by setting sustainability goals.
Carey compared achieving sustainability goals to running a marathon. He said: “Just as we need to train and run daily to prepare for a marathon, similarly consistent efforts are required to reach sustainability objectives.”
He added that Wizz Air boasts one of the most environmentally friendly and youngest fleets in the industry, with an average aircraft age of four years.
“We have ambitions like everybody else and we believe in those ambitions. But what we want to do is we want to invest everything we can now to make sure we’re being the good citizen,” the official said.
He said: “More than half of our fleet is now the A321neo, which is the most sustainable aircraft out there.”
Carey emphasized that if all European airlines adopted the same fleet and operational model as Wizz Air, carbon emissions would decrease by one-third overnight.
Arab nations seek to cement historic trade ties with Beijing at Riyadh event
10th Arab-China Business Conference to serve as networking platform to boost economic relations
Updated 10 June 2023
RIYADH: In a bid to strengthen trade ties between Arab nations and China, the Saudi capital Riyadh is set to host a major business event on June 11 and 12 at the King Abdulaziz International Conference Center.
The 10th Arab-China Business Conference is being organized under the theme “Collaborating for Prosperity.” The event aims to identify key areas of cooperation between the Arab countries and the Asian economic giant.
The conference is organized by Saudi Arabia’s Investment Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Arab League, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, and the Union of Arab Chambers. It is touted to be the largest Arab-Chinese business gathering with more than 2,000 participants.
According to the conference’s website, the two-day event will feature networking events as well as panel discussions covering a wide range of topics including China’s Belt and Road Initiative, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, startups, esports, tourism, and food security.
Some of the keynote speakers at the event include Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Royal Commission of AlUla CEO Amr Al-Madani, Fahd Alajlan, president of King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, and Fahd Cynndy, CEO of Saudi Aerospace Engineering Industries.
Other speakers scheduled for the event include Laura May-Lung Cha, chairperson of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, and Tong Li, CEO of Bank of China International Holdings.
As many as 20 panel discussions and workshops will be organized during the event where top CEOs, business owners, investors, and government officials will share their views to strengthen trade ties between the region and China.
The conference is expected to catalyze the trade ties between Saudi Arabia and the Asian giant, as both countries are currently focused on developing several strategic sectors.
Earlier in June, the Saudi energy minister met with Zhang Jianhua, administrator of the National Energy Administration of China, and his accompanying delegation in Riyadh to discuss ways to strengthen relations between the two countries in various fields of energy, in order to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 and China’s BRI.
The meeting also discussed the importance of ensuring the security of energy supply to markets, joint projects to convert crude oil into petrochemicals, and innovative uses of hydrocarbons.
In May, China’s Baoshan Iron and Steel Co. announced its plans to invest SR15 billion ($4 billion) in a project in Ras Al-Khair’s economic zone to manufacture metal plates.
In March, energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. also inked a deal with China’s Norinco Group and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group to form a joint venture to construct a refinery and petrochemical complex in China’s Liaoning province.
Saudi Aramco will own 30 percent stakes in the joint venture called Hujain Aramco Petrochemical Co., while Norinco Group and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group will hold 51 percent and 19 percent shares respectively.
Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih recently said that the trade and cultural relationship between Arab nations and China has always been strong.
“Trade and cultural ties between Arab countries and China extend over 2,000 years but have deepened significantly given the complementary nature of our economies in sectors critical to the global economy. The Arab-China Business Conference will enable public and private sector participants to discuss the future of these collaborations,” said Al-Falih.
He added: “China’s strategic direction aligns with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. In recognition of the importance of leveraging each region’s strengths, we look forward to the conference providing a forum to explore mutually beneficial opportunities.”
Floranow blossoms in the Saudi market with massive traction
Company’s mobile application generates over 80 percent of its online transactions: CEO
Updated 10 June 2023
CAIRO: As Saudi Arabia increasingly draws the attention of regional entrepreneurs, Middle Eastern firms from a range of sectors are actively examining the burgeoning opportunities in the Kingdom.
UAE-based online floral marketplace, Floranow, has left no stone unturned in its Saudi expansion, sealing its second acquisition in the market.
On June 5, Floranow acquired one of the largest wholesale distributors of fresh-cut flowers in the Kingdom, Bloomax, one year after acquiring Saudi-based floral distribution company Astra Farms.
In an interview with Arab News, Charif Mzayek, CEO and founder of Floranow, conveyed that the company’s emphasis on the Saudi market is fueled by remarkably high transaction rates.
