Experts hail Saudi tourism, female empowerment efforts as most promising in region

Experts hail Saudi tourism, female empowerment efforts as most promising in region
RESET Travel Sustainability Summit at London Hilton Park Lane on Nov. 3, 2023. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Updated 14 November 2023

Experts hail Saudi tourism, female empowerment efforts as most promising in region

Experts hail Saudi tourism, female empowerment efforts as most promising in region

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s efforts toward sustainable and eco-friendly tourism initiatives were promising but misunderstood throughout the region, an expert has claimed.

Taleb Rifai, former secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization, was speaking to Arab News following a recent international travel sustainability summit in London.

He said: “It’s an issue on the Saudi agenda because the Saudis are trying to build their tourism industry and they understand that they can’t do it without tackling the issue of climate change.

“The issue of climate change is not very well understood in our part of the world unfortunately, now Saudi Arabia is a different example of that, but the other Arab states, we don’t talk about it in the streets.

“When you ask anybody about climate change, they don’t talk about it, they would rather talk about their livelihood, that’s more important to them,” he added.

He noted that the East Mediterranean, where he lives, was “one of the hottest areas in the world when it comes to climate change,” but that people there were not aware of it.

“Therefore, climate change is not an issue in our region. So, it has to be a regional issue,” Rifai added.

He slammed the UNWTO for failing to provide the leadership needed for the travel and tourism industry to be able to “stand on its feet” to “tackle the climate change and the biodiversity problem.”

Rifai said: “The travel and tourism industry is without leadership now because UNWTO is not commandeering the boat, although it’s a member state organization, it is not doing the leading that is needed.”

He praised conferences, such as the RESET travel sustainability meeting held on Nov. 3, as being important events in “really teaching us how to travel better, and set the rules for engagement, and provide a road map that would help us.”

RESET Travel Sustainability Summit at London Hilton Park Lane on Nov. 3, 2023. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

He pointed out that the tourism and travel industry accounted for around 8 percent of the world’s carbon footprint, and that figure included all kinds of greenhouse gas emissions such as transport, souvenirs, food waste, and plastics abundant in the seas and oceans.

“That’s my judgment, because I think we should stand up to our responsibility and do that,” Rifai added.

Haifa Al-Kaylani, founder of the Arab International Women’s Forum, told Arab News: “We have been witnessing across the Arab region growing numbers of women entrepreneurs actually focusing very much on the social impact of sustainability and travel and tourism in the Gulf region.

“Since we started the forum 23 years ago, we found that there has been a huge advancement for the participation of women in the Arab region; in the economy and the wider various sectors of the communities, and most importantly, when it comes to working in the travel and tourism because they’re finding that they have lots of opportunities in this sector,” she said.

Speaking after the conference, Al-Kaylani added: “When you come to the region, you find there are many women that care about ecotourism and if you come to Jordan, Yemen, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, you find that women are very involved in the artisan because they’re coming up with creative and innovative solutions to merge sustainability with cultural preservation and environment conservation.

“When it comes to the travel business and travel sector, Saudi Arabia is absolutely phenomenal. It is going to see greater growth with AlUla and all the amazing attractions that the world knows about — in terms of the historic attractions, the cultural attractions.

“With the tremendous opportunities they have now to play in the Kingdom, women are being encouraged to participate in every sector.

“But of course, when you come to Saudi Arabia, among the fastest growing sectors there is the tourism sector.

“So obviously, many opportunities for women in that sector have opened and are increasingly opening all the time.”

Al-Kaylani noted that a World Bank report on women’s participation in the Saudi economy estimated 30 percent participation by 2030.

She said: “We are now in 2023 and women’s participation is 37 percent and growing, so this is an indication of the importance of the role played by women in the Kingdom. They have accelerated and pushed forward to play the rightful role in the economy and to participate.

“With these new opportunities and huge investments in the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia, women are at the forefront of participating in this outstanding new development.

