Riyadh Air to bring ‘romance’ back to travel with focus on passenger experience, says COO

Special Riyadh Air to bring ‘romance’ back to travel with focus on passenger experience, says COO
Peter Bellew, chief commercial officer of Riyadh Air, speaking to Arab News.
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Riyadh Air to bring ‘romance’ back to travel with focus on passenger experience, says COO

Riyadh Air to bring ‘romance’ back to travel with focus on passenger experience, says COO

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s new airline, Riyadh Air, is aiming to reintroduce some “romance” into traveling, according to its chief operating officer. 

In an interview with Arab News at Dubai Airshow 2023, Peter Bellew talked up the digital-first focus of the carrier, which will see passengers’ faces serving as their boarding passes. 

His comments came after the company revealed the second livery for its wide-body aircraft through virtual reality, allowing visitors to experience the airline through their phones. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the creation of the new national airline in March, with Riyadh Air set to make its first flight in 2025. 

The COO declined to say if there are confirmed destinations for the airline but said the company is set to have links with over 100 airports from Riyadh by 2030. 

Reflecting on the focus on creating an unrivaled customer experience, Bellew said that in the early days of aircraft-powered tourism, the trip to the airport was seen as part of the positive experience of traveling. 

“Maybe travel has lost that a little bit,” he said, adding: “What we’re trying to do is put that back into travel so that people will actually look forward to traveling, coming to the airport, visiting our lounges, being on board our aircraft no matter what class of travel they go in, (and) that we try and put a little bit of the romance back into travel so people will actually be actively looking forward to traveling with Riyadh Air as part of their overall holiday and their journey rather than maybe traveling on an aircraft as a chore.” 

The airline’s goal to deliver a ticketless experience is a key part of this, and Bellew said: “Once passengers register their details with the airline, their biometrics will be recognized and will ensure a smooth traveling experience with no need to have physical tickets or boarding passes, your face will be your ticket.” 

The new livery features an iridescent white aircraft, which differs from the indigo exterior announced at the Paris Air Show in June. 

The color purple is representative of the Saudi lavender flower which represents the regal experience of the airline, said Bellew. 

Riyadh Air’s latest livery continues the indigo theme inspired by canopies of traditional Bedouin tents and curves of Arabic calligraphy. 

Bellew said the decision to reveal the livery via VR was in touch with the company’s goal to become a fully digital native airline. 

“Everything we are doing throughout the airline is digital in nature. The obvious thing to do instead of spending money on painting an aircraft is to do the reveal digitally, which I don’t think is common and has the potential to go viral,” he said, adding: “The reaction has been great, and it’s proved to be a unique idea.” 

Bellew said Saudi Arabia is the perfect country to launch a project as big as this as the Kingdom is “so digitally enabled.” 

He added: “We plan to leave no stone unturned to treat people really as if they were guests in our own house and the way we travel,” he said. 

With Saudi Vision 2030 in mind, Bellew said Riyadh Air is in line with the sustainability goals of the Kingdom. 

“We are brand new; we’re getting brand new aircraft, so they will be highly fuel efficient. But also the way we run the airline, the way the software that we run, the way we plan our flights, everything like that, I think we will learn a lot that would benefit the rest of the airline industry,” he said. 

“We’ve ordered 72 Boeing 787 aircraft. We expect the fleet will go up to about 170 aircraft by 2030, and we will be really focusing on linking Riyadh with direct flights to all the major capitals in the world that are within range of Riyadh,” he said. 

Bellew was clear that he not only sees the airline benefiting from being a Saudi company but also that the Kingdom will profit from the company, particularly through establishing aviation training infrastructure. 

“If I can help grow the world’s best education for Saudi Arabia and give them an opportunity, I would be very happy. If I could travel in 15 years and meet young Saudi people running other airlines from what they’ve learned in the Kingdom, from what we’ve established, for me, I’d be very proud of that,” he added. 

Dubai Airshow 2023 is taking place from Nov. 13 - 17 at Al Maktoum International Airport and features 1,400 exhibitors from 48 countries, with over 180 advanced commercial, private and military aircraft on display. 

