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How the Crown Prince’s visit to South Korea is advancing Vision 2030

Time: June 27, 2019  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and South Korean President Moon Jae-in view an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Wednesday. (AP)
  • Mohammed bin Salman and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agree to a Vision Realization Office in Riyadh and Seoul
  • Business deals that redefine their traditional oil partnership include eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy

SEOUL: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s history-making visit to South Korea has taken Saudi Arabia a step closer to achieving its Vision 2030 economic transformation following the establishment of a joint “Vision Realization Office” that will expand business cooperation between the two countries beyond their traditional oil partnership.

The crown prince met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the presidential Blue House after being welcomed by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon at a VIP airfield in Seongnam, south of Seoul, earlier on Wednesday. It is the first visit to South Korea by an heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter in more than two decades.

The crown prince, who also serves as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, stressed that he would invest more in South Korea, focusing on expanding bilateral collaboration in the fields of energy, automotive, tourism and health.

“South Korea has made tremendous success in Saudi Arabia. I hope South Korea will do the same to further improve the bilateral relationship,” the crown prince was quoted by a Blue House spokesman as saying.

“People of both countries will thrive through cooperation in the sectors of defense and economy.”

Moon pledged to provide full support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economic portfolio, breaking away from its dependence on the energy segment.

The two leaders discussed ways of boosting their relationship, with a focus on the new industrial sectors of information and communications technology, hydrogen energy, robots, health, medical service and culture.

Both sides “reaffirmed their strategic partnership regarding Saudi Vision 2030,” a joint press release said. “In this regard, the two leaders agreed to set up the ‘Vision Realization Office’ in both Riyadh and Seoul, respectively, as part of efforts to expedite bilateral efforts for the successful Vision 2030 partnership.”

At a luncheon hosted by Moon, South Korea’s business tycoons greeted the crown prince and other Saudi delegates.

Among the business leaders were Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics; Chung Eui-sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group; Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group; LG chairman Koo Kwang-mo; and Chung Ki-sun, senior executive vice president of Hyundai Heavy Industries.

“I hope companies from both nations can set up a strategic and cooperative relationship through vibrant business activity,” the crown prince said.

Later in the day, he was invited to Samsung’s VIP guesthouse in Itaewon, Seoul, for more discussions on business partnerships with young South Korean representatives, a Samsung spokesman told Arab News.


• $8.3bn – Estimated worth of economic deals signed on Wednesday

• 16 – Number of MoUs between the two governments, including agreements related to eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy

• 15 – Number of MoUs signed by the Saudi business delegation

• $6bn – Value of the deal signed by Saudi Aramco and S-Oil, South Korea’s third-biggest oil refiner, to build refinery and downstream facilities in South Korea

• $1.8bn – Cost of developing a propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene complex in Jubail, a joint project between SK Gas and Saudi’s Advanced Petrochemical (APC)

According to the Blue House spokesman, Seoul and Riyadh signed a total of 16 memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including agreements related to eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy.

“Based on the latest MoUs with Saudi Arabia, South Korean companies will lay the groundwork for advancing into the Middle East region in the fields of green cars, hydrogen energy supply, hydrogen fuel cell and others,” Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, Sung Yun-mo, told reporters.

On top of the government agreements, eight MoUs between companies have been signed. The value of the agreements is estimated at $8.3 billion, the minister added.

Among the lucrative business deals are Saudi Aramco’s petrochemical project with S-Oil,  South Korea’s third-biggest oil refiner. Under the $6 billion deal the refinery will build a facility to produce ethylene and other basic chemicals out of naphtha and refinery off-gas, as well as olefin downstream facilities in Ulsan, about 400 km southeast of Seoul, by 2024.

Another high-profile agreement is on hydrogen cars. “The collaboration of Hyundai and Saudi Aramco will cover not only existing projects but also future-oriented business plans,” Chung Eui-sun, Hyundai’s vice chairman, said in a statement.

“This MoU will be an opportunity to help further solidify our strategic cooperative partnership,” he added.

Under the partnership, the two companies will cooperate in establishing hydrogen-charging infrastructure in South Korea and supply hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars in Saudi Arabia.

Other MoUs include Aramco’s joint investment with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build a ship engine plant in the King Salman Global Maritime Industries Complex, and a joint project between SK Gas and Saudi’s Advanced Petrochemical (APC) to develop a $1.8 billion propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene complex in Jubail.

On a political note, Moon and the crown prince condemned terror activities harming energy security and regional stability in the Middle East, including this week’s deadly attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Abha’s civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia.

