Startup of the Week: Offering quality mementos, souvenirs representing the spirit of Two Holy Cities

Time: 14 April, 2020

Photo/Supplied
  • Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia receives millions of foreign pilgrims every year for Hajj and Umrah and many return home bearing gifts for their families and friends.
Salam Gifts (@salamksa) is a Saudi startup that aims its products at the tourist and pilgrim markets with a range of quality mementos and souvenirs that represent the spirit of Makkah and Madinah.
Driven by a passion for design and creativity as well as dissatisfaction with the Kingdom’s Islamic souvenir market, Mahmoud Naseem (@mahmoudnaseem) founded Salam Gifts with the aim of enriching the bond between Muslims and their Islamic culture through products with a unique contemporary design.
The company is named after the word “peace” in Arabic and its products are designed to remind customers of special memories while reflecting on the peacefulness of Islam as a religion and the two holy cities.
“It is also a part of our daily greeting, assalamo alaykum, which is a widely used word even by non-Muslims,” CEO Naseem told Arab News.
The 34-year-old Saudi entrepreneur said that 95 percent of the souvenir market for pilgrims consisted of unorganized shops that offered low-quality goods. “We belong to the 5 percent who are trying to bring Islamic heritage and souvenirs in a funky casual way to be part of users’ daily life.”
Salam Gifts offers a wide range of products to all ages and genders at affordable prices, with most products costing less than SR100 ($27).
Inspired by the sights and scenes of Makkah and Madinah, the venture’s design range includes prayer mats and beads, bracelets, necklaces, bags, keychains, and magnets.
“We offer products with unique design, good quality and affordable price — these are the main factors that distinguish us from competitors,” Naseem added.
The startup is looking to expand its product range with fashion, perfume, dates and luxurious jewelry items and although focused mainly on spiritual tourism it is also working on other products for tourists reflecting Saudi Arabia’s culture and heritage.
“We were criticized when we first began in 2017, because the market depends on cheap merchandise, but we wanted to prove the high potential of our products and offer something that we believe is appropriate to represent this country and these holy places,” he said.
Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. “We are not targeting Saudis or people coming to Saudi Arabia, our focus is much wider and we know that there is a high demand for such products in the international market, especially in places with large Muslim communities such as Malaysia and the UK.”
Naseem and his two partners, Loai and Iyad Naseem, hope to open 20 branches around the Kingdom and internationally within the coming years.

“We believe we are still in our beginning stages, and we have to continue being creative and patient.
“People are looking for innovative and unique products … we noticed that our targeted customers are extremely satisfied with our products — we always receive encouraging comments,” added Naseem.
As a new local brand in a huge market, Salam Gifts faced challenges regarding the local manufacture of its goods and store rental prices.
“We do our best to support local factories, but it is not always available in the quality and price range we need. Although we try, we currently cannot manufacture all of the products 100 percent in Saudi Arabia. Rents are extremely high in holy areas too,” he said.
80 percent of the company’s sales are online, but its products are also available at Virgin Megastores and other concept outlets throughout the Kingdom, as well as at airports, and the opening of an independent store in Madinah is in the pipeline.
Products are available at salamgifts.sa, as well as other platforms such as Dokkan Afkar and shipments can be made worldwide.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Startup of the Week: Revolutionizing the agricultural sector

07/04/20

Ruba Obaid

  • Ziliani stressed that without the help of KAUST “OrbitCrops would not exist”

With the world’s population expected to increase by two billion over the next 30 years, the demand for water is also expected to increase by 20 to 30 percent.

This rapid population growth is threatening to imperil food security, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region, where water has always posed significant challenges for governments.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, around 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawn each year around the world is used for agriculture. With the uncertainties of climate change, there is a pressing need for innovative agricultural solutions to help meet the demand for food in the coming decades as well as minimize the pressure on the natural environment.

