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Monday, 30 August 2021

Wild PCR costs are putting travelers off luxury safaris

Planning a remote destination vacation? You might have to shell out four-figures USD for a covid test: Getting the necessary PCR tests for travel to the world’s most remote luxury tourist destinations is a big hassle that comes with an even bigger price tag, Bloomberg reports. For travel agents, tour operators and resorts in far-flung parts of Africa and the Indian Ocean who cater to wealthy tourists, the logistics of making the right covid testing available within tight timeframes can by labyrinthine, especially if clients plan to visit more than one country in a single trip. One Tanzanian lodge has had to ferry doctors and government covid testers on 500-mile-round trips at a cost to guests of USD 500 per PCR test. In some cases, additional PCR testing costs of up to USD 6k have caused would-be adventurers to scrap plans for already lavish, five-figure holidays.

Some in the tourist industry are investing in their own PCR infrastructure: Worried that the costs and logistics of PCR tests are holding back the recovery in luxury travel, some businesses have invested huge sums of money to bring their covid testing in-house. Viking Ocean Cruises has built a full scale lab, staffed by three technicians, on each of its six seagoing ships; its CEO said the company spends as much on PCR testing as it does on fuel. In the Maldives, two resorts joined forces to build a testing lab open to both guests and locals, spending USD 41k on a test-processing machine. But while some companies have been able to find ad-hoc solutions, the entire industry will continue to suffer losses as long as PCR costs and testing rules remain so uneven globally.

Is Saudi’s grand plan for sustainability too green to be true? The FT takes a deep dive into all the promises made — and apparently soon forgotten— by the kingdom on climate. The world’s largest solar park, worth USD 200 bn, announced in 2018? No sign of it. What about The Line, the world’s first carbon-zero, hydrogen-powered city? Still just an architect’s model for now (thankfully). As for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s promise this year that Saudi Arabia’s power generation would be provided exclusively by renewables and gas by 2030 (and that it would plant 10 bn trees in the desert), analysts say there’s little transparency and no details on how to get there.

The breakup with oil may be harder than first thought: Saudi officials and supporters argue that massive progress has been made since the country put climate change on the national agenda in 2015. But as long as the kingdom continues to rely on oil for revenues and foreign currency, and to burn around 1 mn barrels a day for its own power generation, potential investors are leaning cynical. One analyst spells out the bottom line: “The reality is that [the Saudis] have got no economic incentive to switch away from fossil fuel production at the moment.”

Dubai could become one of the crypto capitals of the MENA region as regulators in the emirate look to attract industry players. “Dubai is going to do fantastically well” on cryptocurrencies, the CEO of digital assets exchange Bittrex Global tells Bloomberg. “It’s a great place to set up your token project, or run a cryptocurrency exchange … they’re going to attract a lot of regional projects.”

Why Dubai? Its regulators have taken an interest in blockchain. An agreement in May paved the way for the trading of crypto assets in the Dubai Airport Free Zone, the city last year launched a blockchain-based exchange for sugar trading, and the Middle East’s first bitcoin fund was listed on the Nasdaq Dubai in June. Cryptocurrencies are surging after languishing for months, spurred on by more bullish sentiments (we see you, Elon) and increasing mainstream acceptance.

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