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Egypt opens world’s widest suspension bridge

Egypt has announced the opening of the world’s widest suspension bridge, across the Nile, in what is one of a series of military-led, mega-projects designed to improve infrastructure and provide jobs, said a report.

The bridge, which crosses the Nile just north of central Cairo, is a key link in a highway stretching from the Red Sea in the east to Egypt’s northwestern Mediterranean coast, and is meant to help reduce congestion in the capital, reported Africa News.

Traffic ground to a halt in parts of central Cairo on Wednesday morning as president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi travelled to open the bridge with ministers and military generals, stated the report.

At its widest, the bridge has six traffic lanes in each direction and measures 67.3 m across. A regional director for the Guinness Book of World Records present at the opening said that makes it the world’s widest suspension bridge.

Around one million cu m of concrete as well as 1,400 km of steel wire for 160 suspension cables were used in its construction, it added.


Savills sets up Egyptian property management JV

Global real estate advisor Savills has announced the signing of a prominent joint venture with Egyptian company Sphere, to cover the full range of real estate services in Egypt.

The new partnership, which will trade as Savills, will combine local knowledge with international best practice, said senior officials while announcing the deal at MIPIM 2019, a leading international property event held annually in Cannes, France.

The ceremony was attended by key executives including Steve Morgan, CEO of Savills Middle East, Catesby Langer-Paget, Head of Savills Egypt, James Sparrow, CEO of Savills UK & EMEA, Philip Ingleby, COO of Savills UK & EMEA, and Sherine Badreldine, CEO of Sphere.

As part of the deal, the new joint venture company will this month take responsibility for the management, agency and marketing of Arakan, a key mixed-use development located in West Cairo.

The development opened its doors in 2012 and quickly became the prime location for business, retail and leisure for Sheikh Zayed City and beyond.

Arkan is undergoing significant expansion, with construction on track to be completed in Q1 2020, said a statement from Savills.

Once the extension is concluded, the project will span over a total built-up area of 260,000 sq m and features 210 shops, 67 restaurants, 185 room hotel, 600 seat theatre, 47,000 sq m offices, 4,500 parking spaces and other key developments.

Langer-Paget said: “The Savills journey in Egypt to date has been a great success. We launched our operations in Egypt only in December 2018 and recently announced the launch of our first residential project, One Zamalek, the much anticipated waterfront address in Cairo."

"These rapid developments allowed us to grow considerably in a market that shows promising signs of expansion. We are now achieving another milestone through our strategic joint venture with Sphere, and the subsequent management of Arkan. This key development is set to become one of the most sought-after destinations in the Egyptian capital. Thus we are bringing on board world-class expertise to set a new benchmark in the market,” he stated.

Badreldin said: “We have managed Arkan since its inception and were able to provide one of the first real mixed use schemes in Cairo. Accordingly, we have been approached by other clients for property management, marketing and leasing mandates."

"There is a strong demand for high-end real estate services in Egypt, given the growing number of developments," she noted.

"With Savills, we can meet these requests by providing best in class service, based on global standard policies and procedures. We take great pride in working with the renowned Savills team on the next phase of Arkan, and all the potential future mandates. Their global expertise and knowledge of the regional market, will be key in our journey towards being Egypt's best real estate service provider,” she added.

Savills has also appointed James Bailey as Client Services Director to join the team. James brings over 20 years of experience in delivering and managing key commercial assets.

For instance, he played a vital role in successfully launching three top 20 UK shopping centres which contributed to significant economic regeneration and community engagement in Leeds, Bristol and Leicester. His expertise will be an important asset to raise the bar of what has been previously achieved in Cairo.- TradeArabia News Service


Oman Air’s flights to Alexandria in Egypt to boost business ties

Muscat - Oman Air is starting direct flights to the Egyptian city Alexandria from Friday. It will be the airline’s 53rd destination in its expanding global network.

Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, is a major economic and industrial centre of the country. With its 30km coastline extending along the Mediterranean Sea, coupled with its magnificent ambience and rich cultural heritage, Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Oman Air’s chief executive officer Abdulaziz al Raisi said, “We are pleased to be offering direct services to the beautiful city of Alexandria, Egypt’s most important seaport, where more than 70 per cent of the country’s imports and exports passes through. Commencement of direct services to Alexandria will allow Oman Air to further expand trade ties between the two countries, as well as drive growth in tourism numbers in both directions.”

