Saudi ministry launches virtual media hub for 2022 Hajj season

RIYADH: Non-fungible tokens and blockchain technologies have taken the world by storm, dominating everything from the art space to advertising. Web3, a new blockchain-based version of the internet, and the metaverse are still relatively new concepts, but it looks like they’re here to stay with more and more people – and businesses – experimenting with them.

XGUARD, for example, is an emerging company with offices in Riyadh, Dubai and Vienna, helping organizations and individuals navigate Web3 and virtual space “one block at a time”.

In Riyadh, the company is actively holding information sessions and workshops to help equip Saudis with the skills and tools to venture into Web3, open their own wallets, invest in or sell NFTs, grow their businesses and engage in virtual experiences.

XGUARD started as a sports promotion company in Dubai. After its founder Omar Aridi began to venture into these emerging technologies, his interest in them grew.

The Saudi industry is still in its infancy, Aridi told Arab News.

He said: “I was planning to work in a very decentralized way. Saudi Arabia was not just my focus, but after reading the market and seeing how things are going, I think Saudi Arabia has the most appetite when it comes to [this space].”

Just last month, the Saudi Ministry of Tourism and the Saudi Tourism Authority created NFT souvenirs which were presented to heads of delegations attending the 116th Session of the Executive Council of the World Nations Tourism Organization Nations, held in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 and the whole direction of digital transformation and blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence – that makes it the perfect platform for us,” Aridi said. “The only bottleneck we had was cryptocurrency regulation, which I know is on the way. I think it’s better to be the first to move now and the first to adopt. When things get regulated, we know we’ll be the go-to consulting firm here.

Since cryptocurrencies are the most commonly used form of payment in the metaverse, their lack of regulation has led companies to be wary of entering this space.

“The lack of trust comes from the lack of regulation, not the technology,” Aridi said. “You have to pay with cryptocurrency, and that’s the element that hasn’t been regulated yet.”

In the Gulf region, the UAE spearheaded NFT and cryptocurrency regulation by issuing the first cryptocurrency law and establishing the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority.

For enterprises, enterprise NFT technologies themselves are critical. “It brings very well authenticated ownership documented on the blockchain. No one can erase it and no one can penetrate it,” Aridi said.

In some industries, having verified proof of ownership and secure data records can reduce processing time, reduce the risk of fraud and error, provide enduring product authenticity, manage critical data, and facilitate supply chain process.

Although the NFT, bitcoin and Ethereum markets are currently down due to the cryptocurrency crash, Aridi is optimistic. “It’s very good because the market has to [course] correct,” he said. “Hopefully, only the few appropriate strong value propositions will be maintained and XGUARD will be one of them, as we view NFTs as technology, not hype.”

XGUARD provides businesses with Web3 consulting, marketing, art and blockchain development, all under one roof. “In terms of competition, I don’t see anyone offering the value proposition that we offer, which is A-Z consulting solutions. No one in Saudi Arabia does that yet,” Aridi said.

For the moment, the company adopts an essentially educational approach. He has collaborated with local spaces and businesses, such as AlMashtal Creative Space in Riyadh and The Music Space in Jeddah, to create communities across the country.

“We have a lot of artists, in Saudi Arabia in particular, who really want to be heard, who really want to improve their business,” Aridi said. “For entrepreneurs, if they have an idea, we sit down with them, research it, shape it, strategize together, and help launch it. The idea is basically to create success stories.

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