“While we acknowledge and applaud tremendous successes in the Gulf countries, mainly in terms of advances and part better participation for women in the workforce, the rest of the region, some countries are still lagging very much behind,” Al-Kaylani added.

On the “tremendous” breakthroughs and achievements so far, she called for more participation from governments, the private sector, and civil societies, as they were all “extremely important” and “necessary” to further support women empowerment in the sector throughout the region.

She said: “If we look at the average, in terms of women’s participation in the whole region — the 22 countries, you will find women’s participation in the workforce remains among the lowest in the world.

“At the end of the day, in order for women to have these opportunities and to excel in them, you need a top-down approach, in terms of legislation, investing in education, and all that is happening and has happened for the last three decades and more.”

On the RESET conference, organized by Wales-based TLC Harmony, Al-Kaylani added: “It is an excellent initiative because it is really putting a major industry, the travel industry, at the heart of all the important subjects we’re addressing now in terms of climate change, sustainability, and ensuring that while we are enjoying our environment, we are not damaging it.”

Nicki Page, founder of TLC (Total Life Cycle), said the coronavirus pandemic was when “true leadership should have come through” but the “UNWTO failed our industry when 200 million more were out of work, our industry shut down, and we were all in silos, there was nothing united about us other than we were united in misery caused by such distress and worry.

“So, we decided to continue independently with a focus on global markets, with this approach called TLC Harmony and GABI, which is a technology to evaluate the harms of climate, not just CO2 but greenhouse gasses plus impact on biodiversity, which we as travelers, we as developers of new hotels and assets, we as country leaders within tourism, are responsible for 8 percent of greenhouse gasses globally.”

She noted that the industry could learn from the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia which had “the power to lead a global change.”

Page said: “We see today Saudi Arabia as a new destination emerging with a target of 150 million arrivals as part of its Vision 2030.

“I think there can be learnings from those that have come before so that when people travel and that we develop sustainably, they will still come, but we believe they will come and stay longer and spend more actually on a sustainable, verified, and honest position and that’s what we would like to see.

“Arab women are very affluent businesswomen who are making decisions about how they invest their own money, how they travel with their families, what brands they buy, and want to support nature.

“These women in the Gulf are highly prized for luxury providers of services and brands, from hotels to handbags, and these women, in our knowledge and our understanding, are most concerned for the future generation of their children.

“And so, these women are the key, in our view, to pushing the sustainable agenda further and faster because if they choose not to stay in a particular hotel, because it has not delivered a verified sustainable position, then actually that hotel loses that business and we’re talking a lot of money.”

She said affluent Gulf women that loved to travel had “the power to change the way we do the business of travel.”

Page urged more collaboration from regional investment funds and luxury project owners, and extra support through education and understanding in the Gulf, as it could “make a fundamental difference to the protection of nature as it looks to diversify its economy away from oil.”

She said: “The passion of a younger generation in those Gulf countries, educated, looking for change and purpose; they can drive this, I believe, in a collective way for more years to come.”

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 
Updated 14 July 2024

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

RIYADH: A new digital platform will allow government agencies to access their accounts in the Saudi Central Bank easily and conveniently. 

The central bank, also known as SAMA, has announced the launch of Naqd, a platform for government banking services. The service is designed to provide government entities with easy and secure access to their accounts at the central bank and to conduct financial transactions through a trusted digital platform. 

The initiative is part of SAMA’s strategy to offer banking outlets to government entities and support digital transformation. 

The central bank is fostering digitalization across the spectrum with the launch of several initiatives. 

In May, SAMA announced the launch of a new undertaking — “View My Bank Accounts” — for individual bank account holders. The service enhances reliability and reduces the risk of suspicious transactions, unauthorized account use, and impersonation.  

The Naqd platform aims to digitize financial transaction services for government entities, providing a unified and secure platform. 

It facilitates round-the-clock access to account information, account management and real-time monitoring of transactions conducted from and to government accounts. 

The platform is intended to deliver electronic banking services that support government financial transactions, enhance user experience, and increase efficiency and productivity in financial dealings using the latest technologies.