Paul Starrs, chief commercial officer of Oman Air commented, “We have started 2019 on a strong note, and this year has been an exciting one for Oman Air. The commencement of our new Alexandria service is another significant step forward for the airline. “These flights will be operated on a seasonal service basis during the summer schedule of 2019.”


Kuwait revives debate of 5% expat tax on remittances

Kuwait's Central Bank and Finance Ministry have opposed similar proposals in the past

Talks to introduce a 5 percent tax on expat remittances have been revived, according to several media reports.

A member of parliament (MP) has started collecting signatures in a bid to table a motion on the issue before the National Assembly, according to a report by the Kuwait Times.

The proposal is aiming to implement the 5 percent tax on expat remittances of over 500 Kuwait dinars ($1,640).

Kuwait’s Central Bank and Finance Ministry have opposed similar proposals in the past.

Last summer Arabian Business reported that remittances sent home by expatriates in Kuwait rose 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2018, to around $3.4 billion, according to figures from the Central Bank of Kuwait.

In 2017, total expat remittances from Kuwait fell 9.2 percent to 4.14 billion Kuwait Dinars ($13.69 billion), down from KD 4.56 billion ($15.08 billion) in 2016.

In April last year, the state-run Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) quoted a Kuwaiti MP, chairperson Salah Khorshed, as saying the tax on remittances could generate as much as $233 million each year for the government.


30,000 expats leave Kuwait in first four days of May

The number of expatriate residents in Kuwait has fallen by approximately 30,000 in the first four days of May, according to local media reports.

Citing anonymous ‘official sources’, the Kuwait Times reported that the figure comes from Ministry of Interior figures provided to the Public Authority of Civil Information that show expats who have cancelled their residency visas or were issued with new ones.

“The number showed that expats dropped by around 30,000 in the first four days of May,” the newspaper quoted the source as saying.

Further, the sources explained that as of last Saturday, the total number of Kuwaiti citizens in the country was 1,412,264 (29.7 percent of the population) compare to 3,333,027 expatriates (70.3 percent).

The total number of residents in the country was calculated at 4,745,291.

In November, another Kuwait newspaper, Al-Qabas, reported that Kuwait could reduce its number of expats by at least 1.5 million over the next seven years as it aims to achieve a demographic balance with nationals.

It said the government’s legal body had requested a national committee dedicated to demographic management. It would have the power to achieve a population consisting of 50% Kuwaitis.

The Kuwaiti national population is expected to increase to 1.7 million within seven years, although they currently stand at 1.4 million compared to 3.2 million expats, according to figures by the Public Authority for Civil Authority (PACI).


Kuwait inaugurates 36km causeway to free trade zone

Jaber Bridge connects Kuwait City to the northern desert area of Subbiya, where Kuwait aims to create the Silk City project

Kuwait on Wednesday inaugurated one of the world's longest causeways, linking the oil-rich Gulf state's capital to an uninhabited border region set to become a major free trade hub.

The 36km bridge connects Kuwait City to the northern desert area of Subbiya, where Kuwait aims to create the "Silk City" project linking the Gulf to central Asia and Europe.

The "Jaber" bridge, named after late ruler Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, spans 36 kilometres (22 miles), three-quarters of it over water.

It cuts the driving time between Kuwait City and Subbiya, close to both Iraq and Iran, from 90 minutes to less than half an hour.

Investment in the Silk City project is expected to top $100 billion, and a 5,000-megawatt power plant has already been built in Subbiya.

The $3.6 billion causeway, designed by Paris-based engineering and consulting group Systra, took five years to build.

The work was carried out by a consortium led by South Korea's Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. along with Kuwait's Combined Group Contracting Co.

The opening ceremony was attended by Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah along with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon and the leader of the French senate, Gerard Larcher.

Lee Nak-yeon said Wednesday the causeway would establish Kuwait as an international trade centre.


Kuwait set to build two mega residential cities by 2029

Kuwait has started work on two mega residential projects - South Sabah Al Ahmad residential city and South Saad Al Abdullah city - under its “New-Kuwait 2035” vision, which is set for completion by 2029, said a report.

Steady progress is being made on these projects with nearly 10 per cent work already completed on South Sabah Al Ahmad residential city, while the construction at South Saad Al Abdullah city has reached 11 per cent, according to Mubasher.

On its other projects, Kuwait's government said work was in full swing on its Abdullah Al Mubarak suburb project with about 35 per cent of the development completed. It will be ready by 2025, stated the report.

Additionally, around 39 per cent of South Al Mutlaa City, the largest housing project in Kuwait with 28,363 units, has been completed, with expectations to finish the development by 2023, it added.


