Houthi Red Sea strikes affecting half of UK retailers: Research

Houthi Red Sea strikes affecting half of UK retailers: Research
A mock missile is carried by Houthi supporters in Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 31, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 February 2024

Houthi Red Sea strikes affecting half of UK retailers: Research

Houthi Red Sea strikes affecting half of UK retailers: Research
  • British Chambers of Commerce: Commercial container prices up as much as 300%
  • Moody’s: Retailers could face ‘material impact on profitability by end of 2024’

LONDON: Disruptions to global trade caused by the Houthi campaign against shipping in the Red Sea is affecting more than half of all retailers in the UK.

Research conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce across more than 1,000 companies in the UK found that container shipping prices have jumped as much as 300 percent, while goods have been delayed for up to a month, prompting supply shortages and cash flow problems.

The Houthis launched their campaign against commercial vessels in November in a bid to end Israeli military strikes on Gaza, which began in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Air and sea strikes against the Houthis in Yemen by US and UK forces have so far failed to curtail the attacks. Eighteen Houthi targets were hit in airstrikes over the weekend.

The average cost of shipping goods from China to Europe has more than doubled, with most ships preferring to travel around Africa rather than risk attack by approaching the Suez Canal.

In 2023, around 22 percent of all commercial shipping containers passed through the canal, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development. That total has since fallen by 82 percent, with 586 ships rerouting around Africa.

The BCC’s head of trade policy, William Bain, urged the UK government to provide more support to British retailers ahead of its budget next week.

“There has been spare capacity in the shipping freight industry to respond to the difficulties, which has bought us some time. And recent (government) data also indicates the impact has yet to filter through to the UK economy, with inflation holding steady in January,” he said.

“But our research suggests that the longer the current situation persists, the more likely it is that the cost pressures will start to build.”

Bain said new post-Brexit laws “adding to costs and delays” had made it “a difficult time for firms.”

Credit ratings agency Moody’s warned this month that retailers would experience a “material impact on profitability by the end of 2024” if the situation in the Red Sea did not significantly improve.

Bain said: “The UK economy saw a drop in its total goods exports for 2023 and, with global demand weak, there is a need for the government to look at providing support in the March budget.”

The crisis has also led to an increase in pressure on air freight companies, with delivery aggregator ParcelHero noting an uptick of 8 percent on spot rates between Europe and China, and 14 percent between China and the US.

Supply issues are expected to worsen in March as Chinese exports increase following the country’s New Year holidays, which concluded over the weekend.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said: “Initially, there was a scramble for aviation services as businesses rushed to get products out before the festivities began.

“Now the continuing demand for air freight on this route is because many ships are berthed for the duration and containers are stuck firmly in Chinese ports until manufacturing ramps up enough to restore full services.

“Air freight enables those companies manufacturing and operating in Asia to leapfrog the Chinese bottleneck.”

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive
Updated 20 May 2024

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

Wizz Air aims to expand connections, attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia, says senior executive

RIYADH: Low-cost carrier Wizz Air plans to invest over half a billion dollars in flight operations in Saudi Arabia to enhance connectivity and attract more tourists, according to the airline’s president.

In an interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum, Robert Carey emphasized the impact on tourism, noting that inbound visitors typically stay for three to seven days and spend money on various services like hotels, car rentals, and food.

“We’ve invested over half $1 billion into our flying in the Kingdom so far. we’re going to keep growing that. I think we’ve got a lot to do. Just keep connecting the destinations we’ve already got, connect more of those points together,” Carey said.

Wizz Air is the third-largest low-cost carrier in Europe and the fifth-largest airline e-commerce site globally. It aims to bring more tourists to Saudi Arabia and enhance its accessibility, with plans to continue connecting existing destinations and expand further. 

“We’re operating to seven different destinations from Saudi Arabia. We have four points here. You know, we’re seeing really great consumer response to this. Roughly two to one external like people coming into the Kingdom versus people leaving the Kingdom, on trips,” Carey said.

He added: “But that’s giving a great benefit. We’ve got tourists coming in. We’re giving access to Saudi customers who have travel.”