Additionally, it aims to reduce the time required to execute government banking procedures. 

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector
Updated 14 July 2024

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s fisheries sector is set to receive a boost thanks to a new direct financial support program launched by the Kingdom’s minister of environment, water and agriculture.

Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli will oversee the financial support for the Reef Saudi program, which aims to open new horizons for the development of the fisheries sector and stimulate the industry, according to a statement. 

The Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development Program, or Reef Saudi, seeks to improve the rural agricultural sector to raise the standard of living of small farmers and rural families, increase efficiency and productivity, and improve lifestyle and food security.

This move falls in line with the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as the program is an important step toward achieving several strategic goals, including strengthening the nation’s local economy.  

It also aligns well with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture’s continuous efforts over the past years to boost the fisheries sector, including establishing a national program to protect fish stocks and the industry as a whole, the provision of concessional loans to assist small-scale fishermen with the purchase of boats, and initiatives to modernize ports in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.

Moreover, the program requires that fisherman wishing to obtain support must have a fishing license, in either the Saudi artisan category or Saudi sailor category. 

The fisherman should also not be an employee in the public or private sector, be no younger than 18 years old, and be based within the Kingdom during the period, in addition to the duration of each fishing trip being no less than six hours.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia highlighted its role in leading and unifying international efforts to develop the fisheries sector during its presidency of a special UN committee dedicated to the industry. 

This came during the conclusion of the 36th session of the body, which was held at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and was chaired by the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the FAO, Mohammed Al-Ghamdi.

During the meeting, Saudi Arabia reviewed its most prominent efforts to promote and develop the fisheries sector and achieve its sustainability during its two-year presidency, the Saudi Press Agency reported at the time.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881
Updated 14 July 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Sunday, gaining 89.14 points, or 0.76 percent, to close at 11,881.55.

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.36 billion ($1.69 billion) as 154 of the stocks advanced, while 68 retreated.  

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu slipped 79.18 points, or 0.31 percent, to close at 25,696.86. This comes as 34 of the listed stocks advanced while 36 retreated. 

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index gained 15.65 points, or 1.06 percent, to close at 1 1,488.02.

The best-performing stock of the day was Miahona Co. The company’s share price surged 9.96 percent to SR37.00.

Other top performers include MBC Group Co. as well as Al Taiseer Group Talco Industrial Co.

The worst performer was Al-Rajhi Co. for Cooperative Insurance, whose share price dropped by 7.27 percent to SR209.20. 

Other worst performers were Saudi Advanced Industries Co. as well as Arabian Pipes Co.

On the announcements front, ADES Holding Co. has announced that it has amended its existing syndicated facility, securing an additional equivalent to $3 billion, with the majority of existing lenders participating along with new, leading local and regional financial institutions.

According to a Tadawul statement, the new upsized financing is divided into the equivalent of a $2.7 billion standby term tranche to finance the group’s expansion plans and an additional $300 million revolving credit facility tranche to be applied toward the general corporate purposes of the company.

While the financing duration of the standby term tranche is eight and a half years, with a final maturity in December 2032, that of the RCF tranche is eight years, with a final maturity in June 2032. 

The financing entities include Saudi Awwal Bank, Riyadh Bank, Al Rajhi Banking and Investment Corp., and Arab National Bank, as well as the Saudi National Bank, Alinma Bank, Banque Saudi Fransi, and Aljazira Bank. Arab Petroleum Investments Corp. and Commercial Bank of Dubai PSC are also included.

The bourse filing also revealed that the guarantees offered for the financing entail mortgages over offshore rigs, share mortgages or pledges over entities that hold onshore or offshore rigs as applicable, and security over the collection accounts and debt service accrual account. 

They also include assignment of receivables under client contracts, assignment of receivables under insurance contracts in respect of financed rigs as well as promissory notes.