The crown prince promised to help with South Korea’s possible fuel shortages in case of supply disruption caused by tensions in the Middle East, while both leaders called for international efforts to secure energy safety at the Strait of Hormuz, where two Japanese oil tankers were struck by unidentified attacks.

South Korea imported 101.5 million barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, Seoul’s biggest oil supplier, in the first four months of this year, down 2.7 percent from a year ago, according to data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

This article was first published in Arab News

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SaudiArabia records largest jump in CFA candidates

Time: June 17, 2019  

  • registrations grew by 21 percent in Egypt, 26 percent in Jordan and 25 percent in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The number of Saudis enrolling for chartered financial analyst (CFA) exams has jumped by a quarter — more than in any other Gulf state.

It coincides with a push to develop the Kingdom’s financial services sector as part of the Vision 2030 blueprint for economic and social reform.

CFA Institute, the global association of investment management, said that more than 250,000 candidates have registered for the upcoming Level I, II and III CFA exams — one of the most popular qualifications for investment professionals.

“Pursuing the CFA credential is a very rigorous process, with less than one in five candidates successfully completing the process to earn the charter,” said Paul Smith, CFA, president and CEO, CFA Institute. “We are gratified to see the record number of candidates willing to put in the work continue to grow each year. Especially in new markets around the world where finance plays such a vital role in building strong economies.”

The Middle East had a strong representation in the global mix, with 6,004 investment professionals from eight GCC and Middle East countries enrolling for the CFA exams — up 5 percent on last year.

Registrations grew by 21 percent in Egypt, 26 percent in Jordan and 25 percent in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE continues to see the largest number of new candidates in the Middle East, with 2,136 individuals registering for the exam.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman, chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission

Time: June 16, 2019  

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman was appointed chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission on June 13.

He said the commission strives to achieve the educational objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

Zaman said the commission will continue its independent work and in partnership with the Education Ministry and universities across the Kingdom and other government departments to achieve national goals.

He vowed to take effective measures for the development of the education sector in the Kingdom and to devise a training evaluation system under a unified institutional framework.

He was the director of Al-Taif University between 2016 and 2019. He also served as director-general of the Regional Center for Quality and Excellence in Education.

Zaman was campus president of the Saudi Electronic University between 2013 and 2014. He held several positions at Taibah University between 2008 and 2013, including deputy vice president for development and quality, and dean of the law faculty.

He received the Prince Bandar bin Sultan Award for Scientific Excellence, and the Rashid bin Hamid Award for Culture and Science.

Zaman holds a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies from Imam Muhammad bin Saudi University in Riyadh.

He received his master’s and Ph.D. in administration and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

This article was first published in Arab News

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How Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula went from being underdeveloped…to having negative unemployment

Time: May 20, 2019

More than 60 balloons take to the sky, giving rides to visitors during the Hot Air Balloon Festival. (UPI)
  • Al-Ula is home to ancient Nabatien sites and the Winter at Tantora festival which hosted Yanni and Andrea Bocelli
  • In three years it has reached a negative unemployment rate of -2 percent, showing how Vision 2030 can work

RIYADH: In almost no time, the city of Al-Ula in northwest Saudi Arabia went from being relatively unknown to a very early symbol of success for the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan.

Previously underdeveloped and mostly ignored, it has now become home to the Winter at Tantora music festival, which was sold out every night between December and February as visitors flocked to see legends such as Andrea Bocelli, Yanni, Mohammed Abdo and Majida El-Roumi perform.

Projects such as the Sharaan Resort and Sharaan Nature Reserve, which are due to open in 2023, promise to turn the city into the tourist hotspot it was always meant to be.

After all, not many places in the world can say they are sitting on 3,000 years of history, which is the case with Al-Ula, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Madain Saleh.

Recently, the Hot Air Balloon Festival presented a blueprint for adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia. Next, the Dakar Rally will take place there in 2020.

Al-Ula’s success — mostly due to the work done by a dedicated, recently formed royal commission — portrays what Vision 2030 is all about: Opening up new industries, lessening the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, capitalizing on its long-ignored historic and cultural treasures, and creating jobs for the country’s booming population.

A senior official with access to employment figures told Arab News that in less than three years, Al-Ula has achieved a negative unemployment rate of 2 percent.

This means that Al-Ula now needs to import workers from neighboring regions to keep pace with the demand for jobs.

“I’m so happy with the opening of tourism in Al-Ula. It has given us an opportunity to work and let go of some of the super-conservative beliefs that (our) people had,” said Manal Al-Budair, an Al-Ula local who works in the media.