OrbitCrops is a Saudi-based startup that utilizes emerging technologies in agriculture to help farmers optimize resources and increase the efficiency and productivity of their agricultural systems through a combination of satellite, modeling and weather forecast technologies.

The company was founded in early 2019 by Matteo Ziliani, his colleague Bruno Aragon and his brother Mirko Ziliani at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

“We provide farmers with a new way to monitor their fields. Using high-definition satellite images combined with weather data, we can analyze crop health and help farmers understand how much water they need and how much fertilizer they should use so that they can enhance crop productivity and performance,” Aragon, chief technology officer of OrbitCrops, told Arab News.

“We also predict the growth and development of crops and give farmers accurate crop yield forecasts if they continue with the use of our suggested practices,” Aragon added.

Aragon, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering at KAUST, developed along with his colleagues the company’s innovative algorithms in the last five years as part of his dissertation work.

By benefitting from OrbitCrops technology, farmers can save up to 50 percent of their regular water use, reduce by 30 percent their fertilizer use and nearly double crop yields, thus increasing revenue while reducing soil salinity buildup.

The KAUST-based company targets medium to large-scale farming operations. They are ready to offer their services in the government sector as well.

“When we started our research here in Saudi Arabia, we realized the huge amount of water wasted in agriculture, and that’s when we understood that something needed to change,” CEO Ziliani told Arab News.

According to the OrbitCrops team, the sector’s fundamental challenge is that 90 percent of the country’s limited water, which comes from non-renewable aquifers, is used for irrigation each year. This situation causes another problem, which is soil salinity buildup from over-irrigation, requiring additional water to flush the salt out.

An additional challenge is a lack or limited use of remote sensing to maximize crop yield and conserve resources, a technology they want to offer to farmers.

OrbitCrops was able to win prestigious competitions even before securing any clients. They were among the finalists at the TAQADAM startup accelerator program, powered by KAUST and SABB, and won second place at Startup Istanbul in 2019.

Ziliani stressed that without the help of KAUST “OrbitCrops would not exist.”

“We received a lot of help from KAUST with regards to mentorship, business guidance, and financial support, which assisted us in improving our products.”

As the only company in Saudi Arabia to offer this service, OrbitCrops is playing a leading role in establishing the market for use of satellite imagery and geospatial technology in the field of agriculture.

However, this privilege is also a burden as such technologies are not commonly used in the market. Hence, providers of innovative solutions like OrbitCrops bear the responsibility of spreading awareness about the use of these technologies in light of challenges facing potential clients.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in the local market is the technology barrier among farm managers. A lot of them are not willing to try this type of business,” Aragon said.

“The cure for this challenge is simplicity,” he explained.

To ensure simplicity, OrbitCrops made their data accessible via mobile devices. They developed an easy-to-use application that visually identifies areas where farmers should make the necessary adjustments to water and fertilizer application using weather and satellite data.

“We offer information in the simplest way possible to allow also less experienced users to engage with the interface,” said Aragon.

“We are also working on customizing the interface for Arabic speakers.”

Their business model is subscription-based, and their pricing varies according to each client’s choice of the data package.

Achieving food security is one of the main focuses of the Saudi Vision 2030 to promote sustainable agriculture.

“The situation in the Kingdom is changing. Vision 2030 is starting to take shape, so given the fact that we offer farmers the opportunity to save water and fertilizers, we align perfectly with Vision goals,” Aragon said.

He noted that big data and machine learning technologies are actively growing around the world and becoming cheaper, thus making their products more accessible as well as profitable.

“There is no better time to introduce this technology,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Startup of the Week: Saudi photo app startup aims to spread ‘joy and happiness’

28/01/20

  • “Beautiful memories can brighten our days when we remember them, so, why don’t we have them around us all the time?

