ABU DHABI: The hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia is poised for further growth as the Elaf Group plans to add 5,000-6,000 hotel rooms by 2026, according to CEO Adel Ezzat.
In an interview with Arab News, Ezzat outlined the group’s ambitious expansion strategy, targeting a broader presence across the Kingdom within the next three years.
He said: “We will be going to cover the Kingdom from now till the end of 2026 by adding 5,000 to 6,000 keys. After that, we want to expand our sales outside of Saudi Arabia.”
Elaf Group, wholly owned by SEDCO Holding, a prominent Saudi ethical and sustainable investor, holds a strong presence in the travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors.
Elaf hotels, known for their blend of five- and four-star offerings, provide visitors with a unique experience of the local culture and heritage.
Ezzat outlined the group’s expansion plans in the hospitality sector, emphasizing: “We are adding another 5,000 keys in the coming three years with a triple number of hotels. So, we will be needing a lot of collaboration with different players in the hospitality and tourism ecosystem.”
Currently, Elaf manages two brands: Elaf, specializing in serving the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, and the new brand, Joudyan, designed for metropolitan areas like Jeddah and Riyadh.
The expansion plan encompasses locations such as AlUla, Dammam, and Soudah, along with a focus on increasing their presence in Jeddah, Riyadh, Makkah, and Madinah.
When it comes to international expansion, Ezzat revealed: “We want to expand in Saudi in the coming two to three years, then we go outside of Saudi.”
He drew parallels between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, noting: “Now when you come to Saudi hotels, you meet Saudis, they serve you coffee ... You talk to a Saudi receptionist. So, this is similar to Egypt as well.”
Ezzat also pointed out that the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain, with their modern infrastructure and luxury offerings, are attractive destinations for potential expansion.
Emphasizing their commitment to guests visiting holy cities, Ezzat noted, "People who come to Makkah and Madinah due to the spirituality of the location and the nature of their visit are emotionally connected to a place. So, if they stay with you and come back to Makkah, they come back to you as emotional guests. So, you need to take care of them and give them what exactly they need.”
Regarding industry shifts, Ezzat emphasized Elaf’s customer-centric philosophy and its mission to showcase Saudi Arabia’s hospitality to a global audience.
He highlighted the importance of nurturing the company’s teams and human capital, believing that motivated associates lead to heightened guest satisfaction.
In terms of sustainability, Ezzat disclosed the group’s plan to transform its existing nine hotels into sustainable properties.
Finally, Ezzat offered advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and startups in the sector, encouraging them to persevere and seize the abundant opportunities expected in the next 10 to 15 years.
“You will be having leadership positions, but you need to start step by step,” he said.
In May, Elaf Group entered into a partnership agreement with EXO Travel Group to establish EXO Saudi Arabia, a move aimed at strengthening Saudi Arabia’s presence on the global tourism stage.
Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia leads November’s funding spree with $338m
Updated 09 December 2023
CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem continues to dominate the region after raising the most funds in the Middle East and North Africa during November.
According to Wamda’s Monthly report, the MENA region saw $764 million raised across 42 rounds in November – a 390 percent month-on-month increase and a 74 percent growth year-on-year.
Saudi Arabia topped the charts with $338 million secured across nine deals. The UAE came in second with $284 million across 22 deals and Egypt followed with $130.5 million over 5 deals.
Furthermore, the remaining capital was raised by startups based in Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, and Tunisia.
Funding activity experienced a notable resurgence across all stages, with mega rounds constituting a significant portion of the capital influx.
Noteworthy among these rounds were a $250 million debt round secured by Saudi Arabia-based Tamara, a substantial $200 million series D funding by the Kingdom’s Tabby, and a $130 million raised by Egypt’s MNT-halan through securitized bonds.
Collectively, these three rounds made up around 76 percent of the total funding raised during November.
In the recent funding landscape, the fintech sector emerged as the frontrunner in terms of funding volume, raising $485.9 million, primarily driven by the significant rounds raised by Tamara and Tabby.
Noteworthy among these rounds were a $250 million debt round secured by Saudi Arabia-based Tamara, a substantial $200 million series D funding by the Kingdom’s Tabby, and $130 million raised by Egypt’s MNT-halan through securitized bonds.
This sector also ranked second in terms of the number of deals, recording nine in total. Furthermore, a notable boost to the super app sector’s funding status was recorded with the industry raising $131 million during the month, thanks to MNT-Halan‘s round.
The education technology sector managed to secure $41.4 million in funding, largely due to a major transaction by Saudi Arabia-based Noon.
Additionally, several other sectors witnessed funding rounds reaching into the tens of millions.
Notable among these were Saudi-based Retailo’s $15 million, Saudi Ajras’ $28 million, UAE’s Flow48’s $25 million, and Emirati Immensa’s $20 million round.
Out of the 42 deals reported, 10 successfully attracted direct global investment, predominantly from US-based investors.
