New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy

New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy
Saudi Arabia is rapidly expanding its tourism industry, with major new developments throughout the Kingdom as well as new hotels, resorts and travel destinations that are well underway before the end of the decade. (SPA)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy

New unified Gulf tourism visa to bolster Saudi economy
  • New GCC unified visa marks major landmark moment for Saudi tourism and region at large

RIYADH: In November 2023 the Gulf Cooperation Council approved a landmark unified tourist visa set to launch between 2024 and 2025. 

Similar to the Schengen scheme, the permit will enable tourists to travel across all six GCC member states: Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The new visa was announced by Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi, GCC secretary-general, on Nov. 9, during the 40th meeting of the organization’s interior ministers in Muscat, Oman.

HIGHLIGHT

The Unified Gulf Tourist Visa is expected to further open doors to travelers and entrepreneurs eager to visit the rapidly changing and developing Gulf region, by granting them access to the six countries under a unified, single tourist visa.

Al-Budaiwi described the new Unified Gulf Tourist Visa initiative as testament to the close cooperation between all GCC leaders.

“The unified Gulf tourist visa is a project that will contribute to facilitating and streamlining the movement of residents and tourists between the six GCC countries and will, undoubtedly, have a positive impact on the economic and tourist sectors,” he said in a statement.

The GCC is already a destination for world travel and business. The new visa is expected to attract foreign tourists as well as boost trade between the countries.

It is expected to further open doors to travelers and entrepreneurs eager to visit the rapidly changing and developing Gulf region, by granting them access to the six countries under a unified, single tourist visa.




GCC Secretary-General Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi. (Supplied)

A pivotal facet of the new initiative is its ability to further enhance economic synergy between the six Gulf states.

“The upcoming GCC unified visa, announced by the GCC Supreme Council, is a major success for Saudi and the GCC region at large, and marks a crucial moment for tourism in Saudi,” the Kingdom’s Tourism Authority Spokesperson and Corporate Communications Director Abdullah Al-Dakhil told Arab News.

“It will enhance sector collaboration and make the region more accessible for visitors seeking to explore the wonders of Saudi – the authentic home of Arabia – and the GCC countries,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, under Vision 2030, is rapidly expanding its tourism industry, with major new developments throughout the Kingdom as well as new hotels, resorts and travel destinations that are well underway before the end of the decade.

“Saudi is booming, with the Saudi Central Bank recently announcing that visitor spending exceeded SR100 billion ($26.66 billion) in the first three quarters of 2023 and UNWTO recognizing the Kingdom as the world’s second-fastest-growing tourist destination,” added Al-Dakhil.

“We hope the GCC visa will further enhance this and help Saudi reach its target of tourism contributing towards 10 percent of GDP by 2030, and the growth of the whole region.”




A view of the picturesque coastal city of Muscat, Oman, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations to be covered by the planned unified Gulf tourism visa. (AN Photo)

According to a report published by the World Bank at the end of November 2023 titled “Economic Diversification Efforts Paying off in GCC Region but More Reforms Needed” the GCC region is estimated to have grown by 1 percent in 2023 before picking up again to 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

“To maintain this positive trajectory, GCC countries must continue to exercise prudent macroeconomic management, stay committed to structural reforms, and focus on increasing non-oil exports” said Safaa El Tayeb El-Kogali, World Bank country director for the GCC in a statement. 

“However, it is important to acknowledge the downside risks that persist. The current conflict in the Middle East poses significant risks to the region and the GCC outlook, especially if it extends or involves other regional players. As a result, global oil markets are already witnessing higher volatility,” she added.

The new unified visa contributes to the need to increase non-oil exports and economic activity.

The Saudi economy is likely to grow by around 1.5 percent in 2024 with the non-oil sector expanding by 3 percent to 4 percent, according to data published by the Saudi statistical authority and projections made by Tim Callen, a visiting fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.




A view of the Jeddah Corniche, a favorite promenade of residents and visitors alike. (SPA/File photo)

Callen noted that the non-oil economy is likely to have grown by a healthy 4 percent, driven by private consumption, with households throughout the Kingdom taking advantage of new spending opportunities in the growing sectors of tourism and entertainment.