A Saudi startup is aiming to spread “joy and happiness” through its new and innovative photo app. The Sticky app allows users to choose their favorite photo memories and have them delivered ready to stick on any surface without the need for nails and hooks.
Founded by Batool and Wesam Miski and Moayed Al-Shangiti in 2018, the venture makes it easy for people to decorate their homes with photos without using picture-hanging methods that can damage walls.
“It is simple, intuitive and easy to use,” Batool told Arab News. “Using the app is fun for all ages. Users can simply pick photos from their phone, adjust the photo size and then place the order.
“I love photos and art in general, but I hate drilling into walls to hang photos,” she added. “We have an innovative product where we use strong and lightweight material with high-photo quality to decorate and elevate spaces with smart and screwless photos.
“Sticky users can move photos freely between walls without worrying about hammers, screws or damaging walls.”
Batool got the idea for the app while watching an art craft video. “I saw a strong double adhesive sticker for the first time and a light bulb went on in my head and Sticky was born.
“My brother exposed me to app development and design at a young age and our co-founder Moayed is a full stack developer. My love for art and app development makes Sticky the perfect fit for me.”
Sticky prints high-quality photos on a strong and lightweight 3-centimeter-thick black board. “The photos are frameless to give a modern feel to them and they last for years.”
The startup’s female production team puts privacy as a top priority. Once an order arrives via the app, the customer receives a confirmation email and notification of the expected end product.
“When we receive the order, our team inspects the photos to make sure they’re appropriate and then we print the photos and mount them to our specialized boards.
“We don’t apply any effects to the photos once the user sends them and we delete the photos from our servers two weeks after the order date to cut costs and protect user privacy,” she added.
“Beautiful memories can brighten our days when we remember them, so, why don’t we have them around us all the time? The true goal of Sticky is to spread joy and happiness across the globe by printing wonderful memories that last forever.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Misk Foundation signs MoU with Hub71 to foster startups

Time: November 14, 2019

Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the Misk Global Forum, and Mahmoud Adi, CEO of Hub71, sign MoU to create a more dynamic market for startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (Photo/Supplied)
  • MoU outlines ways to create a more dynamic market for startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

RIYADH: The Misk Foundation on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem.

The MoU was signed during the three-day Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, and outlines steps toward creating a more dynamic market for startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“At Misk, we’re committed to empowering as many young people around the world to realize their potential in the future economy,” said Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the forum.

At Misk, we’re committed to empowering as many young people around the world to realize their potential in the future economy.

At Misk, we’re committed to empowering as many young people around the world to realize their potential in the future economy.

Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the Misk Global Forum

“A vital part of that is supporting innovative entrepreneurship and exciting founder-led ideas. This strategic MoU with Hub71 will allow us to create a more open and dynamic environment for these startups and others in the future, to grow, flourish and succeed.”

Mahmoud Adi, CEO of Hub71, said the MoU “means that Hub71 startups will have better access to the flourishing Saudi market. It also opens up a world of possibilities between two aligned ecosystems looking to develop a more collaborative approach to sharing market insights, investor relationships, strategic partnerships as well as co-working spaces.”

The MoU outlines steps toward building a larger shared ecosystem aimed at helping startups access the UAE and Saudi markets by offering shared in-market business development insights, introductions to investors, and mentor networks and strategic partnerships; business services and mentorship from local and international experts; and access to a close-knit community and ecosystem that support entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, Hub71 was named the UAE’s national organizer for the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) 2020, which is an integral part of the Misk Global Forum.

Hub71 startups will have better access to the flourishing Saudi market. It also opens up a world of possibilities between two aligned ecosystems looking to develop a more collaborative approach to sharing market insights.

Mahmoud Adi, CEO of Hub71

The EWC is a global startup and pitch competition. Winners will have the chance to be shortlisted for the Hub71 Incentive Program.

“We’ll be on the hunt for UAE’s best startups from each of the … seven emirates and proudly showcasing the winning ideas to represent ‘Team UAE’ at the EWC 2020 next November,” Adi said.

The EWC’s inaugural 2019 edition has attracted entries from over 100,000 entrepreneurs, across various sectors, from 187 countries.