“In the past, the only acceptable job for females was a teacher. But with the opening up of Al-Ula, much change has taken place,” she added.

“I hope we host more events. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to welcome people from all over the world to our historical city,” she said.

“Tantora highlighted our youth’s ambitions and our willingness to work hard, prosper and succeed.”

Mirrors outside the Maraya concert hall. (Itar-Tass)

Fired by ambition, many locals say they want to work as managers or hold equivalent job titles.

The perception of some of Al-Ula’s residents is that some senior-level positions have been filled by talent from bigger cities who have more experience in fields such as hotel management and marketing.

However, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU) has a promising plan to develop skills and deepen the job market.

“The people of Al-Ula are at the heart of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula’s drive to encourage economic prosperity for current and future generations,” said the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani.

“The people of Al-Ula hosted 37,000 visitors from 72 countries around the world during the first successful annual Winter at Tantora festival.”

Ahmed Alimam, a senior tourism development officer at the RCU, told Arab News: “The people of Al-Ula are hugely encouraged by the opportunities continually opening up through Al-Ula’s positioning on the (economic) map.”

He said: “Al-Ula has long been a destination that has welcomed visitors from around the world in its capacity as a historic crossroads and as a place for pilgrims to rest during their journeys.”

The Elephant rock in the Ula desert. (AFP)

He added: “Our ancestors had long guided visitors across the desert, but with the advent of modern-day transport, this role had almost disappeared. Now, we’re sharing our heritage with the world once again.”

The RCU has worked up palpable enthusiasm in Al-Ula over its potential as an outstanding destination for tourists.

Scholarships and training are broadening horizons, meaning that people in Al-Ula are learning from global best practices.

“An entrepreneurial spirit is truly encouraged, with young men and women applying for business licenses and investing in equipment, and even farmers building residential units and huts inside farms and between palm trees,” Alimam said.

The RCU has hired young Saudis from Al-Ula to be trained to become park rangers.

A Saudi park ranger. (Royal Commission for Al-Ula)

They will work to preserve and develop the wildlife in the park, which will have breeding programs for rare and endangered species that are native to the region.

“The rangers have been trained by expert rangers from the College of African Wildlife Management Tanzania (CAWM) from Mweka, which is the leading institution for professional and technical training in wildlife and tourism management in Africa,” said Al-Madani.

“Additionally, qualified and highly experienced staff are offering research and consultancy services to enhance wildlife management at Sharaan, and are now sharing their knowledge with young people in Al-Ula.”

Scholarships are a strong incentive for the people of Al-Ula to be ambitious about their career plans.

The first scholarship phase, which started in 2018, saw a total of 168 students head for studies in the UK, the US and France.

“Following a hugely successful first year, the program is being expanded. In its second year, we’re sending 300 students overseas to the existing three countries as well as Australia,” said Dr. Rami Al-Sakran, director of the RCU’s scholarship program.

“The RCU launched its scholarship program in 2018, with the objective of giving successful applicants the opportunity to pursue degrees at prestigious universities and academic institutions overseas,” he added.

“This is a key pillar in the RCU’s commitment to working with the local community to build their capabilities and empower the region’s development,” he said.

“Recently, we hosted the first midyear summit for our phase 1 students, in the US, the UK and France. We were enormously proud to see the progress they’ve made so far as they get a world-class education and actively engage in new cultures, broadening their horizons.”

Many locals, including Rawan Abdul-Rahman, an organizer of Winter at Tantora, are happy with the opportunities that have been presented to them.

“It was an amazing experience. It gave us opportunities and opened doors for us,” she said.

“Even our families, who are conservative and would’ve never approved of anything like this before, were ecstatic and encouraged us to take part in all the events. This is something unprecedented given our conservative backgrounds.”

Summing up the experience of the local population, Abdul-Rahman added: “Al-Ula not only opened us to the world, it also opened the world to us.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Vision 2030: All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects

Time: May 07, 2019  

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The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
  • Huge developments aim to put Kingdom on global tourism map
  • Work on first development in $500bn NEOM zone set to complete in 2020

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is making sincere efforts towards economic, social and cultural diversification with the works in progress on giga-projects, which are designed to be places of inspiration, discovery and fruitful engagements for the millennial generation.

The biggest development projects till date: Qiddiya Entertainment City, NEOM, the Red Sea Project and Amaala resort will shape the future of tourism as an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the Kingdom’s current and future generations.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2016 mandated the development of long-term model of prosperity for the Kingdom and the result was Vision 2030, an ambitious yet attainable blueprint to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a vibrant society, a thriving economy and a progressive nation.