He also expresses the airline’s positive passenger experience, praising the airline’s clean, new planes, welcoming flight crew, and on-time scheduling.

Additionally, Carey stated that Wizz is working with the minister of tourism, the minister of transport, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the Saudi Tourism Authority on their connectivity program.

“If you look at the airline planning season, we’re just coming up on the period where everybody starts announcing what they’re going to do for this winter, so all I’ll say for right now is stay tuned. There’s more to come,” he said.

Carey noted that Wizz Air celebrated its 20th birthday this week, and to mark this milestone, the airline will launch a special promotion on May 21.

He hints that the promotion will be closely related to the anniversary, suggesting significant discounts on every flight. They encourage people to visit the website to take advantage of the upcoming offers.

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official
Updated 20 May 2024

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

AI to help optimize Saudi aviation supply chain management: official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aviation industry’s supply chain management is set to receive a boost thanks to the use of artificial intelligence in logistics, a top official said.

Speaking on the first day of the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh on Monday, Suliman Almazroua, CEO of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, said that AI implementation will also enhance productivity and customer experience.

“AI in logistics, for example, is shaping and optimizing the supply chain management, improving productivity, productivity maintenance, and enhancing customer experience,” he said.

The official said the rapid technological advancements are reshaping the future of industries.

The CEO highlighted the Saudi aviation sector’s achievements in terms of increased number of passengers, cargo handling, fleet expansion, rise in infrastructure investment, and global connectivity.

Addressing the forum, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, director general and CEO of Airports Council International shed light on how the aviation industry suffered from different crises.

“I remember from 9/11 to (the 2008) financial crisis to SARS to COVID-19, we always faced an issue, but we are a very resilient industry and we always come back,” Oliveira noted.

He said: “That’s why when you talk about macroeconomic stuff, we see that geopolitical risks are something that can affect us. That we have the inflation going up, of course, affects our business as well. We have the interest rates that affect our GDP.”

“But it is incredible that even considering all these headwinds, the unemployment rate is going down and people are eager to travel,” Oliveira justified.

He also talked about how jet fuel prices, which are the main cost for the industry, are very high nowadays.

“Of course, this affects our ability to fly and also affects the cost of the tickets,” Oliveira said.

Stefan Schulte, CEO of Fraport AG in Germany, clarified that the focus on innovation, sustainability, and connecting people and culture resembled the beginning of a new era.

“The expectations of our customers are constantly increasing. They want consistent, digitalized, resilient, and seamless processes, but they also want us to go green,” Schulte said.

Organized by the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the three-day event will see discussions on issues related to the global flight sector, air transport, and environmental sustainability in civil aviation, as well as talks on enabling advanced air transport and enhancing global connectivity. 

The event also aligns with the Kingdom’s ambition to become a leader in the sector within a decade, including securing $100 billion worth of investments by 2030.

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO
Updated 20 May 2024

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

Electric passenger drones set for a year-end launch in Saudi Arabia, says Front End CEO

RIYADH: Electric passenger drones are set to be launched in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year with Alkhobar-based firm Front End set to introduce the service to the Kingdom, revealed its CEO. 

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum, Majed Al-Ghaslan, who is also the chairman of the company, stated that Front End’s collaboration with the Chinese electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle developer EHang is facilitating the deployment of such electric flights in the Kingdom. 

Al-Ghaslan said: “We’re pushing the boundary of air traffic, also urban traffic management systems. So we’re discussing this with the Civil Aviation Authority (General Authority of Civil Aviation) here in the Kingdom. We’re very closely aligned with the Ministry of Transport.” 

He added: “We have electric buses and cars now; you’re going to have electric flights for passengers. And this is already running in many cities around the world. We want Riyadh and the major cities around the Kingdom to be the first as well. The idea is to launch the pilots this year and hopefully start launching this service as well this year.” 

The official also added that the deployment of these electric drones, capable of carrying passengers, in the Kingdom is very feasible, as such services are running effectively in countries like China, Indonesia, and Japan. 