Other Saudi companies at the airshow include Saudia Airlines and Saudi Aerospace Co. 


MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report

MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report
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MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report

MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report

RIYADH: Information technology spending in the Middle East and North Africa region is set to reach $193.7 billion in 2024, a 5.2 percent increase from the previous 12 months, according to a new report. 

In its latest MENA IT Spending forecast, US-based consulting firm Gartner stated that while the outlay in the sector is set to increase, it will be at a slower rate than the 6.6 percent annual rise recorded in 2023.

This comes as tech startups based in the region secured $429 million in funding in the first quarter of the year. Additionally, MENA saw around $1 billion in tech commitments by venture capitals during the first six months of 2024.

Earlier this year, global investment manager Investcorp dedicated $500 million for growth stage tech companies in the region, while venture capital firms Singaporean Golden Gate and UAE’s Polynome Group both dedicated $100 million each for MENA-based tech investments.

Miriam Burt, managing vice president analyst at Gartner, noted that the slowing growth of expenditure in the IT sector is being caused by factors beyond the sector itself.

“While inflation in the region has eased, organizations in the Middle East continue to face challenges due to ongoing uncertainty caused by oil production cuts, downside economic risks linked to regional geopolitical tensions, as well as supply chain disruptions in key shipping routes,” she said.

“As a result, local organizations are becoming more cautious with their IT expenditures,” Burt added. 

Data center spend to fall

Data centers have been the focus of spending in recent years. Shutterstock

The report stated that despite experiencing growth in 2023, spending on data center systems is projected to decline by 0.3 percent in 2024, reflecting a shift toward alternative capabilities. 

Data center system expenditures are set to drop from $4.82 billion in 2023 to $4.80 billion in 2024. 

The systems in data centers include servers, external controller-based storage, and enterprise network equipment. 

“This is due to the rise in demand of alternative options such as software-defined storage, hyper-converged infrastructure software, and the ‘storage as a service’ model,” said Burt. 

MENA IT services spending is expected to record an increase of 9.6 percent in 2024 to reach $19 billion, up from $17.3 billion last year. 

“IT leaders in the MENA region are, in the first instance, spending more on professional and consulting services to prepare their businesses for cloud migration, AI (artificial intelligence), generative AI, and IoT (internet of things) implementations, and secondly, taking advantage of the data monetization opportunities resulting from the convergence of these technologies,” Burt added. 

“Security remains a key area for IT services spending, as well as the increasing purchase of products, services, and tools through ‘XaaS’ (Anything-as-a-Service) consumption models – both contributing to the overall growth of this segment,” she added. 

Demand drop of new devices

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Device spending is expected to decline by 4.5 percent in 2024 due to uneven demand for newer devices, such as mobile phones, in different countries within the MENA region. 

The subsector is set to drop from $28.3 billion recorded in 2023 to $27 billion this year. 

Software is set to see the highest growth in 2024, with spending forecasted at $15.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in the previous 12 months. 

Communications services are expected to account for the bulk of 2024’s IT spending, with $127.5 billion in expenditures, up from $120 billion in 2023. 

“CIOs (chief information officers) in the MENA region are expected to increase their spending on cloud services. While AI/GenAI has some influence on cloud services spending, it is not expected to have an immediate and significant impact on IT spending levels in MENA in 2024,” said Eyad Tachwali, senior director advisory at Gartner. 

“Regional CIOs’ focus today is primarily on everyday lower-cost use cases rather than on costly game-changing AI,” he added. 

Furthermore, the report stated that global hyperscalers, which have the ability to offer extensive infrastructure for storage and computing facilities for AI and GenAI, are accelerating investments in in-country data centers, particularly world-class green data centers. 

“Some have launched sovereign cloud services tailored to the unique needs of specific Gulf Cooperation Council markets,” Burt said. 

Gartner’s IT spending forecast methodology relies heavily on rigorous sales analysis by over a thousand vendors across the entire range of IT products and services. 

On a separate note, other analysts state that Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing IT market in the Middle East, Turkiye, and Africa. 