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh
Updated 14 July 2024

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to enhance private sector cooperation with Thailand as the Southeast Asian nation opens its first Board of Investment office in Riyadh, a top official announced. 

On the sidelines of a business forum in the Saudi capital, Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih highlighted that this marks Thailand’s inaugural office in the Middle East, encouraging stronger bonds and new investment opportunities in both countries. 

This came as the minister lauded the steady trade relations, that saw business soar to $8.8 billion in 2023, up from $7.5 billion following the nations’ restored ties in 2022. This represents nearly 22 percent of Thailand’s total trade with the Middle East, underscoring a flourishing economic partnership. 



Addressing the business delegation at the Saudi-Thailand Investment Forum, Al-Falih said: “Representative offices from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and your country will do a great deal of facilitating private sector to private sector cooperation and allowing us to reach the potential that I mentioned.”  

He added: “I believe it will continue to grow at double digits as it has been the last couple of years. In investment, we’ve also seen growth, although from very small numbers, with FDI (foreign direct investment) stock doubling since 2019 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  

The minister added that travel and tourism are returning to previous levels, with close to 200,000 tourists and visitors traveling from Saudi Arabia to Thailand. He also noted that over 30,000 Thai visitors had come to the Kingdom the previous year to experience Saudi Arabia. 

The Thailand BOI office will cover a total of 13 countries in the Middle East, including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkiye, and the UAE. 

The Riyadh headquarters is Thailand BOI’s 17th overseas office, with two additional locations in China and Singapore set to be added soon.  

“We hope investors from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will consider making Thailand an investment base to expand business in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and take advantage of Thailand’s membership in the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) agreement, the world’s largest free trade area,” said Narit Therdsteerasukdi, secretary-general of the Thailand BOI. 

He added: “We believe there is a strong potential for investment and cooperation in several key sectors, including agriculture, processed food, renewable energy, healthcare and medical services, as well as automotive, especially electric vehicles.” 

Additionally, Al-Falih explained that the Thailand BOI office will boost areas of cooperation between both countries in several areas. 

“Before I do that, let me assure you — and this is not just me, not our Ministry of Investment, not the government, but the entire Saudi Arabia — we are very bullish on Thailand and indeed very impressed with your achievements,” the minister said.  

He continued: “Your GDP (gross domestic product) per capita has tripled in 20 years, while your export structure has evolved significantly into increasingly sophisticated products in the same time frame.” 

Furthermore, the minister recognized Thailand as one of the founding members of ASEAN, a significant economic alliance that holds importance not only in Asia but globally. 

Due to Thailand’s strategic location and economic strength — the second-largest economy in ASEAN with a GDP exceeding half a trillion dollars — it is a crucial partner for Saudi Arabia.  

“Especially as you are bolstered by ASEAN free trade agreements with most major economies, as you outlined to me this morning. These agreements include big economies in East Asia, as well as South Asian economies. Of course, anchored by India,” Al-Faih said. 

The minister stressed common parallels between the two countries, noting they share a “great deal of complementarity.” Thailand has its National Strategy 2037, whereas Saudi Arabia has its Vision 2030. 

“Which naturally leads me to emphasize the energy sector, including its multifaceted branches downstream: biofuels, biochemicals and CCUS (carbon capture utilization and storage), hydrogen, and renewables,” he said. 

Al-Falih added: “This is obviously an area where we share common ambitions, and the Kingdom has unique capability, creating numerous investment opportunities for both countries in terms of supply chain products as well as project development.” 

Saudi Arabia’s demand for agricultural and food processing products is expected to reach over $130 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 7.5 percent.  

Meanwhile, Thailand’s agricultural and food processing sectors were robust in 2022, with exports totaling $45 billion. 

“This presents a huge area of complementary that would boost trade and investment as well as enhance food security in both nations,” Al-Falih underscored. 

Moreover, during the event’s opening speech, Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maris Sangiampongsa, underscored the robust private sector collaboration between both countries, noting the success of the International Mega Fair organized by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia. 