Entrants are competing to win cash prizes, global mentorship and support services, as well as the chance to relocate to Abu Dhabi for the Hub71 Incentive Program, which includes up to 100 percent subsidized living, office space and health care for two years.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Startup of the Week: Sadeem, a startup that can help save lives

01/10/19

  • Sadeem recently won the Misk Global Forum Entrepreneurship World Cup and, later this year, will be included in the Founders Festival in Germany

JEDDAH: Saudi-based Sadeem’s solar-powered wireless sensing system can help monitor flooding, weather, pollution and traffic conditions, reporting essential information back to relevant government agencies.
Moustafa Moussa, one of the firm’s co-founders, said: “Sadeem means nebula in Arabic, and just like a nebula, our wireless sensing network gets its power from solar energy.”
Moussa and three other co-founders, Ahmad Dehwah, Christian Claudel and Esteban Sanchez-Canepa — all from different continents — began researching the idea for the network after asking themselves: “How can we help cities? What can we bring to them?”
The idea for Sadeem came after major flooding in Jeddah on Nov. 25, 2009, which claimed more than 120 lives.
“The floods in Saudi Arabia left catastrophic damage and caused damage of more than $135 million in Jeddah and Makkah alone. That made us think of ways to improve resilience within cities,” Moussa told Arab News.

Sanchez-Canepa, a King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Ph.D. graduate from Mexico, said: “Our sensors are deployed in existing structures such as lamp-posts and traffic signs, and communicate with each other wirelessly. When they detect a level of 2 cm of water, for example, they transmit this information to a central unit, triggering alarms.”
Sadeem is the first company to provide detailed information regarding water levels and traffic, which is often accessible through social media or public reports, though rarely accurately.
In 2015, the company won KAUST’s IP-based Startup Award and began commercial and industrial operations.
Moussa described KAUST as “fuel and a pivotal point” for Sadeem. “We started here, and through KAUST we received the correct coaching, helping us to use the right language and approach the right people. It gave us the resources to thrive.”
In 2017, the Sadeem team won Best Global Startup Award at GITEX Future Stars in Dubai.
The company has helped the UAE’s Ministry of Infrastructure Development, and has worked closely with Saudi Arabia’s Madinah Development Authority. It has also deployed sensors in Mexico City, Taif and Riyadh.
Sadeem recently won the Misk Global Forum Entrepreneurship World Cup and, later this year, will be included in the Founders Festival in Germany.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Revealed: 10 most promising Saudi start-ups to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2019

Time: April 09, 2019   

Ajeer.jpg
1 of 10
Ajeer is an on-demand platform that connects homeowners and maintenance service providers at competitive prices and high quality. Ajeer aspires to transform the experience of home maintenance and remove the pain of looking for qualified technicians in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. Ajeer is working to standardize and organize home maintenance services.
The 100 Arab start-ups shaping the future were selected at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, held in Jordan. Saudi Arabia, the largest market in the region, as well as a network of accelerators and government programs to support entrepreneurs grow and scale.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Thriving Saudi startup scene to produce top-30 companies, WEF hears

Time: April 06, 2019  

audi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih (L) told the forum that he expects the startups of today to be among the Kingdom’s biggest companies in a decade’s time. (Screenshot)
  • Agile new businesses of today will be among Kingdom’s largest by 2030, World Economic Forum hears
  • Khalid Al-Falih told the forum that he expects the startups of today to be among the Kingdom’s biggest companies