Petrol prices in UAE to increase in June

Fuel prices had been increased in May as well.

Fuel prices in the UAE are set to increase in June.

Super 98 petrol will cost Dh2.53 per litre, up from Dh2.48 a litre in May, while Special 95 will cost Dh2.42 a litre, up from Dh2.34 a litre the previous month.

Diesel will cost Dh2.56 a litre, up from Dh2.53 a litre in May.

This is the fourth consecutive month this year that fuel prices have gone up.

Petrol prices in UAE to increase in June

(Prices in dirhams per litre) E-Plus 91 Special 95 Super 98 Diesel
May 2.25 2.34 2.48 2.53
April 2.04 2.11 2.23 2.49
March 1.83 1.92 2.04 2.41
February 1.76 1.84 1.95 2.28
January 1.81 1.89 2 2.3


US fashion chain Urban Outfitters to open first store in Dubai Mall

Urban Outfitters is opening 'soon' with retail giant Azadea Group While it hasn’t revealed a date of opening, Urban Outfitters said on social media that the shop will open “soon”.

American fashion chain Urban Outfitters, which boasts over 240 stores around the world, is opening its first shop in the GCC in The Dubai Mall, according to an announcement on its social media pages.

While it hasn’t revealed a date of opening, Urban Outfitters said on social media that the shop will open “soon”.

Instagram account @uo_arabia was set up four days and features snapshots of the new branch with the captions, “Coming soon.”

The brand said late last year that it would come to the Gulf via a partnership with local retail giant Azadea Group in 2019. The company has the franchise rights for fast fashion brands such as Zara, Bershka, Mango, Misguided and more.

CEO at Azadea Group, Said G Daher, said at the time, “As there continues to be a high demand for experiential concepts, we believe Urban Outfitters will be very well received by our customers across the MENA region.”

Urban Outfitters is offering a mix of on-trend women’s and men’s apparel and accessories, as well as beauty, intimates and a collection of handpicked vintage clothing.


UAE's first floating station to connect Dubai metro, buses

The station is fitted with free WiFi service and journey planning devices.

Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), has opened the smart floating marine transport station at Dubai Festival City; the first floating station in the UAE. The station, which accommodates more than 25 passengers, contributes to the integration of marine transit modes by linking Jadaf-Dubai Festival City line with public buses and Creek Metro Station.

Abra service will be running every 10 minutes between Dubai Festival City and Jadaf Stations daily from 07:00 am up to 12:00 am (midnight) at a fare of two dirhams.

Al Tayer toured Dubai Festival City Station which has witnessed a considerable rise in the number of visitors from 42,863 riders in 2016 to 187,000 riders in 2017. The numbers continued the upward trend in 2018 recording a 24 per cent increase to hit 245,000 riders.

Featuring a design inspired by marine habitats, the station is in harmony with green buildings standards and is connected with a pier and shaded outdoor areas. It is also open for future expansions and relocatable as well. The building provides spaces dedicated to people of determination and top security and safety standards. It has ticket sale service facilities and waiting places overlooking Dubai Creek. The station is capable of accommodating various marine transit means comprising the ferry, water bus, water taxi, traditional abra and air-conditioned abra. Its location is in close proximity to Jadaf Marine Transport Station, Dubai Metro Creek Station, and the public bus station on the opposite side of Dubai Creek.

The floating station is one of the first smart stations. The hi-tech devices fitted to the station provide real-time passenger information, timetables of marine transport services and weather condition. Customer can plan their journeys at the Smart Kiosk in an integrated way with other marine transit modes.

The smart systems provided enable clients to process various transactions related to RTA while staying at the station. RTA has also provided a Smart Corner onboard Dubai Ferry rendering it the first floating smart marine transport station in the region. It is run in five languages: Arabic, English, Malayalam, Urdu, and Chinese.

A relief call (SOS) device has been installed in the station to monitor the safety of customers along with a sound system and smart cameras to give alerts and guidance about safety and security matters, especially during emergencies. WiFi service is provided free of charge at the station to boost the happiness of marine transport riders.

Quality Shift

Al Tayer was delighted with the opening of the floating marine transport station at Dubai Festival City; thus adding a quantum shift to the marine transport sector in the Emirate. "The construction of this station is part of RTA master plan for improving Dubai marine transit systems, which are used by more than 14 m riders annually.