During the talk, he revealed that these proposed electric flights, which take off vertically, can be used for both carrying passengers and for logistics purposes. 

According to Al-Ghaslan, these flights are capable of traveling up to 30 minutes with two passengers, and with more advanced batteries, the distance can be extended further. 

He explained, “You can do a 30-minute flight, but still, 30 minutes is a long flight. For example, in Riyadh, you can cover end to end because you are going direct path to anywhere, with two passengers. So you can take up to 250 kilograms. And then with more advanced batteries, the distance can be even higher.” 

The official added that the drones capable of carrying passengers, which will be introduced in Saudi Arabia, will be autonomous and will operate using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence. 

Discussing Front End’s eagerness to enter the air mobility sector, Al-Ghaslan noted that the Kingdom’s transformative Vision 2030 program has facilitated the firm’s entry into the industry. 

“Typically, what we do is partner with and localize companies, bringing them into the Kingdom. I never thought I’d be in aviation, but because of the new frontiers that include electric vehicles that vertically take off and land, and advancements in passenger-level drones, that is our interest. We run drone services for our clients, but we are now getting into the air mobility sector,” said Al-Ghaslan. 

He added, “The Vision 2030 program actually enabled this transformation to take place, and there are now national-level strategies. We are at the forefront of making it happen from the private sector at least.” 

The official also noted that Front End is planning to introduce a ride-hailing service in Saudi Arabia using a fleet of electric vehicles, under a partnership with an Indian company named Blue Smart. 

“We’re also launching a ride-hailing service. So, this is something we’re also going to be announcing at the right time, again, electric. So, our theme is around sustainability as well. It’s a company from India called Blue Smart. And this is also going to be announced this year,” he concluded. 

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO
Updated 20 May 2024

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO

Riyadh Air to unveil its crew uniform at Paris Fashion Week, says CEO
  • New attire will ‘become instantly recognizable as the Riyadh color’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new airline, Riyadh Air, is set to unveil its cabin crew special uniform at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week, according to its CEO.

On the sidelines of this year’s Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh, Tony Douglas, CEO of Riyadh Air, shared in an interview with Arab News a series of strategic developments that are set to propel the new airline into the global spotlight. 

With Riyadh Air scheduled to launch in the summer of next year, Douglas highlighted the airline’s upcoming milestone at Paris Fashion Week, which will take place from June 18-23.

“Our next milestone will be (in) June in Paris,” he said. “This is going to be about Paris Fashion Week. Now, what would we possibly do in Paris Fashion Week? For the first time ever as an airline, we will reveal our haute couture fashion collection. So our cabin crew won’t wear cabin crew uniforms. It’ll be cabin crew fashion,” he added. 

Drawing inspiration from the fashion depicted in the film “Catch Me If You Can,” Douglas emphasized the airline’s commitment to style and sophistication. 

“If you can ever remember the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ where DiCaprio goes through the terminal building, and everybody stops to photograph them because they look glamorous. They look fashionable. They look refined. And we want to bring that back with a modernist twist. And that’s what we’ll be revealing at Paris Fashion Week at the end of June,” he explained.

The new uniforms will feature a unique color that Douglas believed would become “instantly recognizable as the Riyadh color.”

He added: “We want to get that kind of glamor into aviation to make sure that this brand, because of course, the brand is Riyadh wherever it’s identified around the world, that immediately speaks to quality, grace, refinement, and fashion.”

In addition to fashion, Riyadh Air is rapidly building its operational capabilities, according to the top official.

“We now have our first group of pilots who’ve joined us. So we’ve got over 30 instructor pilots, they’re the highest qualified pilots you can get from lots of different international airlines. They’re, of course, engaged with us at this stage to assist with our certification flying. And we’ll start our certification flying in September of this year. So literally months away now,” Douglas revealed.

He added: “Yesterday, our third batch of cabin crew started with us, so this feels like a real airline now.”

The interest in joining Riyadh Air has been extraordinary, according to Douglas. 

