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Saudi Arabia essential to Middle East maritime presence

Seatrade Maritime Coverage Cloud team speaks to Jan Gerrit Köchling, Partner, and Charles Menkhorst, Maritime Senior Advisor at Roland Berger about what moves the industry as a whole and current trends in Saudi Arabia maritime market.

What does Roland Berger do and what core themes do you focus your efforts on?

Jan Gerrit Köchling, Partner, Roland Berger

We work over the entire maritime sector, we work with shipping lines, it was actually the merger of Hapag-Lloyd and UASC that brought me to the region. We work with ports, we work with shipyards, and our clients tend to be ministries, authorities. W

We really get to work with the decision makers of the of the kingdom, luckily, which is a great privilege. Three core themes that we've been seeing in the industry number one is enablement -we've had two national strategies published just last summer that support the maritime industry, for instance. And a lot of enablement goes into that. So there are several authorities that work on supporting the maritime industry. And it's really trying to boost it towards the goal of vision 2030, of making Saudi Arabia, one of the logistics hubs of the region.

A second one is localization, we see how much of our projects also entail this link to finding partners internationally, bringing knowledge to the kingdom, bringing technology to the kingdom. So, pretty much every single one of our projects is always about how can we make this happen? How can we bring over what the Kingdom needs to achieve its ambitious goals.

And the third trend, I would say is concentration - we've seen already for many years body the national shipping line as the carrier on the on the high seas for the kingdom, we see now with IMI one dominant shipyard coming up onto the East Coast, that is also going to shape the industry. So, to me now, the key question is, what is the port's industry going to look like a couple of years down the road?

Charles Menkhorst- Maritime Senior Advisor, Roland Berger.

I believe, from own experience—I used to run port infrastructure companies myself— what I believe are the critical topics for any CEO are growth, consolidation, labour shortages, and the environment. Growth is very critical. You see here in the Middle East, that every country, every multinational, has the ambition, to create capacity, however, that capacity needs to be filled in order to generate an attractive return on investment. So, the question now is how can we really drive the growth, to deliver the shareholders and attractive return on that investment? I think that is very critical.

 Another critical topic, that's I think, on top of the mind of every CEO is the consolidation in the industry, you see that the large companies are getting larger, they are acquiring the smaller players, which definitely has an impact on the overall competitive dynamics, fewer competitors, but much stronger competitors. And if you're not careful, that can have a very negative impact on the overall returns we can generate.

The third item that I believe is on top of the agenda of every CEO is labour, labour shortages, maybe in this part of the world, slightly less than in Europe and North America. But the access to skilled well qualified labour is a struggle and is a huge challenge, also in this part of the world. And the fourth topic, as we have heard also, during this, I think, fantastic event here in Damam is environmental consciousness, environmental awareness. I think we are now at a turning point. The last five years, we've heard a lot of governments we've heard a lot of companies talking about the environment, talking about zero emissions, and setting themselves ambitious goals. But what we really start to see for the first time right now is companies stepping forward with very concrete actions. Personally, I believe that zero emissions, for example, will become one of the qualifiers for companies to get access to new business opportunities.

Where do you see tourism growing in the maritime sector?

Jan Gerrit Köchling, Partner, Roland Berger

It's a topic close to heart. We've branched out a bit into maritime tourism actually, quite a bit. We've worked in the leisure cruising industry, we've worked on the yachting and marinas and I think what’s extremely exciting what is what is happening on the Red Sea coast in particular, with the Red Sea Riviera, under establishment. We're complementing that by helping to develop touristic destinations where the marinas are the anchoring point. The vision is that at some point in the future, sailors could sail down the Red Sea coast and have a harbouring spot, basically like a string of pearls along the coast. Ideally, all the way from the Gulf of Aqaba down to Jeddah. And it's our pride and joy to help and contribute to that maybe even at some point in time being able to zigzag also to the Egyptian coast. So yeah. feasibility studies that we do in this context for the touristic developments. That is another element that we do in the maritime sector.

Why is it important to have an event like Saudi Maritime Congress in Saudi Arabia?

Charles Menkhorst- Maritime Senior Advisor, Roland Berger.

I believe both from a Roland Berger perspective but also from a port operator perspective, if you look to the map of the Middle East, you can only come to one conclusion and that is Saudi Arabia is at the heart of the GCC region. It's 75% of the geographical coverage. It's 75% probably of the population, the economic growth. So, if you want to be taken as a very serious operator or company in the Middle East, you must develop a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. And I think this event has demonstrated once more that there is so much going on. There's so many opportunities in the maritime industry.