The growth of the non-oil economy, a major aim of Vision 2030, has led to significant job creation leading to a drop in the Saudi unemployment rate from 8.6 percent in the third quarter of 2023 from 9.9 percent a year prior, noted Callen.

A unified tourism visa can only expand on non-oil economic growth for the Kingdom as well as other Gulf nations.

Major hotels in the Kingdom are already looking forward to the economic benefits and ease that the new unified visa will offer.

“The GCC’s unanimous approval of a unified tourist visa demonstrates the importance and vitality of this highly crucial economic sector, with the ultimate aim of establishing this region as one of the top tourist destinations in the world,” Richard Johnson, general manager of Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah, Riyadh, told Arab News.

Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah is one of the capital’s most iconic and historic hotels. It opened in 2000 and has since become a prime spot for business activities as well as leisure travel. The hotel previously noted that travelers had increased since the Kingdom opened to tourism in September 2019. The numbers have grown ever since.

“Allowing for seamless travel between six nations, the new development promises to reshape the tourism landscape – just in time for Mandarin Oriental’s official debut in Riyadh as we seek to contribute to the GCC tourism strategy 2030,” he added.

As Johnson noted, the visa “will usher in a new era of economic growth and job creation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in a country where local hospitality is based on generosity and care and the whole is therefore much greater than the sum of its parts.”


Saudi finance minister to lead Kingdom’s delegation at IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings  

Saudi finance minister to lead Kingdom’s delegation at IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings  
Updated 14 April 2024
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Saudi finance minister to lead Kingdom’s delegation at IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings  

Saudi finance minister to lead Kingdom’s delegation at IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings  

RIYADH: Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan will head the Kingdom’s delegation to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group assemblies in Washington this week to discuss global economic developments.

Al-Jadaan will chair the first meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee under Saudi Arabia’s three-year chairmanship.
The meeting will review economic developments and the threats to overall global development. It will also discuss global economic policy, key priorities and the role of the Washington-based lender in providing financial assistance, advice, technical capacity building to member states, and financial support to countries in need.

The minister will also take part in the meeting of the World Bank Development Committee to discuss the global development plans implemented by the entity.  

Moreover, Al-Jadaan and the governor of the Saudi Central Bank, Ayman Al-Sayari, will also participate in the second meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 under the Brazilian presidency.

The meeting will discuss a number of economic and development issues as well as ways to enhance international cooperation to meet the challenges of the global economy.

The Kingdom’s delegation includes the CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development, Sultan Al-Marshad, the deputy chair of the International Monetary and Financial Committee of the IMF, Ryadh bin Mohammed Al-Khareif, and Assistant Minister of Finance for the Macro Fiscal Policies and International Relations Abdulmohsen Al-Khalaf.

 


Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,666 

Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,666 
Updated 14 April 2024
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Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,666 

Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,666 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Sunday, losing 38.52 points, or 0.30 percent, to close at 12,666.90. 

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.28 billion ($1.67 billion) as 103 of the stocks advanced, while 122 retreated.   

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu gained 137.34 points, or 0.52 percent, to close at 26,390.11. This comes as 31 of the stocks advanced while as many as 38 retreated. 

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index slipped 16.03 points, or 0.98 percent, to close at 1,615.00.  

The best-performing stock of the day was Etihad Atheeb Telecommunication Co. The company’s share price surged 9.98 percent to SR110.20.  

Other top performers include ACWA Power Co. as well as Saudi Steel Pipe Co. 

The worst performer was Sahara International Petrochemical Co., whose share price dropped by 4.72 percent to SR34.35. 

Other worst performers include the Arab National Bank as well as the Saudi National Bank.  

On the announcements front, Gulf Insurance Group has announced the board of director’s decision to distribute SR78.75 million in cash dividends to shareholders for the fiscal year 2023. 

According to a Tadawul statement, the total number of shares eligible for dividends amounted to 52.5 million, with the dividend per share standing at SR1.5. 

