Dubai: After taking a historic step in 2019 to open its doors to international tourism as part of a strategy to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia is now taking swift action to improve its air network, making it more faster and cheaper kingdom visit. .
A recently signed agreement between the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) and Emirates Airlines, one of the largest commercial carriers in the world, is to increase the number of international travelers who choose to stay in the Kingdom, benefiting from both economies.
The Memorandum of Understanding, signed by both institutions in February, is expected to add a further boost to Saudi tourism infrastructure projects, from the futuristic Trogina ski resort in Neom to the heritage trails in AlUla and the entertainment town of Qiddiya in Riyadh.
Adel Al-Ghaith, Emirates Vice President for Trade Operations in the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia, described Saudi Arabia as “one of our most important markets in the region” and said the deal would help the kingdom achieve its goal. its to become a major global destination.
Al Ghaith told Arab News, “Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major transformation, which includes a series of unique projects that will help position it as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world and help tell its story. its the world “.
“We are already seeing interest among travelers who are eager to experience the kingdom’s stunning landscapes, very diverse seas and terrains, as well as its rich culture and history.”
As part of the Memorandum of Understanding, STA and the UAE will work together to promote the Kingdom’s major attractions, with the aim of making Saudi Arabia a key market in its global network of nearly 130 routes.
Al Ghaith said the partners would also share knowledge of data on passenger trends and booking behavior, which would enable the STA to “work out their strategies to effectively market the destination to major enclaves around the world”.
The Dubai-based airline already operates 53 flights a week to its four Saudi ports, which are Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Medina.
Using its extensive air network, Emirates will boost incoming tourism to Saudi Arabia by taking advantage of new segments of the previously unserved passenger market.
Following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, Fahd Hamid Al-Din, CEO and board member of the Saudi Tourism Authority, said: “The MoU will enable us to reach more than 120 destinations worldwide and attract tourists from these destinations to various Saudi destinations. “
Omar Akbar, tourism expert and CEO of Zamzam.com, a B2B booking search engine serving Umrah pilgrims, believes the STA-Emirates agreement will help pave the way for “important partnerships to achieve the goals and aspirations of the ecosystem of Saudi tourism “. This is in line with Vision 2030. “
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the Vision 2030 reform agenda in 2017 to diversify the kingdom economy away from oil by boosting a range of other industries, including tourism.
Historically, most of Saudi Arabia’s revenue in this regard came from religious tourism. Nearly 20 percent of the kingdom’s GDP came from non-oil sources in 2019 – nearly $ 12 billion – from Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.
The travel industry, including those agencies that care specifically for religious tourists, has been hit hard by government restrictions imposed by governments in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the easing of restrictions, the market seems to be improving.
Akbar told Arab News, “I am very confident that this sector will return traffic to normal within a while.” In fact, the number of Umrah pilgrims this year was close to what it was at the time before the pandemic.
By 2030, the kingdom wants tourism to contribute about 10 percent to its gross domestic product, attract 100 million annual visits to its main attractions (45 million domestic travelers and 55 million domestic tourists) and create 1 million additional jobs.
The first big step towards achieving this goal came in 2019 when the kingdom launched the Saudi e-Visa, making it easier for foreign visitors to arrange travel documents online.
Akbar said: “The objective of electronic visas has greatly contributed to attracting many visitors and this has added value in achieving an increasing number of visitors as one of the goals of Vision 2030.”
To increase the number of visitors, STA organized a global marketing campaign to promote the latest developments in the Kingdom’s luxury travel and its little-known heritage gems.
From advertising campaigns and trade fairs to organizing travel for the international press, travel agents and social media influencers, the kingdom is doing its best to improve the number of visitors.
“No other country in the world is investing so much money now to showcase its attractions,” Daniel Ponzo, managing director of Jeddah-based Zahid Travel Group, told Arab News.
Furthermore, STA has collaborated with Ministries of Tourism in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Europe, among other regions, to set a common agenda in promoting and preserving heritage and culture.
Meanwhile, Ponzo said a number of projects are underway across Saudi Arabia to provide the necessary accommodation, transportation links and attractions “to make the destination one of the most beautiful in the world”.
Perhaps one of the most important features of the Kingdom is Al-Ula, a region located in the northwest, famous for its beautiful desert landscapes as well as for its historical, geological and geographical importance.
When completed in 2035, the project aims to create 38,000 new jobs, attract 2 million visitors a year and increase the region’s population to 130,000, contributing $ 32 billion to the Kingdom’s economy. More than $ 2 billion has already been invested in the project and $ 3.2 billion is being spent on priority infrastructure.
There is also the new destination of NEOM, the kingdom’s first smart city that is now taking shape on the Red Sea coast, where authorities aim to offer 45,000 rooms by 2030.
“Then there is one of the very extraordinary projects like the Red Sea Development Project,” Ponzo said. By 2030, about 22 islands will be developed with 48 resorts. By 2023, five islands will be developed, including 16 resorts with nearly 3,000 rooms.
“You can see great developments. “It’s amazing what is happening in Saudi Arabia, from 2018 and 2019, when the country decided to open its doors to tourism.”
By adding Saudi Arabia to the travel agency’s regional routes and expanding transportation options, experts say the entire GCC region will benefit.
“I think it is a great idea and the region as a whole is going in the same direction,” Akbar said.
“With the expected connection between the GCC countries through various means of transport, this will improve and enable tourists to explore the culture of the Middle East in a short period of time.”
Coincidentally, as part of its economic reforms, the Saudi government last year announced plans to become a global transportation and logistics hub by 2030, targeting a passenger traffic of 330 million passengers a year.
For this, a new airline will be established, based in Riyadh, while the headquarters of the Saudi airline will be in Jeddah as part of a transport strategy that requires the establishment of two hubs.
Muhammad al-Khuraisi, head of strategy at the General Authority for Civil Aviation, told Reuters recently that Saudi Arabia’s main goal is to increase the number of newcomers to the kingdom. “We are not behind the transit market.”
The general consensus is that Saudi Arabia’s openness to the world has given the entire region an opportunity to reshape its international image and reap rich economic benefits.
“We can already see that there are travelers who are interested in joining and visiting two or three countries in the region. “The Dubai + mix is in great demand,” Ponzo said.
“With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, some of the travelers going to Qatar will combine Qatar and Saudi Arabia as a travel combination.”
Looking at the long-term picture, he said: “With Saudi Arabia now on the map of new destinations in the region to visit, and perhaps on the list of countries with maybe millions of travelers, it would be a big boost for the region.”