These developments are part of the Crown Prince’s ambitious plan Saudi Vision 2030 that aims to diversify the economy, away from a dependency on oil and society with varied and rich experience of a quality lifestyle including world class tourism.

In response to multiple societal challenges including limited entertainment options, demographic and social change, careers in a world beyond oil, and public health, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund owned by Saudi Arabia has been tasked with developing the series of “giga-projects.”

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. (Supplied)


The Qiddiya project aims to meet these challenges by providing a destination where Saudis find excitement, inspiration, creative communities and career and investment opportunities.

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. When completed Qiddiya will become a place to live, work and play, a prominent landmark and an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the kingdom’s current and future generations.

Qiddiya, an important hub planned in the Saudi capital to fulfill the recreational and entertainment needs of the people, will see the launch of the construction phase this year. Qiddiya CEO Mike Reininger told Arab News in January: “2019 will see Qiddiya move from the planning and design phase to the construction phase.”

The Qiddiya site is 40 kilometers from the center of Riyadh city. When completed, this prominent landmark is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida.

The ambitious project hopes to attract local, regional and international tourists. It includes theme parks, entertainment centers, sports amenities capable of hosting international competitions, training academies, desert and asphalt tracks for motorsport enthusiasts, water- and snow-based recreation, adventure activities alongside nature and safari experiences, and an array of historical, cultural and educational activities and events.

Visitors will have access to more than 300 recreational and educational facilities designed around five cornerstones of development that drive the strategy: Parks and attractions, sports and wellness, motion and mobility, nature and environment, and arts and culture.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty. (Supplied)


NEOM, is a giant zone being being developed in the northwest of Saudi Arabia with a $500 billion investment support from the Public Investment fund (PIF).

The project, which has been described as “the destination for the future of living,” will stretch across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders and aims to transform the Kingdom into an international pioneering example, through introduction of value chains of industry and technology.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty.

The origin of the name is a combination of the Latin word “neo” meaning “new,” and the first letter “m” of the Arabic word “mustaqbal” which means “future”.

NEOM, which was announced in 2017 and is in a pristine position on the Red Sea, is expected to focus on luxurious living, and will include high-end hotels and villas. Moreover, homes in the development will be marketed to both regional and international buyers.

Saudi Arabia announced in January this year that it will start developing the first urban area of the zone after the founding board, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved the master-plan for NEOM Bay, which will include homes, lifestyle and tourist facilities, and “innovation centers.” Construction work was expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and will be completed in 2020.

“We are now preparing for the development of NEOM Bay area, which will provide a new concept of urban living that will enable it to become a platform for attracting the world’s top minds for creating advanced economic sectors,” said Nadhmi Al-Nasr, NEOM chief executive, in January.

In late January, Saudi Arabia established a company to develop NEOM. The closed joint-stock NEOM Company will be fully owned by the PIF and will develop the vast project, which will include multiple cities, airports, a seaport, tourist areas, industrial complexes and “innovation centers.”

According to Al-Nasr, the new entity will be responsible for developing a new global destination from scratch on a huge area and a futuristic civilization that is based on sustainability and livability.

“All this aims to turn NEOM into a global center for attracting investment, knowledge, innovation and technology in order to compete with all economic capital cities,” he said.

NEOM’s economic prospects will focus on 16 sectors: Energy, water, mobility, bio-tech, food, manufacturing, media, entertainment, culture, and fashion, technology including digital, tourism, sport, design and construction, services, health and well-being, education and liveability.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map. (Supplied)


The Red Sea Project, one of the giga-projects announced by the crown prince in 2017, is billed as one of the the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects: An ultra-luxury destination that is being created around one of the world’s hidden natural treasures.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map.

Once completed, visitors will be able to explore the wonders and rich cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia’s untouched Red Sea Coast.

This is a touristic project that includes more than 50 islands located between the cities of Umluj and Al-Wajh. It covers a number of the Red Sea’s untouched islands, as well as the archaeological site of Madain Saleh and a nature reserve containing regional flora and fauna.

Situated between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, the site is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and within eight hours’ flying time of 80 percent of the world’s population.

The vision of the project include creating an exquisite ultra-luxury destination within a pristine 28,000 sq km area that includes an archipelago of more than 50 unspoiled islands, volcanoes, desert, mountains, nature and culture.

The project is planned to set new standards for sustainable development and environmental protection, exceed expectations with the highest standards of service excellence and use technology to enable a seamless personalized experience that will position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.

