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Calls on World Citizens to Help Shape a Prosperous Post-Covid Era

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‘Let’s Lessen The Gap’ Calls On World Citizens To Help Shape A Prosperous Post-Covid Era For Vulnerable Communities

The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a UAE-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide, has made an impassioned call to citizens around the world to generously support its 2021 Zakat and general donations drive during Ramadan.

These fundraising activities under the“Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign are part of a comprehensive long-term programme that TBHF has launched. In partnership with four leading UN agencies, namely, UNHCR, UNDP, WHO and UNICEF, the foundation is addressing humanitarian development challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic amongst vulnerable populations in the MENA region.  

Furthering TBHF’s ongoing response efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, the programme will set the blueprint for TBHF’s COVID-response strategies in the long term. Evidence and research-based findings from the programme will enable TBHF and partnering UN agencies to identify the most pressing needs of the region, and subsequently aid the designing of sustainable and long-term interventions. The programme will also encompass advocacy campaigns aimed at bridging the gaps in vital sectors of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare and Education, which have been heavily impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the launch of “Let’s Lessen the Gap”, TBHF revealed the programme would address both the critical health and non-healthcare needs of marginalized populations to allow for a return to normalcy in the MENA region. As COVID-19 continues to shape the lives of individuals and societies around the world, TBHF is appealing to people worldwide to act on their humanitarian instincts and support in lessening, and eventually closing the gap between vulnerable communities and their access to the tools and resources they need to become enablers for building a prosperous MENA region of tomorrow.

To know more about how you can get involved and make your contribution, visit www.lessenthegap.org. Contributions can also be made via SMS by sending the word ‘sadaqa’ to the Etisalat numbers: 7857 to donate AED 10; 7859 to donate AED 50, 7788 to donate AED 100, or 7708 to donate AED 500. For Du: 9965 to donate AED 10; 9967 to donate AED 50, 9968 to donate AED 100.

Zakat contributions can also be deposited directly into Zakat Fund account no: 0011-430430-020 at the Sharjah Islamic Bank (International Bank Account Number ‘IBAN’: AE040410000011430430020).

COVID-19 hastens diverse humanitarian challenges in MENA

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many decades-long developments and humanitarian challenges in the MENA region such as high youth unemployment, inequitable development pathways, resource scarcity, gender discrimination, restricted access to services, and the devastating effects of ongoing conflict in some countries.

According to reports by UNESCWA, unemployment surged in the region with rates reaching up to 26.6% for youth compared to 13.6% globally. An estimated 25 million Arab youth are not in formal education, employment or training.

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the learning crisis, disrupting education at an unparalleled rate across the region. A 2020 UNICEF report states that approximately 40% of students, accounting for 37 million children and young people across the region, were not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning.

The pandemic has also posed severe challenges in fragile and conflict-affected nations in MENA, overwhelming weak and overcrowded existing healthcare systems. A UNICEF study titled ‘The Potential Impact of Health Care Disruption on Child Mortality in MENA Due to COVID-19’ draws up a scenario highlighting a particularly bleak reality for children aged 0 – 5. It predicts that a protracted reduction in the supply and demand of primary health care services for children could potentially increase their mortality by nearly 40 percent, compared with a baseline scenario without the COVID-19 virus.

Additionally, refugees and displaced populations in the MENA region and across the world have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Exclusion, discrimination, and inadequate access to health services have heightened protection risks and tested international standards of refugee protection.

UN partners in four sector-specific areas

The “Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign and post-COVID programme will see TBHF collaborating with multiple UN agencies working on the ground in MENA to implement long-term strategies and initiatives in the fields of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare, and Education to assist those who are least likely to have access to these essential services.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR will partner with TBHF to empower, protect, and improve the lives of refugees and internally displaced people affected by COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which works in 170 countries and territories to bridge gaps in inequalities and exclusion, will join hands with TBHF to support youth livelihoods, develop capacity and skills, and accelerate structural transformations to advance the sustainable development agenda in the targeted nations. 