He noted the overwhelming response to their careers page, saying: “The statistic that I still almost struggle to comprehend in a very positive way is if you go onto RiyadhAir.com, our website, there’s a careers page, and it allows you to put in your personal details. In just over a year, we’ve had 1.1 million people send the details, their qualifications and their contacts to be considered to become part of the Riyadh Air family, 146 different nationalities, and we think that that’s just completely staggering.”

He added: “We ask ourselves why I would never have imagined so much interest and my only explanation is it’s because it’s under the leadership and the decree of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

Looking ahead, Douglas confirmed that Riyadh Air’s headquarters will soon be visible near Riyadh International Airport. 

“Our brand new headquarters building will be available for us to start occupying in the summer of this year. And just out by Riyadh International Airport, people will see their biggest brand logo lit up in the skyline, probably in the next two months. And that’s when you will know where the home of the Riyadh Air family is,” Douglas announced.

The CEO acknowledged the challenges and opportunities ahead by reflecting on the industry’s current dynamics: “What a difference two or three years makes pre-pandemic. It was actually difficult to make any money in aviation. Ticket prices for a decade were almost at an all-time low.” 

Douglas added: “Here we are today, where demand is significantly ahead of supply in many markets and, in particular, our market. But also we all know ticket prices are actually expensive at the moment. I don’t think that will last because it is a cyclical industry and it’s one again where classic Keynesian economics supply and demand at the moment.” 

The Riyadh Air head confidently predicted ongoing market growth and outlined the carrier’s mission, saying: “Is the market going to continually grow? The answer is very simply, yes it is. Back to the proposition of Riyadh Air. We’ll bring a full-service carrier, the sort of carrier that the Kingdom needs and quite frankly, demands such that we’ll have global connectivity.” 

Douglas invited guests to witness Riyadh Air’s debut at Paris Fashion Week and teased future technological innovations. 

“Come and see us in Paris. Come and see the incredible fashion, which will stand out, but also later on in the year will start to reveal what our digital proposition is, and that will be another standout case for our industry,” he concluded.

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   
Updated 20 May 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

Closing Bell: Saudi Tadawul closes in red across all indexes   

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Monday, losing 73.02 points, or 0.60 percent, to close at 12,125.36.     

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6 billion ($1.6 billion) as 68 of the listed stocks advanced, while 155 retreated.   

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu also slipped 25.51 points, or 0.09 percent, to close at 27,036.50. This came as 24 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 40 retreated.  

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index also dropped 13.53 points, or 0.89 percent, to close at 1,515.07.  

The best-performing stock of the day was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. which saw its share price surge 7.69 percent to SR0.14.  

Other top performers include Almasane Alkobra Mining Co. as well as the Mediterranean and Gulf Insurance and Reinsurance Co., whose share prices soared by 7.05 percent and 6.72 percent, respectively, to stand at SR63.80 and SR25.40.     

In addition to this, other top performers included Almunajem Foods Co. and Methanol Chemicals Co.  

The worst performer was Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co., whose share price dropped by 8.04 percent to SR10.06.   

Al-Babtain Power and Telecommunication Co. as well as Ash-Sharqiyah Development Co., also saw their share prices dropping by 7.39 percent and 4.45 percent respectively, to stand at SR41.35 and SR20.20.

Moreover, other worst performers also include Arabian Contracting Services Co. and East Pipes Integrated Co. for Industry.  

On Nomu, Future Care Trading Co. was the top gainer with its share price rising by 11.05 percent to SR15.28.   

Other best performers on Nomu were Professional Medical Expertise Co. as well as Osool and Bakheet Investment Co., whose share prices soared by 8.42 percent and 4.53 percent to stand at SR103 and SR 41.50, respectively.  

Other top gainers also include Sure Global Tech Co. and Ghida Alsultan for Fast Food Co.  

Leen Alkhair Trading Co. experienced a significant drop in its share price on Nomu, with the company’s shares falling by 7.72 percent to SR26.90.    

The share prices of Almuneef Co. for Trade, Industry, Agriculture and Contracting as well as Riyadh Steel Co. also fell by 7.68 percent and 6.25 percent to stand at SR51.70 and SR30, respectively.  

Other major losers include Molan Steel Co. and Mayar Holding Co.