Mzayek mentioned that the company’s mobile application, exclusively available in the Saudi market, generates over 80 percent of its online transactions.
“The acquisition of Bloomax follows our successful acquisition of Astra Farms’ floral distribution business early last year,” Mzayek told Arab News.
“The Astra Farms deal has subsequently yielded strong organic growth and fully digitized revenue while giving Saudi retailers and wholesalers access to the largest and richest assortment of flowers and plants in one convenient marketplace,” he added.
The founder further announced that, following a partnership with a select group of Kenyan growers, the Saudi market will soon have a range of exclusive products, including unique flower varieties.
Mzayek asserted that Floranow holds the distinction of being the first and largest online floral marketplace and stands as the sole provider of business-to-business solutions in the Saudi market.
He further indicated that the company’s presence in Saudi Arabia will expand from five cities to nine with the acquisition of Bloomax.
“The acquisition of Bloomax will enable Floranow to become the market leader in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf region in general,” Mzayek stated.
By leveraging Bloomax’s existing customer base, Floranow plans to penetrate the Saudi market via “the leading wholesale flower supplier which currently controls over 30 percent of main cities like Riyadh and Dammam,” Mzayek said.
“The acquisition of Bloomax will expand our existing operational footprint in the Kingdom, giving us a direct presence in nine cities across the market. It will further benefit our growth trajectory as it increases the number of companies in Saudi Arabia buying on Floranow’s platform to over 1,500. This will make us the largest importer and distributor of flowers in the country,” he added.
The company has also incorporated Bloomax’s chairman, Noushad Gafoor, into its executive team to boost Floranow’s operations in the Kingdom.
The Astra Farms deal has subsequently yielded strong organic growth and fully digitized revenue while giving Saudi retailers and wholesalers access to the largest and richest assortment of flowers.
Charif Mzayek, CEO and founder of Floranow
“We are delighted to have Noushad joining Floranow’s executive team. We are grateful for Noushad’s insightful and unique knowledge of the market, making it an obvious choice to ensure he remains in charge of the Saudi operations,” Mzayek said.
“Bloomax’s top management brings over 100 years of flower business experience that has enabled them to achieve success. The combination of Bloomax’s existing footprint with our transformative technologies is an exciting platform for growth and will greatly improve the importer and distributor process,” he added.
Mzayek further expressed Floranow’s deep commitment to expanding its presence in the Kingdom through Saudi nationals, in particular women.
The company’s strategy aligns with the digitalization goals of Vision 2030. As Mzayek explained, Floranow aims to digitalize the region’s traditionally inefficient floral market.
“The size of the floral market is growing rapidly, which is one of the main drivers for our focus more broadly on the Saudi market,” Mzayek said.
“We are seeing several programs and initiatives that have been launched under Vision 2030 to promote tourism, events, and festivals which will expand the flower business in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Floranow primarily targets sellers, including growers and flower exporters, and buyers, such as florists, hotels, supermarkets, and importers.
“We have identified several challenges facing the industry today, including the lack of transparency, price volatility, and long and inefficient supply chains that add up costs and impact product quality, all of which heavily impact the results for buyers and growers,” he added.
Connecting buyers and sellers, Floranow offers seamless transactions between both parties in addition to a logistics service that is twice as fast as traditional channels, Mzayek claimed.
“We manage the supply chain from the farm to the florist, including all freight stages, customs, clearances, quality control and last-mile delivery, connecting growers to buyers in over 20 markets,” he added
Mzayek further elucidated that Floranow operates under a commission-based structure on the various services provided.
Since its inception in 2017, Floranow has processed more than 150,000 orders, with over 1,200 customers and 200 employees.
“The Middle East, North Africa and Turkey market is currently worth $1.15 billion — 40 percent of which are markets we operate in, which are Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait. We are excited to continue our growth journey as we focus on consolidating our presence in our current markets,” Mzayek said.
In terms of financing, Floranow has secured $8 million in equity rounds since its launch with investors such as Jabbar Internet Group, Dash Ventures, Wamda Capital, Global Ventures, Sirocco Holdings, Adamtech Ventures, Zuaiter Holding Capital, and HB Investments.
Moderna plans regional expansion in 5 years, top official tell Arab News
Updated 10 June 2023
Reina Takla Reem Walid
RIYADH: Biotechnology research and early detection of viruses could soon ramp up in the Middle East, with the US vaccine maker Moderna planning to expand its presence in the region over the next five years, revealed a senior company official.