To build a better, healthier future in a post-COVID world, TBHF will partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) along with other global organizations coordinating vaccine efforts to roll out vaccination programmes that give highest priority to vulnerable populations.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which works in some of the world’s toughest places to build a better world for the most disadvantaged children, is TBHF’s partner in improving access to learning and education opportunities for children of marginalized communities across the region.

Fundraising for “Let’s Lessen the Gap” commences in April 2021

Appealing to the public, high net worth donors, and the private sector to honour the spirit of giving embodied in the obligation of Zakat, Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation, said: “At TBHF, we believe in our collective ability to support the most vulnerable communities in the region through these difficult times and beyond by steering efforts towards inclusive programmes that address the economic and social consequences of the crisis.”

Al Hammadi added that although 2020 was an extremely challenging year, it also demonstrated collective resilience as schools, offices, and essential services continued to operate without fail. “Unfortunately, this only represents the reality of the world some of us live in. In many communities and countries that The Big Heart Foundation supports, solutions are still being sought to aid the response and recovery process. It is this gap that we aim to address and bridge through your support this Ramadan, and in the coming months.”

Fundraising activities of the programme have commenced with TBHF’s Zakat 2021 campaign. To know more and make your contributions, visit lessenthegap.org.    

How countries are raising debt to fight COVID and . . .

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How countries are raising debt to fight COVID and . . . why developing nations face tougher choices by Shamel Azmeh, Lecturer in International Development, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester is about the pandemic that is affecting all countries as described by the World Bank’s article as a heat-seeking missile speeding toward the most vulnerable in society. That metaphor applies not just to the vulnerable in the rich world; the vulnerable in the rest of the world is not more immune. 

The feature picture above is of the World Economic Forum‘s.

So here is :

How countries are raising debt to fight COVID and why developing nations face tougher choices

PM Boris Johnson (left) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have come up with money to underwrite wages, rescue packages and meal vouchers during the pandemic. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

COVID continues to ravage societies around the world, and a key issue is how governments can afford to fight it. As economies are disrupted, governments are stepping in to increase their spending to bail out companies, pay the cost of health measures, and subsidise workers’ wages.

Before COVID, when people argued that the state should be able to offer free healthcare and free education, among other services, and welfare measures, a standard political response was that state resources were limited. Asked by a nurse in 2017 why her wages hadn’t increased from 2009 levels, then British prime minister, Theresa May, said: “There is no magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want.”

Except, a few years later, the government has not only been able to pay the wages of millions, it has also created rescue packages for thousands of firms and offered people vouchers to eat out in restaurants. A number of European countries have also taken the unprecedented step of underwriting the wages of millions of workers in response to the pandemic.

How is the British state and others capable of this radical increase in spending at a time when revenues from taxes are collapsing?

‘Magic money tree’

The answer to this lies in the debt market. Over the past few months, world governments have drastically increased their borrowing to cover the costs of the pandemic. It might appear logical that the cost of credit will go up during uncertain economic times. The reality, however, is that capital often goes to safer sovereign debt during economic downturns, particularly as the equity markets become unstable and volatile.

Over recent months, rather than struggling to find lenders or having to pay more for debt, the governments of the major economies have been awash with credit at historically low rates. In October, the EU, until now a small player in the debt market (as borrowing mostly is by national governments of member states), began a major borrowing campaign as part of the efforts to fight COVID through the SURE programme (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) which was created in May.

The first sale of bonds worth €17 billion was met with what some described as “outrageous demand”, with investors bidding a total of €233 billion to buy them. This intense competition was for bonds that offered a return of -0.26% over ten years, meaning that an investor who holds the bond to maturity will receive less than they paid today.

The EU is not the only borrower that is effectively being paid to borrow money. Many of the advanced economies have been in recent years and months selling debt at negative rates. For some countries, the shift has been dramatic. Even countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece that were previously seen as relatively risky borrowers, with Greece going through a major debt crisis, are now enjoying borrowing money at very low rates.