DEAD SEA, Jordan: Saudi Arabia’s startup scene is “moving faster than anyone can imagine” and is set to create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming years, the World Economic Forum in Jordan heard on Saturday.
The region’s most successful tech ventures — like ride-hailing service Careem, which Uber recently agreed to buy for $3.1 billion, and web portal Maktoob, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2009 — have emerged from more established startup hubs of Dubai and Amman.
But the next wave is seen emerging from Saudi Arabia, panelists said at the regional meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Dead Sea.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told the forum that he expects the startups of today to be among the Kingdom’s biggest companies in a decade’s time.
“Our enterprises will multiply in size,” he said. “I predict that by 2030, companies that we don’t know today will be among the top 20, 30 companies in Saudi Arabia. They will be driven by innovation, they will be driven by young people, they will be driven by women.”
The government has a role to play in encouraging more Saudi startups, along with a culture where young people experiment in business, the minister added.
“(It’s about) creating an environment where failure is not encouraged, but certainly dealt with in a positive way — and that young people are given the opportunity to fail, fail, fail, and succeed ultimately, and not only create opportunities for themselves … but also employment and opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people.”
Al-Falih pointed to the venture capital funds and startup incubators that are already active in the Kingdom.
“We hope to see hundreds of these startups coming up with innovations that are not only going to change our countries in the region, but indeed in due course will be part of the global movement where young, innovative enterprises are creating the economies and the solutions of the future,” he said.
Ten Saudi companies made it to the WEF’s 100 most promising startups for 2019, with entrepreneurs from the Kingdom in attendance at the event.
Fadi Ghandour, the founder of courier service Aramex and executive chairman of venture capital firm Wamda Capital, said that the Kingdom’s startup scene has virtually transformed overnight.
“I am extremely impressed. Suddenly you thought nothing is happening, and then you wake up in the morning and you say ‘what happened here?’,” he told a panel at the event.
“Saudi Arabia is a country that is changing, it is moving faster than anybody can image … It’s an exciting time, it is where the region is going to scale its businesses.”
Ghandour was joined on the panel by Ayman Alsanad, co-founder and CEO Mrsool, the Saudi delivery app that recently received multi-million dollar investments from Saudi Technology Ventures and others.
Audrey Nakad, co-founder of the education platform Synkers, which is based in Lebanon, told the panel that her company is preparing to expand into Saudi Arabia. Synkers provides a link between tutors and students looking for additional help.

This article was first published in Arab News

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New business funding portal to help Saudi entrepreneurs

Time: April 05, 2019  

The event will run until April 6 at the Dhahran International Exhibition Center. (SPA)
  • Initiative will allow startups to tap into funding channels by bidding for online offers from financial providers

DAMMAM: An initiative aimed at helping entrepreneurs to access business funding has been launched by Saudi finance chiefs.

The Kingdom’s Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at) has signed joint agreements with a number of financial providers to allow business owners to apply for monetary backing through a newly established website.

The announcement came as 720 young entrepreneurs took part in the Biban Eastern Forum for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), being staged by Monsha’at at the Dhahran International Exhibition Center.

The event, organized in collaboration with the National Entrepreneurship Institute (Riyadah), runs until April 6 with the aim of supporting and developing the sector. Delegates were able to participate in more than 60 specialized training courses, lectures, workshops and interactive sessions.

And the new portal initiative will allow entrepreneurs, startups and innovators to tap into funding channels by bidding for online offers from financial providers.

It is the latest in a line of schemes launched by Monsha’at to help SMEs  in the Kingdom. The authority had previously set up a SR1.6 billion ($416 million) initiative to provide credits to businesses through the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), in addition to establishing a SR2.8 billion ($728 million) fund to invest in SMEs.

Meanwhile, the forum gathering offered 36 training courses in subject areas including supply chains, human resources management, basic app programming, marketing, accounting, strategic planning, commercial franchises, and branding.

Thirty other specialized courses were dedicated to e-commerce, and included e-stores, business models and e-ideas.

Several other workshops were held offering guidance and information in areas such as industrial empowerment, risk management, micro-enterprise management, financial technology, bank financing, exports, smart leadership apps, entrepreneurship, data analysis, and human resources management of new projects.

