As the global tourism spotlight shines on Saudi Arabia, spectators are eager to see what the country’s next move will be. Tatiana Tsierkezou catches up with the KSA’s industry stakeholders to uncover their thoughts and opinions on its impressive tourism evolution.
The world is watching Saudi Arabia and for good reason. The country is at a tourism turning point, with the most monumental changes so far being the launch of the Saudi Vision 2030 and the easing of visa restrictions for 49 countries. The latter, a surprising and much appreciated development, predictably took the world by storm and was reported on by almost every media outlet spanning the globe. Since this announcement in September, the country has reportedly welcomed over 50,000 tourists, all of whom were more than enthusiastic about experiencing Saudi’s once inaccessible culture and way of life.
CONFIDENT IN THE DECISION
Some say that these reforms have surfaced because Saudi Arabia feels it’s time to move away from its oil dependency and capitalise on something that is potentially more viable, while others say it’s a tactical move to crush any negative preconceptions people may have of the country. But reasons aside, these developments are truly extraordinary and will forever change the face of the Middle East’s travel and tourism industry.
Chief operating officer, Swiss International Hotels, Shady Boueiry spoke to TTG about these changes: “Tourism in Saudi Arabia is heading towards a new era, whereby the Government is diversifying its economy and focusing on the tourism sector. Swiss International Hotels is very proud to be a part of this development and take responsibility for some of these changes. Saudi Arabia is an excellent destination covering all tourism sectors, including leisure, business, natural, cultural, religious, educational and medical, and the Government should focus on boosting these sectors to turn Saudi Arabia into a central hub for Middle East tourism.”
And with these positive changes in mind, Swiss International Hotels’ objective is to launch properties in all of Saudi Arabia’s cities, focusing on remote areas that are in need of three-star hotels.
Meanwhile, expressing his faith in these reforms was general manager, Al Shitaiwi Tours, Imad Mustafa Sulaiman, who said: “We are very positive that vision 2030 will attract more visitors to the country. These exciting developments highlight the country’s ‘other side’, other than being just an oil producer, and show visitors the history and hospitality that Saudi Arabia possesses.”
Sulaiman explained that Al Shitaiwi Tours is in the process of recruiting and training male and female Saudi employees in operations and guiding, in order to meet the requirements of its clients who will now come from all over the world, and is also looking into investing in and developing accommodation and tourism transport options.
Also anticipating the positive results of the KSA’s tourism reforms, chairman, Bench Events and founder, AHIC and SHIC, Jonathan Worsley told TTG: “Tourism plans are moving forward quickly. Since the launch of the visa on arrival from 49 countries in September this year, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued more than 24,000 visas in the first 10 days after the launch. To say it is exciting to be part of the hospitality sector at this time is an understatement.
“This is probably one of the most dramatic and quickest changes to an economy that the planet has ever seen and, if the 2030 goals of attracting 100 million visitors are reached, Saudi Arabia will have achieved something very special indeed,” he boldly stated.
CAPITALISING ON GREATNESS
Before Saudi’s Vision 2030 was announced, the KSA was a tourism powerhouse and the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East, with over 16 million visitors recorded in 2017 alone. This is down to the country’s religious significance, with pilgrims flocking to the KSA for spiritual and incredibly meaningful experiences that they will forever hold close to their hearts.
Kerten Hospitality – a company that is rapidly reinforcing its presence in the country – is keeping
its fingers on the pulse. The company’s CEO, Marloes Knippenberg, emphasised: “More global visibility of what Saudi has to offer travellers on a broader scale will be critical to positioning the country and establishing it on the global tourism map. It’s about more than just increasing visitor numbers; it’s about changing how people perceive the Kingdom and promoting it as a sustainable tourism destination in its own right.”
He continued: “It’s still relatively early days but all the signs are there that the tourism industry will flourish, with organisations such as Visit Saudi already hard at work and doing a great job in raising awareness of what Saudi has to offer. We are seeing first-hand how this new phase of growth has created an appetite among owners and investors for something new; for concepts that challenge market expectations and meet the ever-changing needs of the next-generation traveller.”
Saudi Arabia has proven to be an ideal launchpad for Kerten Hospitality to enter the market, according to Knippenburg.
“We’re looking forward to making our own very unique mark on Saudi’s hospitality sector. We’re thrilled to have secured an investment license from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and to have cemented our partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage,” he said.
The hospitality expert launched its first project, Ouspace Madinah Road (a modern workspace and business club) in Jeddah earlier this year, but is looking forward to even bigger things in 2020, with its second Ouspace set to open in Q1, as part of the upcoming 114-key The House Hotel Jeddah.
“The market is hungry for something new and innovative, and given the already captive business travel market, both internal and inbound, Saudi, and more specifically Jeddah, is ripe to become a ‘bleisure’ destination, where business and leisure meet,” Knippenburg said.
Moving on to a well-known hospitality name in Saudi Arabia, Millennium & Copthorne is also keen to capitalise on the huge potential that the country possesses.
Speaking to TTG about this was area general manager, Makkah and Madinah, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Murad Alsabah: “There is no doubt that the leadership and Government of Saudi Arabia is rapidly re-shaping and evolving the tourism sector across the country as part of the 2030 vision, considering that tourism is one of the most important and highest non-oil revenue resources.
“It is an exciting time for the Kingdom with all the openness and facilitation across all sectors to ease the business processes to attract foreign investments and, in due course, for the country to take the top spot in the ‘Best Improved Countries to do business’ Index, according to the latest Doing Business 2020 report issued by The World Bank in October 2019. Having said that, we as hoteliers have a very positive outlook for the hotels and tourism sector in the KSA.”
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels has eight hotels in operation in Saudi Arabia and very ambitious plans to increase this number.
Alsabah further explained that the KSA market has very educated investors who are really smart when it comes to selecting business partners.
“Millennium & Copthorne Hotels is very proud of being partners with some of them already and the company has one of the healthiest growth plans and opening pipelines in the region, with at least 10 more projects to go as of the start of 2020 on-wards,” he concluded.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Saudi Arabia’s new approach to tourism will result in prosperity. With travel and hospitality players fully on board with these impressive tourism reforms, the country is on track to reach and possibly exceed its 2030 goals.