"RTA plan envisages the construction of seven new marine transport stations at the Business Bay, Dubai Water Canal and coastal areas over the next couple of years; which will bring the total number of marine transit stations in Dubai to 55 stations by 2020. The plan includes operating marine transport services along Dubai Creek and Jumeirah Beaches in addition to the New Islands, Business Bay and Dubai Water Canals services.

"The marine transport sector is witnessing a sustained growth in terms of the number and modes of transit means, stations and ridership since the opening of the Dubai Water Canal linking Dubai Creek with the Arabian Gulf. The growth rate of this sector will receive a boost upon the completion of urban and tourist facilities on both sides of the canal and the building of marine transport stations at the canal. The marine transit modes will be the ideal mobility choice for many citizens, residents and tourists who will also enjoy scenic views on both shores of Dubai Creek and Dubai Water Canal," explained Al Tayer.

Mobility Options

"We are extremely delighted to be part of RTA's marine transport network. The new station enhances the destinations transportation options which include public buses and taxis making it easier for residents and tourists to get to Dubai Festival City and enjoy its many attractions," said Omar Al Futtaim, Vice Chairman, Al-Futtaim.

"The new station also makes it easier for a significant number of residents and tourists who visit Dubai Festival City Mall to enjoy its retail, dining and entertainment options," added Al Futtaim.

Last year, RTA launched Al Garhoud Workshop for Maintenance of Marine Transit Means (abra, ferry and water taxi), the first specialist workshop of marine transit means manufactured of fibreglass. The workshop spans an area of 5000 square metres and contains a marina extending 250 metres and a dock capable of accommodating boats measuring up to 32m in length in addition to a boat lifting crane with a capacity of 100 tons. The facility hosts five different workshops; each can accommodate 16 boats at a time.


Careem acquires Abu Dhabi bike-sharing firm Cyacle

The agreement will see the creation of a new app to allow users to access bikes as its stations

Careem has acquired UAE-based bike-sharing company Cyacle, the company said on Tuesday.

Cyacle, which began operations in 2014 with backing from the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, has 50 bike-share stations in Abu Dhabi.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Many journeys are relatively short in distance, including those to and from transportation hubs such as metro and bus stations,” said Magnus Olsson, Careem co-founder and CEO.

“So, increasing bicycle availability and expanding routes will transform how people commute, as well as offering micro-availability solutions for short-distance trips,” he added.

In a January report, McKinsey said that over $5.7bn has been invested into the micro-mobility sector since 2015, which it attributes to the growth of urban consumers who have experience with ride-hailing companies such as Uber.

As part of the agreement between Careem and Cynacle, a new app will be made available to users through iOS and Android. Users will be able to use the new app, Careem’s app or take a bike from a docking station with a credit and debit card.

“It’s exciting to be taking micro-mobility to the next level becoming an integral part of life in the capital, and now with Careem involved it will accelerate the service and improve the lives of so many more people in the region,” Cyacle CEO Sami Amin said.

Earlier this year, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announced it was collaborating with Careem to launch a similar service in Dubai that will operate over 3,000 bicycles across hundreds of stations.


Smart Dubai, DHA use Artificial Intelligence to save lives

Smart Dubai unveiled a new Artificial Intelligence, AI, use case in the healthcare sector that allows healthcare professionals to pre-emptively predict a patient’s condition by tracking six vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, and the pulse, among others.

Nurses feed this data into the high-precision AI system, which analyses it to predict how a patient’s situation will progress, take the necessary precautions, and potentially save many lives.

This is part of Smart Dubai's AI Lab initiative, conducted in collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority, DHA, and IBM, to harness AI to propose practical solutions, develop sophisticated services, and improve people’s lives.

Thousands of patients across four hospitals – Rashid Hospital, Latifa Hospital, Dubai Hospital, and Hatta Hospital – were part of the proof of concept, PoC, where the system was trained to process the data of these patients.

Wesam Lootah, CEO of the Smart Dubai Government Establishment, emphasised the importance of AI technology to improve the lives of residents and visitors. He said, "Today, in collaboration with our strategic partners in the government and private sectors, and as part of our AI Lab initiative, we are introducing a new and unique experience that could potentially save countless lives. The technology offers a comprehensive reading of a patient's health, providing healthcare professionals enough time to intervene in case of an emergency."

Dr Younis Kazem, CEO of the Dubai Healthcare Corporation at the DHA, said the smart transformations taking place at the DHA facilities are a testimony to the authority’s commitment to follow the directions of the UAE Government and Dubai’s goal of transforming itself into a smart city that provides quality services to its people.