This article was first published in Arab News

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10 Saudi entrepreneurs make it to World Economic Forum’s most promising Arab startups

Time: April 03, 2019

The selected 100 Arab startups will have a chance to meet with government and business leaders at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan on April 6 and 7. (WEF)
  • The 100 startups, selected from almost 400 applicants from 16 countries, come a variety of sectors
  • The selected 100 Arab startups will have a chance to discuss and promote their businesses in Jordan on April 6 to 7

DUBAI: An online platform that offers quality home-cooked meals, a home maintenance website that links owners and service providers and a social learning platform are just among the ten Saudi companies that made it to the World Economic Forum’s 100 most promising startups for 2019.

The startups, selected from almost 400 applicants from 16 countries, come a variety of sectors including education, energy, environment, finance, health and the media. The WEF and the Bahrain Economic Development Board launched the initiative in 2017 to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in Middle East and North African region.

The Saudi entrepreneurs named as shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2019 are:

– Ajeer, an on-demand platform that connects homeowners and maintenance service providers at competitive prices and high quality;

– DokkanAfkar.com, an e-commerce player focused on homegrown products and local entrepreneurs;

– FalconViz, which is focused on 3D surveying and mapping through unmanned aerial systems;

– Foodics, a cloud-based retail and restaurant management system for transactions, inventory, employee, scheduling, logistics, delivery, loyalty programs and e-commerce;

– HalalaH, a digital wallet that enables businesses to accept payments via a simple QR code-scanning methodology;

– Lucidya, an Arabic-focused social media listening tool powered by artificial intelligence;

– Mathaqi, an online platform where consumers could purchase quality, curated meals directly from home chefs;

– Mrsool, an on-demand service where users can request a courier to purchase (in cash) and deliver items for them from any store in the city;

– Noon Academy, one of the fastest growing on-demand ed-tech start-ups in the Middle East, with over 1.5 million registered students; and

– Unifonic, a cloud communications platform as a service.

The selected 100 Arab startups will have a chance to discuss and promote their businesses with government and business leaders at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea, Jordan on April 6 to 7.

  

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Office space demand rises in Riyadh due to growth of start-ups

Time: February 12, 2019  

Total office stock in Saudi Arabia’s capital stood at 4.2 million square meters of gross leasable area by the end of 2018. (Getty Images)
  • Economic and social initiatives and legislation have had a positive impact on the country’s real estate sector

RIYADH: Riyadh is seeing rising demand for office space that caters specifically to small businesses and startups despite a strong supply pipeline, according to a new report.
Total office stock in Saudi Arabia’s capital stood at 4.2 million square meters of gross leasable area (GLA) by the end of 2018, according to broker CBRE, with an additional 870,000 square meters expected to be delivered by 2022.
It follows a number of Government-led initiatives aimed at stimulating private-sector growth and promoting a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in line with Vision 2030, CBRE said.
The broker’s Market Snapshot for 2018 also highlights a growing trend for office supply as part of mixed-use development. Rents remain under pressure in the Saudi capital with both the primary and secondary office rents down by about 4 percent and 7 percent year-on-year respectively.
But increased incentives by landlords, discounts for long-term leases, and other tenant perks could help to mitigate declines in the market.
“The recent economic and social initiatives and legislation introduced by the Saudi Government have already had an extremely positive impact on the country’s real estate sector,” said Simon Townsend, head of strategic advisory at CBRE MENAT and General Manager, CBRE KSA.
“Meanwhile, the increased government spending on large-scale infrastructure and mega-projects is expected to further stimulate the overall market, with a positive trickling-down effect on all key sectors.”
The opening up of the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia could also boost the hospitality sector, which has traditionally been driven by corporate demand in Riyadh.
However in the short term at least, CBRE expects daily rates to remain under pressure.
According to CBRE’s Market Snapshot, more than 5,000 keys are expected to be delivered to the market by 2022.
In the residential sector, CBRE estimates expected delivery of 130,000 additional units by 2022 to add to the existing inventory of about 1.25 million units.
The government wants to increase the availability of affordable housing throughout the Kingdom and has signed a number of public private partnerships to spur development.

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