The project offers a secure and stable environment for investors within the world’s fastest growing tourism region. In December 2018 King Salman received a team from the Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), led by CEO John Pagano at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh that gave a progress report on the ambitious tourism and leisure project with a presentation detailing the master plan and its economic and developmental objectives, which aim to establish it as a leading global destination in the luxury tourism sector.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2022, includes 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels providing 3,000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts on the Kingdom’s west coast, an airport to serve the destination, and marinas, along with residential properties and recreational facilities.

By the time the project is completed, there will be 22 developed islands out of a total of 90 islands.

It is expected to create 70,000 jobs and play a significant role in driving economic diversification in the Kingdom by attracting nearly a million visitors a year and contributing SR22 billion to the country’s GDP.

Notably, plans to develop the project have been given the green light. The TRSDC has received final approval from its board of directors for the program’s master plan in January this year.

Commenting on it Pagano said: “With the master plan approved, we are now identifying investors and partners who are interested in working with us on realizing the objectives of the project and who share our commitment to enhance, not exploit, the natural ecosystems that make the destination so unique.”

Significantly, the Red Sea project ensures protection of ecology. As part of the planning process, major environmental studies were carried out to ensure that the area’s sensitive ecology was protected both during and after completion of the development.

Furthermore, the master plan is underpinned by an extensive smart destination management system that will support a wide range of personalized products and services designed to appeal to the modern luxury traveler.

The TRSDC employed the world’s first destination-scale computer simulation techniques, created in Saudi Arabia, to assess the impact of the development and future tourism on the environment. The resulting plan now targets a 30 percent net increase in biodiversity over the next two decades, a conservation equivalent to designating the site as a marine protection area.

Technology also underpins the destination’s sustainability initiatives, with a suite of sensors and monitoring devices in place to track and measure variations in environmental factors such as water salinity, temperature, visibility and tidal flows.

“The leadership of the Kingdom has shown great foresight in its insistence on balanced development of this pristine destination,” said Pagano. “Our plan not only envisions a stunning luxury destination, it also takes tangible, measurable steps to enhance that destination for future generations to enjoy and cherish.”

The Amaala resort, already being dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East, will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. (Supplied)


The Amaala project is another global destination aims to focus on ultra-luxury “wellness tourism” and the arts alongside other Red Sea mega-projects NEOM, a 26,500 square mile business zone and Saudi Arabia’s answer to Silicon Valley currently under development in the northwest of the kingdom and the Red Sea project.

This ultra-luxurious destination on the Kingdom’s northwestern coast of the Red Sea has been announced by the PIF, which is spearheading the project and will provide initial funding. Partnership and investment packages will be available to the private sector as it progresses.

The “Amaala” resort, already being dubbed the “Riviera of the Middle East,” will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. The resort will be located in the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nature Reserve. PIF said Amaala will sit alongside NEOM and the Red Sea Project as part of a giga-projects investment portfolio, which will establish a unique “tourism ecosystem,” supporting economic diversification and creating high-value job opportunities.

Nicholas Naples, a veteran luxury hospitality and development executive, will be the CEO of the project, PIF said in September 2018.

“Amaala will awaken the world’s imagination by rephrasing the current concept of the luxury tourism experience, especially in terms integrative wellness, specialty treatments and related recreational offerings,” Naples said at the time.

“Amaala represents a unique and transformational luxury experience where full-fledged wellness tourism is integrated alongside a curated mix of arts, culture and sports offerings that are individually tailored for the ultra-luxury lifestyle, including the availability of  a fashion scene, healthy-living services, and year-round sea expeditions,” Naples added.

According to the developers, Amaala will feature “extraordinary architecture and unprecedented luxury in both hotels and private villas as well as a quaint retail village.”

It will also include an arts academy that will foster the growth and development of young artists from Saudi Arabia and the region.

PIF announced there will be cultural events, artistic performances and related conferences in a bid to bring international visitors to the region, where they can enjoy a wide array of unique and personalized holiday experiences set against stunning scenery, mountainous landscapes and diving among pristine coral reefs.

The project will include marinas and a yacht club and aims to be a destination for boutique luxury cruises.

The retail areas will include a mix of galleries, ateliers, artisan workshops and bespoke outlets along with a wide range of international and local restaurants.

As envisioned in Vision 2030, Amaala – along with the other giga-projects — will support the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s leisure and tourism industry, while promoting cultural conservation, ecological preservation and sustainability.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab News Saudi National Day video scoops top WAN-IFRA prize

Time: March 07, 2019  

  • The video was commissioned to mark the start of Arab News’ coverage of Vision 2030
  • Arab News has one several awards for its design

DUBAI: A video produced for Saudi National Day by Arab News has scooped the top prize in an international media award ceremony held in Dubai on Wednesday.