The reason for this phenomenon is that while these bonds are initially bought by “traditional” market actors, central banks are buying huge quantities of these bonds once they are circulated in the market. For a few years now, the European Central Bank (ECB) has been an active buyer of European government bonds – not directly from governments but from the secondary market (from investors who bought these bonds earlier). This ECB asset purchase programme was expanded to help weather the COVID crisis, with the ECB spending €676 billion on government bonds from the start of 2020 until September.

Other central banks in the major advanced economies are following the same strategy. Through these programmes, those central banks encourage investors to keep buying government bonds with the knowledge that the demand for those bonds in the secondary market will remain strong.

Poorer countries

Not everybody, however, enjoys a similar position in the debt market. While the rich economies are being chased by investors to take their money, the situation is radically different for poorer countries. Many poor countries have limited access to the credit market and rely instead on public lenders, such as the World Bank.

In recent years, this pattern began to change with a growing number of developing countries increasing their foreign borrowing from private lenders. Developing countries, however, are in a structurally weaker position than richer peers. The smaller scale of their capital markets mean that they are more reliant on external financing. This reliance means that developing countries rely on raising money in foreign currency, which increases the risk to their economies.

As many developing countries have less diversified exports with a higher percentage of commodities, the price decline in commodities in recent months has increased those risks. As a result, developing countries face a significantly higher cost of borrowing compared to the richer economies.

A few large developing countries, such as Indonesia, Colombia, India and the Philippines, have begun to follow the policy adopted by the advanced economies of buying government bonds to fund an expanding deficit. The risks of doing this, however, are higher than the richer economies, including a decline in capital inflows, capital flight and currency crises. A report by the rating agency S&P Global Ratings illustrated the differences between those two economies:

Advanced countries typically have deep domestic capital markets, strong public institutions (including independent central banks), low and stable inflation, and transparency and predictability in economic policies. These attributes allow their central banks to maintain large government bond holdings without losing investor confidence, creating fear of higher inflation, or triggering capital outflow. Conversely, sovereigns with less credible public institutions and less monetary, exchange rate and fiscal flexibility have less capacity to monetise fiscal deficits without running the risk of higher inflation. This may trigger large capital outflows, devaluing the currency and prompting domestic interest rates to rise, as seen in Argentina over parts of the past decade.

While the reaction of the market to this approach by developing countries has been muted so far, the report argued, this situation might change. Developing countries who do this could “weaken monetary flexibility and economic stability, which could increase the likelihood of sovereign rating downgrades”.

Ratings downgrades

Over recent months, downgrading by rating agencies have been a major risk facing developing countries with many economies facing higher costs of borrowing as a result of such downgrades. These downgrades were often linked to decline in prices and exports of commodities, as was the case for diamonds for Botswana and oil for Nigeria.

In July, following the participation of Ethiopia, Pakistan, Cameroon, Senegal and the Ivory Coast in a World Bank-endorsed G20 debt suspension initiative, the rating agency Moody’s took action against those countries arguing that participation in this scheme increased the risk for investors in bonds issued by these countries, leading to some developing economies avoiding the initiative in order not to send a “negative signal to the market”. Zambia is on the verge of being the first “COVID default” and other developing countries could face a similar situation in coming months.

As a result of these dynamics, many developing countries are facing the tough choice of giving up any economically costly health measures or facing serious fiscal and economic crises. Access to credit has become a defining factor in the ability of governments to respond to the pandemic. As a result of access to cheap credit, developed economies are so far able to take such health measures while limiting the social and economic impact of the pandemic. Many developing countries do not have this luxury. Not everyone gets to shake the branches of the magical money tree.

Shamel Azmeh, Lecturer in International Development, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dubai economy to contract by 11% this year

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Dubai economy to contract by 11% this year: S&P as the international lockdown impacted international travel to and stay in the previously popular spots of the world. Dubai, for its particular regional specifics and as the most popular venue in the Gulf region, seems to endure the most critically the pandemic or all the safeguards against it.