The PoC revealed that deteriorating health conditions in patients can be detected anywhere from one hour to 20 hours ahead with 90 to 98 percent accuracy. The pilot project also demonstrated that the system is capable of determining the precise moment when a patient’s condition is likely to deteriorate after leaving the intensive care unit.

The trial also revealed three main benefits the DHA and participating hospitals can look forward to, the first of which is an increased potential to save lives by means of a sophisticated system that draws on accurate data to pre-emptively determine critical cases and take the necessary precautions on time.

The second benefit pertains to better management of a hospital's resources, particularly doctors and nurses. And third, the system will enhance the performance of the medical crew by providing them the data with which they need to make sound decisions, and offer insights that would normally take years of experience in the medical sector to accumulate.


Dubai drivers no longer need to pay off fines before renewing car registration

Dubai drivers can now renew their car registration without clearing unpaid fines, police have announced.

Dubai Police made the decision after motorists raised concerns that the emirate's vehicle renewal policy had made the force's ongoing Exemplary Driver discount scheme unworkable.

Car owners have had to ensure all traffic fines have been paid before they are able to renew their registration every year.

There was confusion after police rolled out its new safety initiative in which drivers can have all fines forgiven if they drive for 12 months without committing a traffic offence.

Residents contacted police to ask how they could be eligible for the full discount if they had to pay off their fines when renewing their registration during a 12 month period.

The force has teamed up with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority to waive the existing policy.

“The vehicle’s licence will be renewed regardless of the amount of the accumulated fines or any periods of confiscation imposed on the cars, or the number of offences committed,” said Dubai Police chief, Maj Gen Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri.

“This initiative is well thought out and has clear goals including helping members of the community, easing financial burdens, and encouraging drivers to remain safe behind the wheel, eventually reducing accidents and road deaths,” he said.

It was not clear how much time motorists will be given to pay outstanding fines.

The scheme rewards motorists who maintain a clean record for 12 months with a 100 per cent discount on their fines. Those who drive for nine months without picking up further penalties will have their fines cut by 75 per cent.

Drivers who maintain a clean record for six months will have their existing fines cut by 50 per cent and by 25 per cent if they do not commit offences for three months.

Traffic penalties in Dubai vary from Dh300 — for exceeding the speed limit up to 20kph — to Dh3,000 for travelling more than 80kph above the limit.

Fines can also be levied for failing to maintain lane discipline, jumping red lights and driving dangerously.

Drivers who commit serious traffic offences can also have black points added to their licence and could face jail time.

In Abu Dhabi, some speeding fines were slashed by half last August when the speed buffer zone — allowing drivers to travel 20kph above displayed speed limits — was scrapped in the emirate.

The director general of Dubai police’s traffic department, Brig Saif Muhair Al Mazroui, said the shift in policy will encourage more drivers to renew their registration on time.

The Exemplary Driver initiative was launched on February 7 to encourage motorists to ease their foot off the accelerator and take extra care behind the wheel.

Police revealed last week that 457,000 drivers had received a 25 per cent discount on about 1.2 million violations in the first three months of the campaign.

Police said the scheme is already proving a success, with the number of accidents and deaths on the emirate's roads falling from February to May 7, compared to the same period in 2018.


Dubai's house prices down 13.2pc in April

The average annual house price in Dubai decreased by 13.2 per cent in April, with some communities registering even higher price declines, according to Property Monitor, a UAE-based real estate intelligence platform from leading property consultants Cavendish Maxwell.

Emirates Living, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Jumeirah Lake Towers and IMPZ were some of the communities that registered price declines of more than 14 per cent on average, stated the company in its Dubai House Price Index for April.

The index has been tracking the prices of a selection of apartments and villas/townhouses since September 2015.

Month-on-month, the price decline for April was 1.5 per cent compared to 1.7 per cent in March. House prices in the three months up to March were 4.9 per cent lower than in the previous quarter, it said.

Overall, the average house price in Dubai decreased to Dh2.5 million, the report added.

Property Monitor said the rate of off-plan apartment transfers remained high in April, as had been the case over the past 12 months.

However, the total volume of residential transactions over Q1 2019 was one per cent lower than the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, the volume of apartment transfers over Q1 2019 decreased by nearly 15 per cent compared to the same period in the past year, it stated.

According to the House Price Index for April, the average apartment price declined to Dh1.7 million, marginally below the Dh1.8 million figures from the previous two months.