The video was commissioned to launch the newspaper’s ‘Road to 2030’ section which encompasses a series of reports focusing on tracking the progress and reforms happening in the kingdom, such as allowing women to drive and reopening cinemas.

The online video category at the WAN-IFRA Middle East Awards is the latest award given to the Saudi Arabian English language daily since its relaunch in April 2018, after picking up silver in the “redesigned product category” at the WAN-IFRA Print Innovation Awards, held in Berlin on Oct. 9.

Arab News scooped another international design award last month, this time recogniz in the international design awards run by “HOW” magazine for its iconic Women Drivers cover of a special souvenir edition on June 24 of last year.

Simon Khalil, global creative director at Arab News, said: “Saudi Arabia is such an exciting country full of rich history and amazing people.

“The video reflects that history and focusses on the incredibly bright future Saudi Arabia has thanks to the Road to 2030 initiative, these really are exciting times for the Kingdom and for any designers and content creators it is an absolute joy to work with such exciting and positive stories.

“Since our redesign and relaunch last April we have done amazing things and always look for innovative and exiting ways to engage with our readers. Long may that continue,” he added.

The video was produced to highlight Saudi Arabia’s past, present and future.

WAN-IFRA, a global association of newspapers and news publishers, recognizes publishers that have adopted digital media and mobile strategies as part of their total product offering to “meet the changes in how people consume news and information.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘Saudi Arabia is seeing results of sweeping reform program’

Time: March 01, 2019   

Mohammed Al-Jadaan

JEDDAH — “Saudi Arabia is already seeing the results of its sweeping reform program and would continue to diversify its economy and open its borders for investment,” said Saudi finance minister in an exclusive interview to CNBC.

Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation strategy aims to increase investment, diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from a reliance on oil, and create private-sector jobs.

Addressing the concerns over budget deficit, Al-Jadaan said: “Well, my concern is to ensure that we continue implementing on Vision 2030, and we are, and we are seeing results. We — despite all that you hear, here and there — we have the fifth-largest foreign (exchange) reserves in the world.”

“We have significant reserves. We have significant wealth, we have a significant economy that is growing. We are the largest economy in the region, and we are seeing the results of the reform taking place,” he said at an event in London on Thursday.

Al-Jadaan said growth had turned positive by the end of last year and he was “looking for more growth in 2019.”

“We’re diversifying our economy significantly, we are opening our border to more investments from the world, and we’re opening a lot of local industries and tourism, entertainment industries — mining all of these are bringing a lot of jobs. There’s a time lag all the time when you engage in a significant reform. But … we are seeing the results actually happening as we speak,” he said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette

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Saudi Arabia identifies five caves for ecotourism drive

Time: February 06, 2019  

Saudi Arabia identifies five caves for ecotourism drive
The caves are 200km north of Riyadh but specific locations are being kept under wraps for now. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)
By Sam Bridge

Saudi Arabia has reportedly identified five caves where it plans to launch ecotourism destinations this year.

Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), the kingdom’s national geological organisation, plans to launch the projects as part of the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative.

“We are ready,” said Mahmoud Al Shanti, director of the Saudi Geological Survey’s Cave Unit and Desert Studies, in comments published by Lonely Planet News.

“We are now choosing easy access points for tourists, but won’t announce the names and locations of the caves yet.”

SGS is remaining tight-lipped on the specific locations of the subterranean sites to prevent people going inside and destroying them, Al Shanti said, adding that the caves are 200km north of Riyadh.

Al Shanti told Lonely Planet that the caves must be managed and protected to ensure the survival of wildlife including bats, hyenas, foxes and owls.

SGS said it estimates that, once opened, the attractions could receive more than 1,000 visitors a day, with tour guides being trained to show tourists around the area.

“These are remote places and the villages must be ready to receive tourists,” Al Shanti was quoted as saying.

In November, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund also announced plans to develop a new eco-tourism project as part of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Natural Reserve near Tabuk.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) said it will set up a company to work on the Wadi Al Disah Development Project, which aims to become a “major sustainable tourism location”, preserving the local environment and wildlife.