Dubai’s economy will contract by around 11% in 2020, owing mainly to the Covid-19 impact on its travel and tourism industry, the sector most affected by the pandemic, according to an S&P Global Ratings report. 

As per S&P estimate, Dubai’s gross general government debt will reach about 77% of GDP in 2020.

Low oil prices have had broad effects on GCC economies, of which Dubai is one, but hydrocarbons directly contribute only about 1% to Dubai’s total GDP. 

The indirect effect of weaker demand from Dubai’s neighbours will dampen Dubai’s trade, tourism, and real estate markets, it stated.

Although Dubai’s economy is somewhat more diversified than that of most its regional peers, the report anticipates an economic contraction of around 11% of GDP in 2020, recovering to 2019 levels by 2023. 

STR Global, a data intelligence and benchmarking firm, reported Dubai’s hotel occupancy rate at 26% in June as inbound tourism sharply declined following global lockdowns and much-reduced air travel designed to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

The fact that fewer residents left Dubai during the hot summer months and instead spent more domestically to some extent has supported the economy. Local support for the economy cannot, however, offset the almost complete shutdown of inbound international tourism for most of 2020, and the likely slow recovery of the long-haul aviation that Dubai specializes in.

The Dubai government now expects to post a deficit of AED12 billion (3.2% of GDP) this year, largely owing to the reduction in economic activity and the consequent expected 28% decline in revenue, stated S&P Global Ratings. 

It also expects significant off-balance-sheet expenditure, resulting in the government’s net debt position worsening by more than what the headline deficit would imply, as has occurred in previous years.

S&P Global Ratings pointed out that the below-the-line expenditure which causes the variance between headline deficits and the change in net debt mostly involves support for Dubai’s government-related entities (GREs), an example of which is the recently disclosed AED7.3 billion (1.9% of GDP) already provided to national carrier Emirates in 2020. 

Support for GREs will likely be appreciably larger in 2020 than in the past, due to the broad cross-sector shock to Dubai’s economy, it added.

The ratings major said that in total, it expected new government bond issuance and loans to total around 7% of GDP in 2020. The government has issued AED8.4 billion (2.2% of GDP) of public debt so far in 2020, marking the biggest year for Dubai’s debt issuance since 2009. 

“This, in combination with recently disclosed new bilateral and syndicated facilities through June 2020 (facilities that have increased by AED15 billion (4% of GDP) since Dubai’s previous end-2018 disclosures) supports our estimation that 2020 will be another year where debt accumulation far exceeds the headline deficit,” it stated in the review.

TradeArabia News Service

Public Realm in Saudi Giga Urban Projects?

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Is enough being done to shape the public realm in Saudi Giga urban projects? asks Hadi Khatib. His findings are as published in AMEinfo of  September 25, 2020.

When it comes to building cities, developers need to understand target customers to uncover their needs and priorities and allow them to share feedback and make sure that what’s being built actually works for them

– Technology like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) help achieve placemaking
– Three Saudi Kingdom Cities will be part of the world’s top 100 Global Cities
– Cities are facing difficulties where there is surging demand on infrastructure, services, mobility and housing

There are key experience considerations when planning master developments, giga projects, and cities.

Kristine Pitts, Director of ExperienceLab  Middle East says “In a country that is rapidly changing and developing like Saudi Arabia, and with increasing competition for people’s attention, in-depth understanding of target audiences and actively designing with and for them will be key to attracting them to live, work and play. Build it and they will come is a risky strategy.”

Cities from scratch

KSA’s giga projects such as NEOM are cities from scratch where new residents, office workers, and visitors need to collectively create new communities within the newly built structure. 

In Qiddiya, Saudi is creating spaces for Saudis seeking a different kind of lifestyle, and for expats seeking something that feels familiar compared to what they are used to. But what draws them? What are the deciding factors that make them choose to live, set up their workplace, or spend their Friday afternoons?