Meanwhile, the average villa/townhouse price remained relatively stable at Dh4.5 million. In September 2015, the prices for apartments and villas/townhouses were Dh2.1 million and Dh5.6 million respectively, indicating a decline of 19 and 20 per cent, it added.- TradeArabia News Service


Carrefour opens at Dubai’s Cityland Mall

A 109,000-sq-ft Carrefour Hypermarket, developed as part of major retail development, Cityland Mall, off the 311 Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed highway in Dubai, UAE has opened its doors.

The 1.2 million-sq-ft GLA Cityland Mall is adjacent to Global Village, and Carrefour, being developed as part of the ambitious project, will cater to the residential communities of Arabian Ranches, Majan, Al Barari, Layan, The Villa and Falcon City and several upcoming communities like Villanova, Arabian Ranches Extension, and many others, all of which are located within a ten-minute drive-time.

Carrefour, operating under Majid Al Futtaim Retail, will offer customers a wide variety of their signature items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, and high-quality non-food products, in addition to a Healthy Kitchen aisle, Food2Go, and Cuisines of the World at unprecedented prices.

Cityland Mall is the World’s first nature-inspired mall and when complete will offer an unrivalled shopping and leisure experience. The mall has already been the recipient of a global award for innovation by Global RLI Awards 2018, underpinning the developer’s efforts to introduce a distinguished project in the real estate and retail landscape.

In addition to its extensive retail and food and beverage offering, it will comprise a 200,000-sq-ft botanical garden – “Central Park”, a mini water park, an amphitheatre with 3,000 seating capacity, an ancient tree garden, Japanese Garden and mini version of Dubai Miracle Garden, 360 rooftop garden as well as a family entertainment area complete with cinema complex.

Fahimuddin Sharfuddin, chief executive officer and board member, Cityland Group said: “We are delighted to welcome Carrefour to Cityland Mall. This well established popular brand offers shoppers an unparalleled experience in convenience, choice and quality and their presence will provide a significant boost to our varied retail offering at Cityland Mall. As one of the UAE’s leading operators in the hypermarket sector their presence here will be much appreciated by local communities.”

Philippe Peguilhan, country manager of Carrefour UAE at Majid Al Futtaim Retail said: “Cityland Mall offers a fresh and original twist for the ordinary shopper and is well positioned to evolve into an unparalleled shopping experience for its visitors. It is our belief that adding a retail space can only enhance this journey by offering an assortment of items that are rich in quality, variety, and value. We are confident that we will successfully surpass customers’ expectations as a reflection of our brand promise to create great moments for everyone, every day.”

Over the forthcoming weeks, Carrefour will be joined by several other brands opening their doors at Cityland Mall. They include home furnishing anchor tenants, food & beverage outlets, banks, exchange companies and pharmacies, along with telecom service providers, etc. – TradeArabia News Service


Dubai RTA launches 24/7 smart service centre

Dubai’s Road and Transportation Authority (RTA) has launched a mini smart and integrated customer service centre, enabling clients to make self-service transactions round-the-clock.

The I-Counter, which can be easily relocated, can process all transactions that can be availed via the Smart Kiosk, except for cash payment, and printout of transactions.

Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of RTA said that transactions processed through smart self-service machines saw an immense increase of as much as 324 per cent between 2017 and 2018. Equally, transactions processed online (through the website and the smart app) and the call centre grew by 111 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

Services offered through the I-Counter include query, payment of traffic fines, licensing/renewing of vehicle registration, and issuing/renewing driver license. They also include issuing of replacement of a lost vehicle registration card, certificate of owning/not owning a vehicle, replacement of a lost driver license, insurance premium reimbursement certificate, and clearance certificate. In the near future, more services will be added, such as the refund of payments, and the top-up of nol cards/seasonal parking cards. It serves customers in five languages (Arabic, English, Malayalam, Urdu, and Chinese).

Al Tayer reviewed the future plan for the deployment of I-Counters. Four machines will be deployed at Umm Ramool customer happiness centre, three at Deira customer happiness centre, another three in Dubai Ferry, and similar number in the Smart Bus. In future, more machines will be deployed on board of 700 taxis. Machines will also be made available at customer happiness centres at Al Barsha and Al Tawar, centres of RTA service providers and some malls, among others.

Al Tayer was briefed about the performance indicators of self-service machines. The number of transactions processed leapfrogged from 69,811 transactions in 2017 to 296,000 transactions in 2018, recording a massive growth rate of 324 per cent. Vehicles licensing services accounted for 53 per cent of total transactions processed by self-service machines, followed by driver services, which amounted to 21 per cent. The remaining were shared between payments, queries, seasonal cards, collection and certificate issuing services.