The announcement of the Wadi Al Disah Development Project followed the launch of the Amaala ultra-luxury tourism project in September, which will be the focal point of the tourism ecosystem within the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Natural Reserve.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Saudi reforms encourage investment in Kingdom: Davos panel

Time: January 25, 2019

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Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that since the “significant economic and social reform,” the GDP of Saudi Arabia grew 2.3 percent in 2018. (World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle)

  • Morgan Stanley’s CEO James Gorman welcomed the social reforms, calling them essential progress to provide the backbone for the economic reforms
  • Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri said to attract investors into Saudi Arabia needed to improve its infrastructure

DAVOS: Leading Saudi officials took center stage at the World Economic Forum on Thursday to drive home the message that a revitalized economy and increased foreign investment could not happen without the social reforms of Vision 2030.
Permitting women to drive, the reintroduction of cinemas and other entertainment, and renewed fiscal discipline were all driving foreign investors’ interest in Saudi Arabia, they said.

Economy and Planning Minister Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri said Saudi Arabia had to improve its infrastructure and provide evidence of it to warrant confidence — and he promised both.
“All you’re going to see in the next couple of years is evidence,” he said, but Saudi citizens had to feel the benefits too. “Unless we provide for the local market … our credibility is at stake.”
The minister said unemployment had been steady for the past two years, but with 350,000 people entering the job market each year the government was exploring how to convert the money spent on social protection into a job creation fund.

But it was also important to retain a diverse labor market, with the skills that expatriate workers bring, he said. “We cannot say Saudization is the solution. We need to have a labor market that is mixed.” To that end, the government had ordered a top-to-toe overhaul of the education system “from kindergarten to future jobs.”

Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri speaking during the “Next Steps for Saudi Arabia session. (World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle)

Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said the Kingdom was determined to impose fiscal discipline, and its gross domestic product had grown by 2.3 percent last year compared with a 0.7 percent contraction in 2017.
He conceded there was some skepticism when the government pledged in December to reduce its budget deficit while announcing its biggest-ever spending of $295 billion.
“There were some raised eyebrows … but we ended 2018 exactly where we thought we would be,” he said.
Sarah Al-Suhaimi, chair of the Saudi Stock Exchange, echoed his optimism, and said improvements in the Kingdom’s financial system had improved its ranking as a place to invest.
“One of the main objectives was to join the global community. We do consider ourselves to be the access for international investment into the Middle East and especially the GCC,” she said.
Five megaprojects in infrastructure, water and health care had been awarded to the private sector in the past three months “and there are more to come in the next four months.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Siemens boss Joe Kaeser urges Saudi Arabia to stick with Vision 2030

Time: January 13, 2019

Joe Kaeser, CEO of German engineering giant Siemens. (Illustration by Luis Grañena)
  • Kaeser believes Saudi Arabia will continue to be an attractive target for foreign investment
  • Siemens would be ‘very interested’ in getting involved in the NEOM project

DUBAI: Joe Kaeser, CEO of German engineering giant Siemens, notably missed the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Summit in Riyadh in October. But he was back in the region last week to take the pulse of his business in the Middle East, and had a message for Saudi Arabia: Your Vision 2030 strategy has a compelling logic — now make sure you see it through.

Kaeser — arguably the most powerful businessman in the biggest economy in Europe, and boss of the world’s leading engineering company — was at the UAE Energy Forum, organized by the Gulf Intelligence consultancy in Abu Dhabi. He took time out from the proceedings to talk to Arab News about the energy business, a US-China trade war, and the future of Europe amid the Brexit chaos.

But mostly he wanted to talk about Saudi Arabia. “Vision 2030 is a very compelling strategic concept. We commend the leadership there … the big question in the Kingdom is always about execution,” Kaeser said.

Coming from a businessman who declined an invitation to attend the FII amid the global uproar that followed the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and against a background of trade spats between the Kingdom and Germany, that amounts to a reaffirmation of confidence in Saudi Arabia and a desire for “business as usual” between the two countries.




•Arnbruck, Bavaria, 1957


•Regensburg University of Applied Sciences


•Joined Siemens aged 23

•CEO since 2013


But Kaeser has advice for the Kingdom: Do not underestimate the social disruption that can come from large-scale economic change. “It’s a huge effort executing transformational matters,” he said. “It causes… uncertainty which, sometimes, if not properly controlled, causes societal uproar. That’s the last thing you need in the Kingdom, France, Germany or anywhere.”

While he feels that the Kingdom has leaders who can manage the change — singling out the “most regarded” Khalid Al-Falih, energy minister and chairman of Saudi Aramco — Kaeser recommends that Saudi policymakers adopt a more practical approach to the transformation process. “Typically, what I’d recommend doing is to ‘cut the elephant into pieces’ and make it actionable one piece at a time,” he said.

Kaeser sees the first “piece of the elephant” as “sustainable, affordable and reliable infrastructure,” and he recommends that Saudi strategists concentrate on that.