ExperienceLab encourages bringing the residents, visitors, and office workers into the design process to collaboratively define and shape patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.

Physical spaces are defined by their physical edges, but places are defined by the people, activities, and engagements within them.  

Placemaking

‘Placemaking’ refers to a collaborative process by which to shape the public realm in order to maximize shared value. The concept facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being. 

Technology, like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), helps achieve this when showcasing designs before plans are finalized. 

Planning ahead

The best places are those that have adapted to change, and not being constrained or limited by short-sighted planning, architecture, or engineering.

Obvious factors to look at are green spaces, experiences, and what drives authentic community relationships.  

Office workers need more than office space; they need the urban realm, a place to take time out, eat, and socialize.

People also need a way to get there! Where they live is a factor of their proximity to work, schools, and healthcare needs.

Also, technology underpins great cities, whether that’s accommodating autonomous transport, smart buildings, or adapting our spaces for the use of mobile technology.  

The Global Future Cities Index measures a total of 21 metrics against 24 participating Global Cities – a total of 504 data points.

Three Saudi Kingdom Cities will be part of the world’s top 100 Global Cities: The Red Sea, NEOM, and Qiddiya.  

Aecom and NEOM

America’s largest design engineering firm, Aecom, has been appointed to handle the design and support of the “backbone infrastructure” for NEOM, a futuristic, intelligent, and sustainable urban living and development set to deliver some of the highest quality living standards that the world has ever seen.  

The need for a public realm

According to UN-Habitat, public spaces now comprise just 2% of the area of Middle Eastern cities, compared with 12% in the average European city. Often, the requirement for new infrastructure comes at the expense of green spaces. For example, in Riyadh, the land devoted to parks, squares, and other public spaces per person has fallen by 80% in half a century. 

Learning from the recent past

Jeddah is a radically re-planned city in a rapidly developing economy, but one where largely unusable public spaces have fallen short of meeting people’s everyday needs and aspirations.

A recent massive survey showed many participants having a negative view of public space quality both within their neighborhoods and citywide. 

When asked how far public spaces attract people, respondents thought they did not. Most residents say increased distances between buildings discourage people from exploring outdoor areas with wider streets and widely dispersed spaces.  

Regarding the design and construction of public spaces within modern neighborhoods, most pointed at the lack of such spaces and pedestrian networks. The rigid edges and poor finishes of public spaces negatively affected visual character, creating unpleasant urban images, some respondents said. Also, the lack of shaded areas and climate protection discouraged the public from outdoor areas.

The New Jeddah waterfront was described as suffering from traffic congestion, crowds, litter, the careless attitudes of visitors, and a lack of well-maintained public toilets. 

Jeddah has a shortage of affordable housing which means that more than one million people, a third of the population, live in unplanned settlements.  

The common tales of cities facing difficulties include surging demand on infrastructure and services, mobility constraints, housing backlogs, limited access to clean water, rising pollution levels, lack of waste management and environmental sustainability, among others. 

Saudi has witnessed a steep rise in urban population (over 83% of the population now lives in urban areas) and infrastructure demand resulted from tremendous economic growth.

$810 billion in mega tourism projects across Saudi Arabia

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Massive investments worth over $810 billion in mega tourism projects across Saudi Arabia is expected to transform the kingdom into one of the largest leisure tourism sectors in the world between now and 2030, according to a research conducted by the Middle East and North Africa Leisure Attractions Council (Menalac), the leisure and entertainment industry council representing the Middle East’s dynamic leisure attractions sector. Here is Trade Arabia‘s from Riyadh.

Saudi to be among world’s big leisure tourism hubs by 2030

These include the $500 billion mega development Neom which leads the list of the mega projects followed by the $10 billion Qiddiyah Project, spread across 334 sq km in Riyadh. 

The third project is Amaala, or the Saudi Riviera, located in the northern region with an area of 3,800 sq km, and developing islands in the Red Sea with a total area of 34,000 sq km. 

Once completed, it will deliver a futuristic mega sustainable city.

