The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to ensure its tourism industry prospers, specifically focusing on the untapped leisure segment. Tatiana Tsierkezou catches up with industry stakeholders to uncover the very latest developments that are currently underway.
2017 has been an extremely interesting year for Saudi Arabia, with a handful of game-changing announcements having been made in recent months to not only change the face of the tourism industry, but also positively alter the world’s perception of the country.
As the KSA works towards the Saudi Vision 2030 – which has been developed to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and cultivate public service sectors, inclusive of tourism – a sense of positivity washes over the country, and this sentiment can be strongly felt among tourism movers and shakers.
“Saudi Arabia is witnessing a remarkable change in both the tourism and hospitality sectors, offering a wide range of options to business, leisure and religious travellers,” regional director – KSA, The Rezidor Hotel Group, Basal Talal expressed to TTG.
THRIVING HOSPITALITY PORTFOLIO
The Rezidor Hotel Group itself has a firm presence across the country, with a total of 35 hotels and more than 9,000 rooms in operation and under development. In June of 2017, the hospitality expert celebrated the inauguration of its very first property in the Holy City of Makkah, the 462-key Park Inn by Radisson Hotel, Makkah Al Naseem – an ideal option for religious travellers. The Group additionally launched two new Radisson Blu-branded hotels in Buraidah and Jeddah, with further openings in the pipeline for the brand over the coming 12 months.
“We have five openings planned for the midscale Park Inn by Radisson brand in Jeddah, including the Park Inn by Radisson Jeddah Madinah Road, Park Inn by Radisson Hotel Najran and Park Inn by Radisson Hotel and Apartments Dammam Industrial City,” Talal told TTG.
And The Rezidor Hotel Group is not the only entity determined to heighten its presence in the fruitful Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Riyada International Hotels & Resorts is also working on bolstering its footprint in the country, but is already well known for its 10 operational properties in main and secondary cities.
The company’s founder and managing director, Muhammad Al Amir, exclusively shared: “Throughout 2017, we signed new agreements for developing three new properties – two in Makkah consisting of 700 keys, and the third facility is located in Riyadh, featuring 189 keys.”
Al Amir explained that the company has also inked other agreements for the development of two hotels under another international brand, one in Najran (279 keys) and one in Jazan (220 keys).
Also eager to boost its portfolio in the country, Shaza Hotels had interesting news to share with TTG. Vice president of development, Shaza Hotels, Chris Nader stated that major developments are in place for the Group’s Shaza and Mysk brands.
“After the opening of Shaza Al Madina in 2010, we saw increasing demand from pilgrims, and now, with the new Haram expansions within Makkah and Al Madina, the upcoming opening of our Shaza Makkah property comes on point. In the few months following the opening of Shaza Makkah, we will open Shaza Riyadh, and at the end of 2020, [we will launch] Shaza Jeddah. We will have a total of four Shaza properties in the KSA,” he enthused.
Shaza Hotels is also in the midst of negotiations for a Mysk property in Saudi Arabia.
And while established hospitality entities are working to reinforce their presence in the country, new players are gearing up to enter Saudi Arabia. One such player, Q-Suites Hotel, Jeddah, will be opening its doors in the coming months in the heart of the Saudi capital.
“We are going to open our doors during the first quarter of 2018, with many new innovative offerings,” explained hotel manager, Q-Suites Hotel, Jeddah, Hamadi Ezzine.
“We are going to offer our SPA Suite, which will be fitted with a private gym, along with a private Hot & Cold Jacuzzi; a healthy diet menu, ‘Food for Thought’; dedicated exercising TV channels; and many other facilities.”
The new, family-friendly property will target corporate travellers who prefer to travel with their families. The property will work closely with Jeddah’s leading travel agents and car rental companies to offer its guests tailor-made city tours, including sightseeing and excursions to major tourist attractions.
ENHANCING SAUDI TOURISM
With the hospitality proposition blossoming in Saudi Arabia, the country’s leaders and tourism players are working day-in, day-out to enhance the leisure proposition as well as infrastructure, thus, steering tourism in a brand-new direction.
In light of this development, more foreign investment, hospitality companies, mega projects and a significant rise in tourist numbers are anticipated, and by 2026, the tourism sector is expected to contribute over $81 billion to the country’s GDP, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
“The Saudi Government has revealed its ambitious plan for a tourism revolution to make Saudi Arabia a world-class travel destination. We are looking to support this plan and expand our portfolio in the KSA with our partners,” Talal of The Rezidor Hotel Group told TTG.
Some of the most noteworthy developments include the Al Qidiya project, which was announced in April of this year. It is anticipated to be the largest recreational, cultural and sporting city in the country, located in the Al Qidiya area, which stands southwest of the capital, Riyadh. The project is set to span 334km, inclusive of a large safari area, and is expected to appeal to both locals and international visitors.
A few months later, in July 2017, the curtain was drawn on ‘The Red Sea Project’ – an international tourism project built across a lagoon of 50 islands, between Umlaj and Al-Wajh. Upon completion of the project, a relaxing coastal retreat will be available to visitors, who will be granted access to a stunning nature reserve, a variety of marine-orientated resort developments, scuba diving and much, much more.
Also in July, plans for the Al-Faisaliah city were announced. The city is expected to reduce the pressure brought forth by religious travellers on Makkah and Jeddah, and will be located in the western part of Makkah. Constructed on an area of 2,450km2, the city will provide one million jobs in various sectors and will comprise of an airport and a seaport, housing units, commercial centres, entertainment options, trains, a metro, trams and buses.
Moving on, in September 2017, an announcement was made for the ‘New Jeddah Downtown’, which entails the redevelopment of Jeddah’s waterfront corniche into a pleasant tourist, residential and commercial hotspot.
Following an investment of $4.8 billion over a 10-year period, the project is anticipated to create 36,000 jobs and will support Jeddah’s ambitions of becoming one of the world’s top 100 cities. Upon its launch, visitors and locals will be able to enjoy a wide portfolio of entertainment and retail options, as well as commercial activities.
And in October 2017, the game-changing ‘NEOM’ project was announced by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Set to reshape the country’s economy, NEOM will be a $500 billion mega-city on the Red Sea coast. Although no date of completion has been set yet, the project will be a next-generation city and a hub for innovation, trade and creativity. It is anticipated that the monumental project will extend across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders.
And while an increasing number of leisure-focused developments come to the surface in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Government is also concentrating on other infrastructural developments, such as airport expansion, a new railway line linking Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, and much more, to facilitate the inevitable rise in tourists.
“We look forward to the growth of international travellers from all over the world, especially after the statement of the Saudi Arabian Government on the approved plan to begin issuing tourist visas,” said Al Amir of Riyada International Hotels & Resorts. “This will certainly result in remarkable growth in both leisure and business markets.”
Having shifted its priorities with the introduction of the Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is well on its way to becoming one of the MENA region’s most coveted tourist destinations.