With its hard work already paying off, an indomitable spirit of determination drives the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry. Natalie Hami reports.
Powerhouse, unstoppable and transformative are just some of the words that perfectly describe Saudi Arabia’s travel and tourism industry.
With the sector having been earmarked as a driver for growth in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy, it currently represents a major development opportunity for the global hospitality industry. This has resulted in a number of top-notch companies – both midscale and luxury – wishing to make their mark in the Kingdom. Last year alone, names such as Elaf Group, Radisson, IHG and many more, either opened new properties or announced a slew of openings for the upcoming years.
On the luxury front, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts marked the brand’s grand debut in the capital city, with the opening of the 298-room Fairmont Riyadh.
Meanwhile, also dedicated to bolstering its foothold in the country, The Ascott Limited’s Saudi portfolio is ever blossoming. Speaking exclusively to TTG was the group’s regional general manager, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Vincent Miccolis: “Taking into account the reforms underway in the KSA, alongside the growth of the Kingdom’s private sector and massive infrastructure investment, it remains one of our key focal points for expansion. Of the additional 11 properties (1,638 keys) currently under development throughout the GCC, six are scheduled to open in the KSA in the next two years.”
The Radisson Hotel Group is also looking forward to boosting its portfolio in the country, as its regional director, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Levant, Basel Talal explained to TTG: “It’s an exciting time for Radisson Hotel Group in Saudi Arabia, where we are seeing tremendous growth, with a strong pipeline and multiple hotel openings. In 2018 we added five new hotels to our portfolio in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Jubail and Najran. We were also delighted to introduce the Radisson Collection, our premium lifestyle collection of iconic hotel properties, in unique locations. Nofa Resort Riyadh, A Radisson Collection Hotel is a stunning resort just outside of Riyadh that offers guests a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The hotel company is also set to open Radisson Blu Hotel and Residence in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter in Q2 of this year.
VISION OF THE FUTURE
Keen to stimulate continuous growth and investment, stakeholders are making strategic plans based on long-term commitments to the destination’s tourism sector. Two examples of this are The Red Sea Project, led by the Red Sea Development Company, which is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), and Amaala, which is also being led by PIF.
An integral component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy, the Red Sea Project will entail the development of up to 10,000 hotel rooms across island resorts, mountain retreats and desert hideaways. The first phase, set for 2022, includes 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels providing 3,000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts. Phase one will also include yacht marinas, leisure and lifestyle amenities, and an airport.
Situated on the north-western coast of the Kingdom, Amaala will focus on wellness, healthy living and meditation within an ultra-luxurious setting. It is expected to house hotels, private villas, a rental village, marinas, a yacht club, a range of F&B options and an academy of the arts.
However, long-term commitment to the destination’s ever-burgeoning tourism sector comes in many forms and includes the creation of opportunities for Saudi youth.
According to founder, Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) and chairman, Bench Events, Jonathan Worsley: “The development of the next generation of hoteliers is critical to the future growth of the hospitality industry in the region and we have a collective responsibility to help them navigate these exciting, yet challenging, times of disruption.”
Worsley noted the significance of the KSA as a tourism destination since the inception of AHIC, highlighting that due to the multitude of investment opportunities arising in the country, the Saudi Hotel Investment Conference (SHIC) was developed, in order to serve the needs of the hospitality investment community.
In a bid to recognise and reward exceptional young talent, SHIC recently launched the Saudi Young Hospitality Leader Award.
Key themes addressed at SHIC included the outlook for reform and investment in the Kingdom, the regulatory framework, trends and pipeline challenges, domestic spending and travel, religious tourism and businesswomen in hospitality.
Indeed, the rapid diversification of the tourism sector, boosted by a number of initiatives, including the easing of visa restrictions, has been welcomed by travel and tourism stakeholders.
Remarking on the key role played by the new online visa, sales manager, AlAhmadia Travels, Nicasius J. Fernandes said: “The introduction of the ‘Sharek’ visa by the government of Saudi Arabia has seen an immense growth in tourists who are fascinated to visit Saudi Arabia, a land that has a rich culture with plenty of captivating history.”
The visa was initially rolled out for those planning to attend the 2018 Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix, the first event of the FIA Formula E Championship in December. Currently, the tourist visa has been approved but the release date has not been announced yet.
Chief operating officer, Cristal Hospitality, Menno De Boer explained that while travel restrictions remain in place, the reigns have loosened and travel application processes have improved noticeably.
“We in the hospitality industry look forward to more international events, like the recently held Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix – also known as Formula E, that brought in more than 23,000 spectators to the city. We are also anticipating the positive impact of the well-being projects – King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art that will begin construction this year.”
Its eye on the prize, the KSA continues to surprise and impress.