Within the region, UAE-based investors took the lead, participating in 21 deals, with Modus Capital standing out through its investment of $2.8 million across eight startups via its venture builder program. Saudi Arabian investors followed closely, engaging in 10 deals.
In terms of founder gender dynamics, male-founded startups dominated the funding scene, securing $753 million across 29 deals, accounting for 98.5 percent of the total funding.
In stark contrast, female founders received less than 2 percent of the overall capital, amounting to $9 million. Mixed-gender founding teams raised the remaining 0.2 percent.
The report indicated that nine startups did not disclose their exact funding amounts. A conservative estimate of $100,000 was assigned to each of these ventures.
These were NOWmoney, Awfar, and Lynk, as well as Lath, Chari, Wayup Sport, and Winshot, Akhdar, and Farcana.
Supply chain and ecommerce enabler Omniful raises $5.85m to boost regional operations
Supply chain and ecommerce enabler startup Omniful, co-headquartered in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has raised $5.85 million in a seed funding round.
Led by VentureSouq, the round saw participation from 500 Global, DASH Ventures, Jahez Group, as well as SEEDRA Ventures, Bunat Ventures, Hala Ventures, and RZM Investments, along with family offices including Al Rasheed, Siraj Holding, Al Bawardi, Al Nafea, and a number of angel investors.
Founded in 2022 by Mostafa Abolnasr and Alankrit Nishad, Omniful provides merchants and fulfillment providers with a unified management system, warehouse management system, and transport management system to scale their businesses.
Abolnasr, also the company’s CEO, said: “The future of commerce is hyperlocal and omnichannel, with consumers expecting brands to be closer to them, to deliver faster and offer a personalized experience. At Omniful, we are equipping merchants in this $4 trillion industry with a single platform to manage all their sales channels and deliver on time and in full, improving their efficiencies by 40 percent and their customer retention by 15 percent.”
He added: “Our seed round marks a major milestone, and together with our investors, we are excited about going out of stealth and launching our sales and marketing efforts in the Middle East, Africa, and India, followed by Europe and US.”
The future of commerce is hyperlocal and omnichannel, with consumers expecting brands to be closer to them, to deliver faster and offer a personalized experience.
Mostafa Abolnasr, Omniful cofounder and CEO
The company aims to utilize its fresh influx of capital to boost its operations in existing markets, primarily the UAE and the Kingdom, as well as double down on its technology development.
Nishad, the company’s chief technology officer, said: “As a product-led organization, our technology is a clear differentiator, making us the platform of choice for omnichannel merchants and high-volume 3PL (third party logistics) fulfillment providers. Over the next year, we will double down on growing our technology capabilities in India, while also planning for the launch of our platform there.”
Egypt’s Mtor closes $2.8m in a pre-seed round
Egypt’s online car parts marketplace Mtor has closed a $2.8 million pre-seed funding round led by Algebra Ventures with participation from Dutch Founders Fund, Aditum Ventures, LoftyInc Capital Management, and angel investors.
Founded in 2022 by Mohamed Maged, Moaz El-Megharbel, Mohamed Altaf, and Khaled Kandil, Mtor aims to revamp the car parts industry in Egypt with a unified online platform.
“It can be a car owner’s nightmare to get their car serviced. Mtor was founded to fundamentally transform this reality and make the process easier and more efficient, empowering a layer of local car workshops that are well rounded with quality parts, a suitable price position, and a good customer experience,” Maged, CEO of Mtor, said.
The company aims to utilize the received funding to further grow its product range and expand its local workshop client-base.
ISLAMABAD: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) adopted a collaborative approach to developing a regulatory framework for startups and FinTech companies by issuing preliminary guidelines on Friday with an aim to test them against innovative products and business models before adopting the final set of rules.
The SBP’s “regulatory sandbox” approach is designed to provide a controlled environment for innovators to test their products and technologies, making it easier for the regulator to understand their implications for financial stability and consumer protection.
“State Bank of Pakistan has issued draft guidelines on regulatory sandbox for public consultation,” it said in a brief statement.
The SBP added this would allow the regulated entities, such as startups and FinTech firms, to participate in the process of testing new products and their preferred business models within the provided legal framework.
“As envisioned in SBP Vision 2028, the regulatory sandbox will encourage innovation in digital financial services and facilitate the existing and new market participants to build robust digital payments ecosystem in Pakistan,” the central bank explained in its statement.
“Similarly, it will help SBP to issue instructions and regulations for new and innovative FinTech solutions, ultimately resulting in increased financial and digital inclusion in the country,” it added.
The SBP said its initiative would strengthen its engagement with stakeholders in shaping the future of the country’s financial industry.
It invited banks, FinTech firms, industry experts, public and all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.
Pakistani startups, especially in fintech, e-commerce and logistics, have been attracting considerable investment from both domestic sources and international venture capital firms.
