The Future Investment Initiative (FII), Saudi Arabia’s flagship financial forum, has been postponed until early next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers said.
The event, which has become a fixture in the global investment calendar in the short time since its launch in 2017, was scheduled for late next month but has been put back until the end of January.
The organizers, the FII Institute, said: “After careful consideration and assessment of the global travel and airline outlook, as well as the regulations imposed by a significant number of countries, and in the context of the efforts deployed to overcome the impact of COVID-19, we have decided to postpone the fourth edition of the FII, initially scheduled to take place from Oct. 28-29, 2020 in Riyadh, to Jan. 26-28 under the theme ‘The Neo-Renaissance.’”
One executive involved in the event said that consideration had been given to staging a “virtual” FII but it was decided that an in-person event was preferable, even if it had to be delayed.
“The challenge was not guaranteeing safety once in Saudi Arabia, but the difficulties of getting there and back for a three-day event,” he added.
The forum is likely to stick to the schedule already drawn up under the neo-renaissance theme, focusing on healthcare, sustainability, artificial intelligence and robotics, the executive said.
Richard Attias, a member of the FII Institute’s board of directors, last month said he was still aiming to stage an in-person event.
“I think virtual events are OK but it’s not, to be honest, the best way to definitely do business together,” he said. “It is not the best way to talk about big investments. You cannot make deals of billions of dollars and investment of billions of dollars just through virtual conversation.”
With the global pandemic continuing to affect many parts of the world, some countries have re-imposed travel restrictions and curfew regulations on air travelers. Flights to and from the Kingdom are still heavily restricted, with international airports closed to passenger traffic.
FII — dubbed “Davos in the desert” but held in the luxury of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and conference center in Riyadh for the past three years — attracts thousands of participants from the biggest corporations and investment institutions in the world. Business deals worth billions of dollars have been signed during the event.
The end of January is normally a busy time on the international forums circuit, with the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting traditionally taking place at that time in Davos, Switzerland. For 2021, however, that event has been moved to the summer, again because of pandemic-related travel concerns.