Jyoti Lalchandani, regional managing director of research firm IDC, said wider information and communication technology market spending is expected to reach $37.5 billion by the end of 2024. 

The comments were made during the ICT Indicators Forum hosted by the Saudi Ministry of Communication and Information Technology alongside the Saudi Communications, Space, and Technology Commission in Riyadh on April 24.  

It was further noted that spending in this area across the Saudi government sector would exceed $752 million by the end of 2024 as innovative technologies become foundational to building an “experience economy.” 

“AI, big data analytics, IoT, and cybersecurity spending is poised for tremendous growth and will account for almost one-third of overall IT spending in Saudi Arabia in 2024. Spending on AI in Saudi Arabia will surpass $720 million in 2024, reaching $1.9 billion by 2027 at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 40 percent – half of that will be on interpretative AI,” Lalchandani said. 

“We have seen Saudi Arabia emerge as a hub for the cloud,” he added, with spending on public cloud forecasted to surpass $2.4 billion in 2024 and reach $4.7 billion by 2027.  

Software-as-a-Service will account for more than 50 percent of the 2024 spending. 

IDC further highlighted that spending on cybersecurity alone will surpass the $1 billion mark in 2024 and reach $1.6 billion in 2027. 

“I do remember a few years ago, the cybersecurity market was estimated at about $500 million. Today, we’re talking about literally double that. We’re talking about $1 billion in the cybersecurity industry, and to hear it be called the fastest growing market in the region is really a testament to our beloved nation,” Salman Faqeeh, CEO of Cisco Saudi Arabia, said while speaking on a panel during the forum. 


Malaysia preparing to join BRICS economic group, media report says

Malaysia preparing to join BRICS economic group, media report says
Updated 18 June 2024
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Malaysia preparing to join BRICS economic group, media report says

Malaysia preparing to join BRICS economic group, media report says

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is preparing to join the BRICS group of emerging economies, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said in an interview with Chinese media outlet Guancha, Reuters reported.

The BRICS group of nations originally included Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which gave it the acronym.

The group last year began to expand its membership as it looks to challenge a world order dominated by Western economies, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the UAE joining and more than 40 countries expressing interest.

“We have made a decision, we will be placing the formal procedures soon ... we are just waiting for the final results from the government in South Africa,” Anwar said, according to a video of the interview posted by Guancha on Sunday.

A representative from Anwar’s office on Tuesday confirmed his comments to Reuters.

During the interview, he did not provide further details on the application process.

Anwar’s comments came ahead of a three-day visit by Chinese Premier Li Qiang this week, as part of celebrations marking the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.

Malaysia and China are expected to sign several deals during Li’s visit, including renewing a five-year trade and economic cooperation agreement.


Oil Updates – crude edges down amid cautious demand outlook

Oil Updates – crude edges down amid cautious demand outlook
Updated 18 June 2024
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Oil Updates – crude edges down amid cautious demand outlook

Oil Updates – crude edges down amid cautious demand outlook

SINGAPORE/HOUSTON: Oil prices edged down in Asian trade on Tuesday, after posting gains in the previous session, as markets remained cautious about global demand growth prospects amid expectations of stronger supplies, according to Reuters.

Global benchmark Brent crude futures slipped 12 cents, or 0.14 percent, to $84.13 per barrel at 9:15 a.m. Saudi time. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 14 cents, or 0.17 percent, to $80.19 a barrel.

Both benchmarks gained around 2 percent on Monday, closing at their highest since April.

“The oil market shifted its focus back to fundamentals, which have been soft for some time,” said BoFA commodity and derivatives strategist Francisco Blanch in a client note, adding that global crude oil inventories and refined product storage in the US and Singapore, among other places, was higher.

Meanwhile, global oil demand growth decelerated to 890,000 barrels per day year-on-year in the first quarter, and data suggests consumption growth likely slowed further in the second quarter, he said in the note.

China’s oil refinery output slipped 1.8 percent from year-ago levels in May, statistics bureau data showed on Monday, as refiners undertook planned maintenance overhauls and processing margins were pressured by rising crude costs.