This burgeoning ecosystem, fueled by significant government support and a surge in digital adoption among a young, tech-savvy population, is said to be positioning the country as an emerging hub for technological innovation and entrepreneurship.
As the country increasingly depends on high-tech companies for efficient service delivery, it has been encountering various regulatory challenges.
The regulatory sandboxes approach has also been adopted by other countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and Canada etc., among many others.
Each country’s sandbox is tailored to its specific regulatory environment and financial sector needs, though the core idea is to provide a space where new and potentially disruptive financial technologies can be tested safely and without immediately incurring the full burden of financial regulation.
KARACHI: Pakistan equities on Friday hit yet another record high by breaching the 66,000-mark amid bullish sentiments built on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and completion of its first review, rupee stability, and the government’s plan to raise Rs90 billion through Islamic bonds, equity analysts said.
The key stock index, KSE100, closed the weekend trading session at a historic high level of 66,223 after gaining 1,505 points, or rising 2.33 percent. During the trading week, the index collectively gained 3,730 points. The recent rally has increased the market capitalization from $31.3 billion to $32.8 billion in a week.
“The stocks closed at a new record surge and new all-time high amid rupee stability and the government’s plan to launch Rs90 billion worth of Ijarah Sukuks for retail investors to diversify funding sources,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News.
He attributed the bull run to falling external debt, the positive outcome of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid forum established to fast-track decision-making and promote investment from foreign nations, and expectations for a current account surplus in November 2023.
In a landmark development for the country’s financial markets, the federal government launched one-year Ijarah Sukuk earlier in the day from the platform of Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in the first phase.
In total, the government plans to raise Rs90 billion through three auctions of the bond.
Speaking at the gong ceremony, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said Pakistan’s economy faced multiple challenges at the start of the financial year 2023-2024, but the government had tried to solve the structural and macroeconomic issues which helped improve the situation.
“I would like to thank the effort of all stakeholders to bring our economy back on track by lowering the exchange rate of dollar from all-time high of approximately 307 on September 5, 2023, in the interbank market to around 284 today,” he said.
Kakar maintained the capital market served as a catalyst for innovation, entrepreneurship and growth in the realm of finance.
“It provides fuel to business to expend, create jobs and contribute to overall development of society. As a part of federal government, we are committed to fostering an environment that nurtures and sustains this growth,” he added.
The prime minister said the capital market acted as a stabilizing force, absorbing shocks and steering the economy toward stability.
Economists say the current bull run is fueled by the successful completion of $3 billion IMF bailout program review, strong earnings growth and the steps taken by the government to discourage smuggling of various commodities and foreign currencies.
Pakistan expects another tranche of $700 million from IMF after the global lender’s board meeting on January 11, 2024.
“Pakistan stock exchange has tailwind of the IMF program, the completion of the first review, the enforcement measures by the establishment including curbing smuggling, de-dollarization and some improvements in the Afghan transit trade,” Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the finance ministry, told Arab News.
Going forward, he said the country would have to comply with the IMF standby arrangement to design another program for long term macroeconomic stability.
He noted this required more structural reforms in the economy after the new government takes over in the wake of the next general elections.
COP28: US-UAE climate-friendly farming effort grows to $17bn
Updated 08 December 2023
DUBAI: Funding for a joint effort by the US and the UAE to advance climate-friendly farming around the world has grown to more than $17 billion, the countries announced on Friday at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, according to Reuters.
The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate was launched in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow and its funding comes from governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations.
Globally, food and farming contribute about a third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Nearly 80 projects have been announced under the AIM for Climate initiative since 2021, with goals to expand agricultural research, implement sustainable farming practices, and reduce methane emissions.
“I think it’s made people think about food and agriculture in a much different way,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference, adding: “And I think it’s reflected, frankly, in the fact that this COP ... has actually elevated food (and) agriculture to the point where it’s an integral part of COP meetings. That has not been the case for the previous 27.”
Funding for the effort has grown from $13 billion in May, when the US and the UAE co-hosted an AIM for Climate summit in Washington, and from $8 billion at COP27.
The new total includes $12 billion from governments and $5 billion from non-government parties such as companies and humanitarian organizations, said an AIM for Climate spokesperson.
The 27 new projects announced at COP28 range in size from $500 million to $150,000.
In one of the largest projects, companies including Bunge and Alphabet’s Google are working with the Nature Conservancy and the Brazilian state of Para to expand regenerative agriculture, which generally refers to practices like reduced tillage of cropland and lower pesticide use.
For the first time, agriculture is a major focus at this year’s climate summit, with a full day on Dec. 10 dedicated to food and farming topics.
“We understand that we need to speed up innovations ... to be able to transform agriculture food systems to more sustainable systems,” the UAE’s Minister for Climate and the Environment Mariam Almheiri told Reuters.
Advocacy groups want the nations and companies in attendance to pledge to tackle agricultural methane emissions in particular, most of which is from livestock production.