This event featured over 30 Thai businesses showcasing 1,000 products from 200 brands, significantly boosting Thailand’s presence in Saudi Arabia. 

Looking ahead, Sangiampongsa announced the upcoming International Mega Fair 2024 in Riyadh, scheduled for November. This event aims to promote trade across diverse sectors, such as construction materials, hospitality, and defense technology. 

The minister expressed confidence in Thai investment representatives’ readiness to strengthen cooperation with their Saudi counterparts, building on the momentum of past successes.  

“As both our nations are located strategically at the crossroads of continents, we recognize that connectivity and efficiency are part and parcel of any feasible development strategy,” Sangiampongsa stated. 

He continued: “That is why, as part of our plan, Thailand launched our flagship Landbridge Project, which will connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean. This bold initiative will reduce commuting time and costs by 15 percent.” 

The forum saw the signing of 11 memoranda of understanding between Thai and Saudi companies, covering cooperation in areas including energy, infrastructure, engineering, agriculture, and forestation. 

The event also featured bilateral meetings and discussions between private sector representatives, which reviewed developments in the investment environment in Saudi Arabia and Thailand. 

Additionally, Saudi Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak met with Therdsteerasukdi to discuss ways of cooperation and developments in the work of the Saudi-Thai Coordination Council. 

Further, a meeting was held between Saad Al-Khalb, CEO of Saudi EXIM, and Senior Executive Vice President of Export-Import Bank of Thailand Benjarong Suwankiri, discussing areas of cooperation aimed at enabling promising investment opportunities. 

In 2023, Thailand’s applications for investment promotion surged to a nine-year peak of 848.3 billion baht (approximately $24 billion), marking a 43 percent increase from the previous year. 

This growth was driven by significant foreign direct investments primarily in five key sectors outlined in the BOI’s new Investment Promotion Strategy: green industries, automotive (including electric vehicles), and semiconductors. Additionally, investments in advanced electronics, digital and creative industries, and international business centers contributed significantly.  

These sectors accounted for more than half of the total investment pledges. Leading sources of investment included China, Japan, Singapore, and the US. 

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 
Updated 14 July 2024

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Qassim region is set to see improvements in water services, with the National Water Co. initiating 14 projects valued at over SR561 million ($150 million). 

The state-owned firm announced that its Northern Cluster has initiated the implementation of water and environmental projects across various parts of the region. These initiatives aim to enhance water and wastewater services, improve their quality, and meet the growing demand. 

Saudi Arabia ranks among the world’s largest water consumers. With limited natural resources, the country continues to rely on the construction of desalination facilities to meet its increasing water demands. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture has announced several investments in water projects scheduled for the coming years. 

These projects are part of its strategic goals to expand water and environmental services, meet growing demand, and enhance the quality of life and services for the population in line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030. 

The Public Investment Fund-owned company noted that the initiative includes seven projects worth about SR283 million. These include sewerage channels and networks totaling over 329,000 meters and the construction of a lifting station capable of handling 1,350 cubic meters per day. 

Additionally, the company outlined seven water projects valued at over SR278 million. These initiatives involve networks and pipelines spanning more than 833,000 meters and the establishment of a water distribution system for the Al-Mukharram and Umm Hazm well areas. 

On July 10, the company announced that its northern cluster had initiated 12 water and environmental projects across various parts of the Hail region, amounting to over SR531 million in total costs. 

Five of these projects, totaling about SR238 million, will focus on pipelines and networks spanning more than 226,000 meters, alongside the construction of a lifting station capable of handling over 3,900 m3 per day. 

Also, the NWC has commenced seven water projects aimed at supplying regional customers, involving the construction of reservoirs, water pipelines of various diameters, and water pumping stations, totaling more than SR293 million. 

The network lengths exceed 374,000 meters, complemented by 56 operational reservoirs with a combined capacity of 33,500 m3.  

The projects also include three pumping stations with a total capacity exceeding 53,600 m3 per day, along with multiple water tanker filling stations, as reported by the NWC.