The statement also revealed that the percentage of dividends to the share par value stood at 15 percent. 

Moreover, Scientific & Medical Equipment House Co. has announced the signing of an SR180 million contract with the Ministry of Health to provide cooked nutrition to hospitals in Madinah.  

A bourse filing revealed that the financial impact of the five-year agreement will commence in the third quarter of 2024.  

Additionally, Al Kathiri Holding Co. has announced that one of its subsidiaries, Msandh Al-Emdad Co., has been awarded a project with the Presidency of State Security to establish a building in Riyadh with a total value of SR20 million.  

According to a Tadawul statement, this project includes the supply and implementation of structural, architectural, and mechanical as well as electrical and systems works for the building in accordance with competition drawings and documents.  

Furthermore, the Saudi Ground Services Co. has announced the signing of an SR2 billion contract renewal with flynas for a duration of five years.  

A bourse filing revealed that under this contract, the Saudi Ground Services Co. would provide ground handling assistance, including ramp and passenger services, for domestic and international flights at all airports in the Kingdom. 

Meanwhile, Gulf General Cooperative Insurance Co. has announced the completion of the sale of 3,321 fractional shares.  

According to a Tadawul statement, the sale revenue of the fractional shares stood at SR44,838, with the average selling price per share reaching SR13.50.  

This comes following the decrease of the company’s capital based on the approval of the extraordinary general assembly.


Saudi master developer KEC inks 2 deals worth $78m for Al-Alya project    

Saudi master developer KEC inks 2 deals worth $78m for Al-Alya project     
Updated 14 April 2024
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Saudi master developer KEC inks 2 deals worth $78m for Al-Alya project    

Saudi master developer KEC inks 2 deals worth $78m for Al-Alya project     

RIYADH: Saudi master developer Knowledge Economic City Co. has signed two deals to deliver 396 residential apartments within the first phase of its mixed-use project Al-Alya.

In Tadawul filings, the listed firm announced the deals with Elkhereiji Commerce and Contracting Co., worth SR288.6 million ($77.92 million).

The first agreement entails fully implementing contracting works for additional residential buildings in the first phase of the Al-Alya mixed-use project. This comprises a group of four houses, offering 132 apartments of different sizes valued at SR117.5 million, excluding value-added tax.

The second contract involves the implementation of electromechanical, finishing, gardening, and site coordination works for a group of eight residential buildings valued at SR171.13 million, providing 264 apartments, the company said in a statement to Tadawul.

Based on work progress, both contracts will be paid in installments per monthly payment certificate.

The company commented on the second deal, saying: “Accordingly, the financial impact is represented in the cash outflow for the amount payable to the contractor over a period of 20 months starting from the end of May 2024.” 

The firm said that the financial impact of the first agreement is represented in the cash outflow for the amount payable to the contractor over a period of 24 months.

Al-Alya is one of the main projects in the Knowledge Economic City and represents a project with mixed-use components within a gated complex compound that combines hospitality, housing and offices as well as retail and education services.

It was designed to respond to the urban trend of humanizing cities and the quality-of-life program that relies on green areas and pedestrian walkways to create a style and vibrancy that meets the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

The project aims to enable local and foreign companies, businessmen, and digital entrepreneurs to work in Madinah.

In October last year, Knowledge Economic City Co. signed an agreement with Gulf International Bank Capital for SR3.5 billion to establish a real estate investment fund.

The initiative is poised to launch the initial phase of the Islamic World District in Madinah and will span over 140,000 sq. meters, transforming the area into a mixed-use development.

The site will include hospitality, residential, retail, entertainment, and cultural zones, providing over 5,000 hotel keys, 743 residential apartments, plus a designated area of 24,000 sq. m. for retail shops.

GIB Capital is a subsidiary of Gulf International Bank, owned by the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in which Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund holds a 97.2 percent stake, according to the bank’s 2022 annual report.

The project aims to enhance the visitor experience in Madinah, a city that holds historical significance as the first capital of Islamic civilization and a destination that draws millions of pilgrims and tourists annually.