“Once you’re done with that, you can build on those pillars. You can build industrialization of any sort, tourism business of any sort, societal development of any sort,” he said. “If electrification and moving people and goods … aren’t in shape, it becomes very difficult.”

Kaeser said focusing on the industrial basics is preferable to a “big bang” move such as the planned initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco. “If you float 10 percent of Aramco, then what? You get some money, but does Saudi Arabia need money? I’m not so sure,” he added. “They’ve got the resources, they have everything it takes … so I’m not so sure I’d pick this (the Aramco IPO) as the highest priority.”

But he is enthusiastic about other flagship projects that the Kingdom is planning, such as the NEOM megacity. He revealed that Siemens would be very interested in getting involved in this $500 billion plan.

“NEOM is a fascinating project. We may or may not be involved in that — there’s a bidding process — but if you look at NEOM, it’s almost like a recycled business description for Siemens. Of course, we could help and play a role, but it depends on the partnerships and everything else,” Kaeser said.

He sees NEOM as more than just an industrial project.

Saudi Arabia as a Kingdom and as an economy will always be attractive for foreign investment

Joe Kaeser

“It’s a fascinating project because it addresses urban infrastructure in a modern way. It addresses sustainable and renewable energy, and the freedom to move by Western standards, which could help to get the region or the Kingdom used to those types of things, which is a massive transformation,” he said.

Kaeser sees NEOM and other big projects as the next step in a process of social transformation, like the decision to allow women to drive. “Saudi Arabia plays a major role in the region, a stabilizing role in every way, so people say, ‘isn’t it too slow that only now they have women driving?’ I say: You don’t understand. This is a massive transformation for the people of the Kingdom. This is huge. I always tell people in Europe that this is a massive move,” he said.

There has been speculation that the fallout from the Khashoggi murder will hit foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Kingdom. Kaeser does not agree with that notion, but believes that much depends on how Saudi policymakers handle the current investigations.

“Saudi Arabia as a Kingdom and as an economy will always be attractive for foreign investment… based on the potential it has in the region as well as its economic potential,” he said. “So I think in the long term there will be no change, but it depends on how a political or economic ecosystem handles crises.”

The Kingdom deserves the patience and trust of the international community to investigate the matter in its own way and according to its own laws, he added. “If murder happens in Germany, the US or France, there’s a process. There’s an investigation, a trial and a conviction. That’s something the Kingdom deserves too,” Kaeser said.

Returning to the theme of policy execution, Kaeser said the UAE has been the most successful state in the region in terms of implementing renewable energy policies.

Siemens has based its regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, the centerpiece of the UAE’s drive for sustainable energy. “Masdar City was an execution on the policy and the concept.  Did it go as fast as it was intended?  No. But did it get implemented? Absolutely. We moved into Masdar and we saved a lot of cost,” he said. “Sometimes, the execution is slower, but the UAE always executes, and that’s a fascinating track record that will attract foreign investment.”

While in the UAE, he was also looking at progress on the Siemens partnerships with the Dubai Expo 2020, the Dewa power and water utility, and Al-Maktoum solar park in Dubai. In particular, he thinks that recent technological advances have made hydrogen power a much more economically attractive proposition.

“I’m not sure anymore that modern mobility will be all electric. I could well imagine that hydrogen plays a much bigger role in the infrastructure of renewable energy ecosystems,” he said.

As one of the most powerful European industrialists in the world, Kaeser has firm opinions on the future role of the EU, caught in the middle of a potential trade war between the US and China.

Judging by recent World Bank forecasts of falling American gross domestic product (GDP) next year, “it seems the biggest loser of the trade war is going to be the US in 2020, to have a GDP slowdown from 2.8 to 1.7 percent,” he said. “This is massive, almost cutting in half.”

The EU can help prevent such damage, he added.

“European countries can have their sovereignty, but what Europe needs immediately, to be a meaningful third power to the other two, is a joint foreign economic policy — what Europe says on economic terms, on free trade, on relations with China and the US,” he said.

“That’s what we need to have for Europe to be a third power, maybe even an integrative power, to integrate the two others and help facilitate the notion that a unified world is a good world to live in. That’s what’s at stake.”

One big regret for him is the current uncertainty over the UK’s role within Europe. “I would’ve wished for Britain to stay (in the EU), because Britain’s service industry is probably the best in the world. The financial industry in the UK by quality has been the best in the world,” Kaeser said.

“Germany is the best engineering country in the world. I don’t mean to be arrogant — I think it’s a fact. France has a good way of dealing with diplomacy and military activity. So we could form quite a decent, powerful Europe if you combine these strengths.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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