He was also briefed about the smart channels, including the website, app and call centre (8009090). The number of transactions picked up from about 271,000 transactions in 2016 to about 572,000 transactions in 2018, recording a growth rate of 111 per cent at a rate of 2,000 transactions per day. Transactions delivered through approved delivery companies reached 1,940 transactions per day, with a compliance rate of 99 per cent.

Al Tayer reviewed the performance of RTA’s seven customer happiness centres during the first quarter of 2019 year. The average service processing time was (1 minute - 39 seconds) at Al Manara Centre, (2 minutes - 27 seconds) at Deira Centre, (37 seconds) at Al Tawar Centre, and (2 minutes - one second) at Al Barsha Centre. The overall satisfaction rating of Customer Happiness Centres clocked 95 per cent, and the Happiness index hit 98 per cent.

Al Tayer also reviewed initiatives developed to enhance the customer experience, including upgrading the automated queuing system through reading the ID card details and sending a digital ticket to the customer's phone. An escalation process was also linked to the queuing system such that the Head of the Centre and Section Manager are notified in case of failure to achieve the targeted waiting and service delivery time. – TradeArabia News Service


Bahrain's underwater theme park to open after Eid

The attraction, which authorities claim will be the world’s largest underwater theme park and will include a submerged Boeing 747 as its centrepiece, will also eventually cover a total area of 100,000 square metres.

Bahrain’s underwater theme park will open after Eid Al-Fitr next month, according to a report by the Daily Tribune newspaper, citing information from the Bahraini Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.

The attraction, which authorities claim will be the world’s largest underwater theme park and will include a submerged Boeing 747 as its centrepiece, will also eventually cover a total area of 100,000 square metres, according to a report in January by the state-run Bahrain News Agency.

The diver site will feature the 70-metre long 747, the largest aircraft ever to be submerged.

According to the BNA, the site is being designed as a dive experience. Other features will include a submerged replica of a traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house, artificial coral reefs and other sculptures that have been placed underwater as a safe haven for coral growth and as a habitat for marine animals.


Dana, first virtual employee, joins BisB team

Bahrain Islamic Bank (BisB), a leading provider of integrated Islamic banking services in Bahrain, has announced the appointment of its first digital virtual employee, Dana.

Dana will be setting measures and instilling creative methodologies to ensure the BisB’s portfolio products and services are developed innovatively simple, the bank said. This is in line with BisB’s objective to simplify customers’ money matters by enabling them to conduct their daily transactions with the ultimate ease and convenience.

Dana will take the lead in enlightening the public with general information on the bank's products and services, digitally providing tips and insights on Fin-Tech and financial trends, supporting the bank’s aim to improve their engagement and interaction with customers across BisB’s digital platforms. This revolutionary step demonstrates the Bank’s success in its strategic efforts to transform its business approach, by providing leading and innovative financial solutions to its customers, contributing to the development of the kingdom’s financial industry at large.

BisB chief executive officer Hassan Jarrar said: “Dana is our first “virtual Bahraini employee”. This milestone is a step in a long journey of continuous improvement and discovery for BisB in trying to transform the culture of the Bank into one of innovation and technology. In our journey, we strive to emulate how technology companies think and act. Our ultimate goal here is to make banking with BisB as seamless and pleasant as the use of a smart phone.”

BisB constantly strives to deploy cutting-edge digital platforms and offer innovative customer-centric products and services. The bank’s strategic values revolve around embracing and expanding the digital mindset, inspiring a culture of continuous learning and swiftly evolving to meet the demands of today’s modern financial landscape in order to further cement its position as an industry leader in the region. – TradeArabia News Service


New residency permits 'will draw innovators to Saudi Arabia'

The creation of a new residency permit scheme for qualified international expatriates in Saudi Arabia is expected to attract leading global entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to the kingdom, a senior official has said.

Engineer Ibrahim Al Omar, Governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), said: “Our aim is to attract innovators from across the world to live and work in Saudi Arabia – and this reform will play a significant role in doing so. These investors and entrepreneurs will help to drive the private sector growth, which is needed to realize the ambitious goals set out in Saudi Vision 2030.”

The residency permit will enable expatriates in Saudi Arabia to gain access to a range of additional privileges alongside their residency, including visas for their families and permission to own real estate in the kingdom, a Saudi Press Agency report said.

There will be two separate forms of the programmme -- one acting as a permanent residence permit, and the other which is renewable on an annual basis.