Jordan’s new mining strategy is set to create a $2.9bn industry 

Jordan’s new mining strategy is set to create a $2.9bn industry 
Updated 14 April 2024
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Jordan’s new mining strategy is set to create a $2.9bn industry 

Jordan’s new mining strategy is set to create a $2.9bn industry 

RIYADH: Jordan’s mining sector is set to grow substantially, with projections indicating that its contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product will reach 2.1 billion Jordanian dinars ($2.9 billion) by 2033. 

Up from 0.7 billion dinars in 2023, this ambitious target is part of the government’s newly announced initiative to transform Jordan into a mining state by 2033, as outlined in the country’s National Mining Strategy. 

This strategic overhaul aims to elevate the sector’s workforce to 27,500 and boost the value of its exports to 3.5 billion dinars from 1 billion dinars, according to a report issued by the state-owned Jordan News Agency, also known as Petra.   

The strategy emerges from its Economic Modernization Vision and is backed by directives from Jordan’s King Abdullah, emphasizing the need to accelerate investment-stimulating procedures in mineral exploration.  

A cornerstone of this transformation was the formulation of the strategy, spearheaded by the global consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie.  

In 2023, the Jordanian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources completed initiatives and projects under the EMV for the mining sector and set priorities within the vision’s executive program.  

The vision’s main pillars revolve around expediting the nation’s full economic potential while improving the quality of life for its citizens and maintaining sustainable measures. 

Moreover, the ministry’s proactive engagement has led to the signing of 11 memorandums of understanding to bolster investment in Jordan’s extractive industries.  

An additional three memorandums of cooperation were signed with various companies to further these goals.  

According to statements made to Petra, the ministry plans to continue advancing these undertakings throughout 2024, pushing these MoUs toward value-added mining operations.  

These initiatives are part of the nation’s ongoing efforts to boost its standing in the mining and minerals industry. 

In a report carried by Petra earlier in January, the ministry said that it aims to position the country on the global mining map by capitalizing on positive mineral exploration results. 

Over the past two years, the country established several partnerships with international companies in mining exploration.  

Moreover, it recently launched an investment platform to showcase national resources and opportunities in the energy sector. 


Egypt to increase funds for health sector by 25% in upcoming budget

Egypt to increase funds for health sector by 25% in upcoming budget
Updated 14 April 2024
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Egypt to increase funds for health sector by 25% in upcoming budget

Egypt to increase funds for health sector by 25% in upcoming budget

RIYADH: Egypt will increase health sector allocations in the next general budget to 495.6 billion pounds ($10.4 billion), according to the country’s finance minister.   

The North African country’s upcoming fiscal year is set to begin in July. 

Mohamed Maait said in a statement that this reflects an annual growth rate of 24.9 percent compared to the funds allocated for the sector in the current fiscal.   

This is in line with the nation’s goal to improve medical services for citizens, which is also an objective of Egypt’s Vision 2030.  

Moreover, the minister added that allocations for the education sector will also be raised to 858.3 billion pounds, with an annual growth rate of 45 percent.   

Scientific research reserves are also on track to increase to more than 139.5 billion pounds in the next budget, reflecting an annual growth rate of 40.1 percent.

Mait noted that the country will continue to provide the necessary funds to expand healthcare initiatives, supply medicines and medical aids to hospitals, and increase support for health insurance programs. 

He emphasized how Egypt was also working on targeting the speed of gradual expansion in extending the umbrella of comprehensive health insurance.

Furthermore, the minister said the last social package implemented in March included allocating 15 billion pounds in additional increases for doctors, nurses, teachers, and university faculty members. 

The breakdown was divided into 8.1 billion pounds to approve an additional increase in the wages of teachers in pre-university education as well as 1.6 billion pounds to approve a raise for faculty members and their assistants at universities, institutes, and research centers. 

There was also 4.5 billion pounds to approve a supplementary rise for members of the medical professions and nursing bodies.

In 2022, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed strengthening cooperation with the World Health Organization to improve the country’s healthcare sector.