According to the report, Saudi Arabia is looking to more than double its investment in recreation from the current 2.9% to 6% by 2030. 

Mishal Al Hokair, Board Member of Menalac, said: “Saudi Arabia has an array of dynamic plans and attractions planned over the next few years, each of which will add to the fast growing Leisure and Entertainment sector.”

“Its Vision 2030 will change the entire economic and tourism landscape of not only Saudi Arabia, but the entire Middle East region, that will have a massive positive knock-on effect on the leisure tourism industry,” noted Al Hokair.

“Once the current Covid-19 situation improves, the investment and development in the Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector will bring massive opportunities for the industry. It is time for everyone to prepare for the next big growth,” he added.

Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), the country’s tourism regulator, said the mega tourism projects being developed by Public Investment Fund will be spread over an area of more than 64,634 sq km, with a value exceeding $810 billion.

In addition, SCTH will be developing museums in various Saudi regions, and preserving Saudi heritage with a cost of more than $1.3 billion. 

Saudi Arabia foresees that the national tourism will significantly contribute to the gross domestic product as the most growing non-oil economic sector.  The tourism revenues increased to more than SR193 billion ($51 billion) in 2017, and to more than SR211 billion ($56 billion) in 2018, SCTH said in a report.

In 2017, the kingdom’s tourism sector had attracted $28.6 billion, more than six times the world average in tourism capital investment, it added.

Despite the current situation with regards to Covid-19, Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with construction of some of these massive projects. A number of construction contracts have recently been awarded following the partial re-opening of the economy after the lockdown.

Red Sea Development Company has recently awarded construction contracts worth $1 billion while Neom has awarded Bechtel and Aecom programme management contract.

Changes and growth in Saudi tourism landscape will help leisure attractions operators in the Middle East and North African (Mena) countries. The recent reopening of the land borders by Saudi Authorities will help boost regional tourism in the GCC region.

SCTH plans to facilitate investment SR171.05 billion that will boost the tourism industry capacity and the number of hotel rooms to 621,600 rooms and boost the tourism sector’s contribution to the GDP by 3.1 per cent, and increase direct employment to 1.2 million jobs.

Prakash Vivekanand, the board member of Menalac, said: “The latest news from Saudi Arabia is very encouraging. The government wants to push ahead with the mega projects that will not only boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) but also the tourism sector.”

It will create massive opportunities for all the players in the leisure attractions business and we could count on an exciting future for the industry in the Mena region.”

According to Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority (Sagia), the country wants to increase investment in recreational facilities to 6 per cent from the current 2.9 per cent per annum – more than double the current level, as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

“In 2017, the Saudi tourism sector had attracted investment of SR172 billion ($28.6 billion), which was six times the world average in tourism capital investments,” according to a report by Sagia. “Investments are expected to rise 5.5 per cent per annum over the next ten years to SR200 billion ($54 billion) per annum.”

Rosa Tahmaseb, Secretary General of Menalac, said: “The leisure attractions industry in the Mena region is upbeat with the new opportunities that are arising in Saudi Arabia.”

“We see massive opportunities for our industry being created by more than a $1 trillion investment in the Saudi economy between now and 2030,” she noted.

Tahmaseb called upon all leisure industry stakeholders, both suppliers and operators to explore these opportunities and ascertain how they can take a leading role in helping Saudi Arabia develop its leisure facilities in the coming decade.

According to her, tourism and entertainment are an essential part of the Saudi Vision 2030 which is aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy by reducing its dependence on oil. 

Saudi Arabia aims to develop versatile tourism destinations, which include several coastal sites, marvellous islands and distinguished heritage areas, all of which will require a high level of expertise, support and the most innovative attractions, technology and experiences to ensure the kingdom becomes one of the top tourist and entertainment destinations in the Middle East within the next few years.

“Despite the short-term setback created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-term prospects for our industry remain bright. One example of this can be seen in the dynamic projects planned for Saudi Arabia,” she added.-TradeArabia News Service