Engineer Al Omar continued: “It is important that stakeholders understand that Saudi Arabia offers significant long-term opportunities. We want to attract people who will build a foundation and a network in Saudi Arabia, and who will play a role in the future development of the Saudi economy and benefit from the growth opportunities it presents. We believe that this reform will make a real difference.”

This new scheme will encourage and enable people across the globe to choose Saudi Arabia as a long-term destination to invest, work and build their lives.

This move follows the lifting of foreign ownership restrictions in many sectors, giving investors the chance to access previously untapped opportunities in a large and growing G20 economy.

In the past year, Sagia also launched a Specialised Entrepreneur License, which allows international entrepreneurs to launch a fully foreign-owned start-up company in Saudi Arabia.

The recent reforms have led to a 70 per cent spike in the number of new foreign business licences issued by Sagia in Q1 2019, when compared to the same period last year.

The launch of the new visa programme also follows the introduction of specialised visas for events such as Formula E motor races, the Winter at Tantora Festival in Al Ula and the Saudi International Golf Tournament. There are also plans to introduce the kingdom’s first tourism visa, which will play a significant role to enhance Saudi Arabia’s global profile as a leading travel destination.

Saudi Arabia is undergoing a series of social and economic reforms that aim at realising the kingdom’s economic potential under Vision 2030. Following these initiatives, the World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia as the 4th largest reformer within the G20 and noted improvement across four key pillars in its latest Doing Business report, the SPA report said.


Imax eyes 'enormous potential' in Saudi Arabia after cinema reform

CEO of Canadian entertainment firm Imax says it sees Saudi Arabia as a 'very strong market'

Canadian entertainment firm Imax intends to expand its presence in Saudi Arabia, according to CEO Rich Gelfond.

“The market potential in Saudi Arabia is enormous,” said Gelfond at the company’s annual Cannes lunch.

Imax operates two theatres in the country under its licensing arrangement with Dubai-based Vox.

“We think (Saudi Arabia) is going to be a very strong market. We won’t enter ourselves. We will enter with partners,” Gelfond was quoted as saying by Screen International.

He said Imax plans to work in Saudi Arabia with exhibitor partners such as AMC, Vox, Cinepolis and Empire. “We’re pretty much talking to all of them,” added Gelfond.

The second Imax theatre in Saudi Arabia opened in Jeddah in the Red Sea Mall in January and saw almost $1.5 million in business in less than four months.

Imax already has a substantial footprint in the Middle East, with Vox Cinemas operating several successful Imax locations regionally, including Mall of the Emirates (Dubai), City Centre Qurum (Oman), City Centre Bahrain (Bahrain) and City Centre Beirut (Lebanon).

Imax first entered the Middle East in 2000, with the Imax theatre at the Scientific Centre of Kuwait and has more than 30 contracted theatres in the region.

The move to reopen cinemas in Saudi Arabia is part of a modernisation drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options.

The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from a protracted slump in oil prices.

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see movie shows and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai.


Saudi Arabia approves plan for Green Card-style system

Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia has approved a draft law regulating the issuance of residence permits for highly-skilled and wealthy foreign nationals

In a move to attract foreign investors and entrepreneurs, the Shura Council has approved the initiative, similar to the Green Card in the United States.

The Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia has approved a draft law regulating the issuance of residence permits for highly-skilled and wealthy foreign nationals without the need for a sponsor.

In a move to attract foreign investors and entrepreneurs, the Shura Council has approved the initiative, similar to the Green Card in the United States, as the Gulf kingdom looks to open up its economy as part of its Saudi Vision 2030 ambitions.

According to initial announcements in the Saudi media, eligible foreign nationals will be able to obtain a residence permit for up to one-year (renewable) or for an unlimited period of time.

Qualifying applicants will be required to prove sufficient financial resources, and have no criminal record and medical fitness, a statement said.

Beneficiaries of the program will be allowed to sponsor visitor visas for their relatives, employment visas for domestic workers, own property and travel without restrictions from and to Saudi Arabia.

Further details of the law along with executive regulations are expected to be announced in the coming months.

The news comes just a few weeks from another announcement confirming the launch of a new Gold Card extended residence visa scheme, with agencies and consultancies asked to research the possibility of further incentives aimed at attracting wealthy expat investors.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in 2016 that the kingdom planned to introduce a United States-style green card system.

In an interview with Bloomberg, when asked what "non-oil revenue measures" the kingdom will likely undertake to diversify the economy, he said: "We are working on a specific program similar to the green card."

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