Markets were also looking out for further clues on interest rates, and how the US demand situation would pan out, as several US Federal Reserve representatives will be speaking later on Tuesday.

Some analysts remained bullish on the price impact of an extension by the OPEC+ group of supply cuts in the near-term.

“The latest guidance provided by OPEC+, as well as their unchanged 2.25 million barrels per day demand growth outlook, signals a stagnation in oil supply growth for 2024 and an apparent downside risk to production in 2025,” said Patricio Valdivieso, Rystad Energy vice president and global lead of crude trading analysis.

“Under these conditions — and the disconnect between the OPEC+ demand outlook and all other agencies — it is hard to remain fully bearish when global oil supply growth appears decimated,” he added.

Recent rebounds in complex refining margins, particularly in Europe and Asia, were also supportive to markets, said Sparta Commodities analyst Neil Crosby.

Refining margins at a typical complex refinery in Singapore averaged at $3.60 a barrel for June so far, compared with $2.66 a barrel in May. 


Saudi Arabia climbs to 16th place in World Competitiveness Index

Saudi Arabia climbs to 16th place in World Competitiveness Index
Updated 18 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia climbs to 16th place in World Competitiveness Index

Saudi Arabia climbs to 16th place in World Competitiveness Index

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s ongoing economic diversification efforts have propelled the country to the 16th spot in the World Competitiveness Index 2024, up from 17th place the previous year.

According to a report from the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development, the Kingdom was ranked 24th in 2022 and 32nd in 2021.

The ascent, supported by Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, is attributed to significant progress in economic performance, government efficiency, and a business-friendly environment.

The report also highlighted that Saudi Arabia ranked higher than several of its G20 peers, including India, the UK, and Japan, as well as other countries like Italy, Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, and Turkiye.


Saudi Arabia’s crude production rose to 8.99m bpd in April: JODI

Saudi Arabia’s crude production rose to 8.99m bpd in April: JODI
Updated 17 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s crude production rose to 8.99m bpd in April: JODI

Saudi Arabia’s crude production rose to 8.99m bpd in April: JODI

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s crude production increased by 13,000 barrels per day in April to reach 8.99 million, according to an analysis from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative. 

The data indicated that exports over the same month saw a decline despite this growth, dipping by 445,000 bpd to 6 million compared to March.

The Kingdom’s direct burn of crude oil, which involves using oil without substantial refining processes, increased by 93,000 bpd in April compared to the previous month – an 11 percent year-on-year growth. 

The decline in the Kingdom’s crude exports and a marginal rise in production can be attributed to the voluntary cuts adopted by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+.

In March, Saudi Arabia announced the extension of its 1 million bpd cut, initially implemented in July 2023, until the end of 2024. 

Earlier this month, the Kingdom’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Saudi Arabia will increase its oil production capacity from 2025 to 2027 before returning to a production level of 12.3 million bpd in 2028. 

“In 2025, we will have an incremental increase. We will have a bigger incremental increase in 2026 and 2027. And then we will go back to our 12.3 million bpd production in 2028,” said the energy minister. 

According to JODI Data, total oil demand in India, one of the largest crude consumers in Asia, slipped by 156,000 bpd in April compared to March. 

Similarly, the Asian nation’s total product exports also edged down by 85,000 bpd in April. 

On the other hand, India’s overall crude imports rose by 510,000 bpd, marking an 8.1 percent year-on-year increase. 

Earlier this month, OPEC said that oil demand globally would rise by 2.25 million bpd in 2024, driven by growth in markets such as China, India, the Middle East and Latin America. 

On June 6, speaking at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Haitham Al-Ghais, secretary-general of OPEC, said that the world will witness continued oil demand growth in the coming years. 

“Last year, OPEC’s forecast for oil demand was the best. And all those who criticized OPEC’s forecast kept adjusting their number throughout the year,” said Al-Ghais.

However, the International Energy Agency forecast oil demand growth to slow as the world continues its energy transition journey, although it noted that there would be growth of 1 million bpd in 2024.