In an interview with Arab News, Dan Staner, vice president and head of the Middle East, said that the COVID-19 pandemic and other health emergencies have shown that countries must respond to infectious disease threats with tailored preparedness plans.
“In the next five years, we want to explore the opportunity to have a direct presence in the region and support governments and public health authorities with pandemic preparedness,” Staner stressed.
This move comes as regions like the Middle East are known to have different and more widespread diseases compared to countries like the US, Canada and others in Europe, he described.
“We are interested in working with governments in the Middle East to facilitate early discovery efforts and clinical development of those specific diseases, to identify potential mRNA (messenger RNA) targets that can treat or mitigate the symptoms of those diseases and develop lead candidates,” the vice president underlined.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Pharmaceutical signed a contract with Moderna to sell and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine in the Kingdom.
The scope of the deal included providing proper handling of the products for distribution to wholesalers, hospitals, clinics and others.
In March 2022, Moderna rolled out a new program called mRNA Access which offers researchers worldwide use of the company’s mRNA technology to explore new vaccines against emerging or neglected infectious diseases.
According to the US-based National Human Genome Research Institute, mRNA is a single-stranded ribonucleic acid involved in protein synthesis from a deoxyribonucleic acid template during transcription.
In recent years, the technology has gained significant attention in medicine, particularly in developing mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Currently, the firm is working with several governments to facilitate mRNA vaccine manufacturing competencies in their respective countries, providing a reliable supply of vaccines against respiratory viruses, Staner added.
He explained that this would help countries with the required capabilities to respond swiftly to emerging crises using domestically manufactured COVID-19 vaccines.
So far, the pharmaceutical firm has announced collaborations with Canada, Australia, the UK and Kenya, Staner disclosed.
Speaking on the firm’s performance in Saudi Arabia specifically, Staner clarified that Moderna’s mRNA technology platform has a significant opportunity to elevate human health in the Kingdom.
“In the Kingdom, mRNA technology has the potential to help protect the population against a wide variety of diseases across rare diseases, infectious diseases, immuno-oncology, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases,” he said.
Moreover, Staner affirmed that there is also room for significant partnerships, technology and knowledge sharing in the Saudi market, propelling mRNA vaccines for various diseases, including infectious disease prevention, added the Moderna executive.
“We know that Saudi Vision 2023 — in its ambition to diversify the Kingdom and create a knowledge-based economy — values partnerships between the public, private, nonprofit and international organizations to achieve its aspirations,” added Staner.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk Pharmaceutical signed a contract with Moderna to sell and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine in the Kingdom. The scope of the deal included providing proper handling of the products for distribution to wholesalers, hospitals, clinics and others.
Meanwhile, in March 2022, Moderna rolled out a new program called mRNA Access which offers researchers worldwide use of the company’s mRNA technology to explore new vaccines against emerging or neglected infectious diseases.
The program aims to open Moderna’s preclinical manufacturing capabilities and research and development expertise to international partners.
The pharmaceutical firm and its partners are expected to investigate the possibility of mRNA to tackle some of the most severe public health threats worldwide.
“We are open to discussions with governments and institutions in the Middle East regarding our mRNA Access initiative,” said Staner.
“In the near-term, we are ready to support the Kingdom and the wider Middle East region with the rollout of updated COVID-19 vaccines to support vaccination campaigns in 2023 and beyond,” he concluded.
Bateel International grows culinary portfolio with launch of Bateel Bakery
Updated 09 June 2023
RIYADH: Bateel International has launched a new bakery which will feature food freshly prepared each day on the premises.
The inaugural Bateel Bakery outlet has opened in Waitrose Khalifa City Community Centre, Abu Dhabi, with the first Dubai outlet set to launch this summer in DIFC’s Index Tower.
According to a press release, every item on the menu – from single-origin coffees to organic breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches – is freshly prepared each day by the in-house team of bakers, chefs and baristas.
Caffeine-free options include date seed coffee, made with the roasted seeds of organic dates from Bateel’s own farms in Saudi Arabia.
Customers have the option to dine in the bakery, or order and takeaway directly from the counter.
Ata Atmar, CEO of Bateel International, said: “Bateel Bakery is a truly unique concept which leverages Bateel’s extensive culinary resource and uncompromising commitment to quality with an unprecedented level of convenience.
“This natural step forward is driven by consumer needs and backed by Bateel’s proven success in creating and operating new gourmet experiences.
“We are certain that our existing customers will be delighted with the latest addition to Bateel’s portfolio, and we are excited to share our passion for fine food with a whole new audience.”