Sri Lanka ideal tourist destination for Saudis

Updated 18 September 2013

Sri Lanka ideal tourist destination for Saudis

Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for Saudi families to spend their holidays, a senior official from SriLankan Airlines said at a presentation held in Colombo recently.
Lal Perera, head of worldwide sales at SriLankan Airlines, made the statement while addressing local and international delegates at the “SriLankan Holidays and SriLankan MICE Conference 2013” held at the Jetwing Blue resort in Negombo.
Perera was briefing foreign journalists on the airline’s products and services at a workshop held during the conference.
Perera said: “We have tailored various packages for the convenience of Saudi tourists who come with their families for tourism. We have adequate facilities for halal food and Arabic-speaking guides to assist Arab travelers,” adding that tour packages could be designed to suit the needs of different categories of travelers.
Perera said: “Through the conference, we are hoping to enlighten participants about our products and services while educating them on effective methods in promoting Sri Lanka as a holiday destination.”
“We are hopeful that we will be able to increase the number of tourists to Sri Lanka and beyond.”
The SriLankan Holidays and the MICE Department of SriLankan Airlines jointly organized the event with the ultimate aim of promoting tourism in the country, in keeping with Sri Lanka’s target of attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2016.
The conference attracted more than 150 participants, including SriLankan Holidays Franchise Operators (SHFO), SLH Ground Operators (SHGO), MICE Operators and foreign media representatives.
Nishantha Wickremasinghe, chairman of SriLankan Airlines, who was brought to the platform to the tune of the traditional Kandyan dancers, said: “Since the end of the war, Sri Lanka has become one of the safest countries to explore and a popular family holiday getaway. The growing number of tourist arrivals is a good indication of the appeal of our wildlife, beaches and hospitality.”
The government of Colombo is striving to promote Sri Lanka as a leading touristic destination and has chalked out a strategic plan to double Saudi tourists from 19,500 to 40,000 in the next three years.
Wickremasinghe said that as the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines is actively involved in the expansion of country’s industry at a time when the country is increasingly receiving global attention.
“Sri Lanka’s transformation from a typical holiday getaway to an important MICE destination sought after by international event-planners can bring in dividends in time to come,” he asserted.
The conference highlighted services provided by the airline, as well as the various products and services of SriLankan Holidays and the characteristics that make SriLankan Airlines a suitable carrier for both business and leisure travelers.
The daylong program included speeches by Chairman Jetwing, Hiran Cooray and General Manager, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, Vipula Wanigasekera; presentations workshops, and one-to-one meetings during which local tour operators and delegates exchanged their experiences for the benefit of the business travel.
The island has a diverse range of attractions, including beaches, Ayurveda medicine, sports and adventures, festivals, scenic beauty and wildlife.
There are 12 flights flying to and from Colombo from the three major airports of Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah.

Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

Updated 19 July 2018

Fantastic four: Saudi women fly the flag for cycling

  • Saudi Arabia’s first women-only 10-kilometer cycling race was held in April 2018 at the King Abdullah City for Sports in Jeddah
  • More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members

JEDDAH: Before Saudi Arabia’s women drivers there were Saudi women cyclists. Thousands of women around the Kingdom have taken to two wheels in the past few years, and groups of female cyclists are a common sight on city streets.

Now four young women have taken cycling to a new level by becoming the first Saudi female cycling team to join the Global Biking Initiative (GBI) European tour, an annual seven-day ride that highlights the sport and raises money for a range of charitable causes.

Sisters Fatimah and Yasa Al-Bloushi, Dina Al-Nasser and Anoud Aljuraid — founder members of the HerRide cycling group — joined hundreds of cyclists from all over the world earlier this month when the tour kicked off from Gothenburg in Sweden before heading through Denmark and on to the port of Hamburg in northern Germany.

More than 70 Saudi cyclists took part in the tour, including the four HerRide members. 

The dynamic HerRide team shares a passion for adventure, and a love of outdoor activities and sports. Fatimah Al-Bloushi, the team captain, told Arab News that when she started the group in July, 2017, “we were a group of amateur cycling enthusiasts and our idea was to train to be the first Saudi female team to participate in GBI Europe 2018.” 

This year was Fatimah’s second time in the GBI tour. Last year she was the first and only Saudi woman to take part in the event. 

“I want to empower Saudi women and encourage cycling,” she said.

Fatimah also enjoys skydiving, surfing, abseiling and climbing, and is also the first woman member of the Saudi Cycling Federation. In her hometown of Alkhobar, she organizes women’s gatherings twice a week to cycle together along the beachfront. She also volunteers to teach cycling for beginners. 

Like all sports events and tours, training plays a crucial role in preparing for the GBI tour. Team member Anoud Aljuraid, an accomplished hiker and technical climber, met Fatimah two years ago while climbing the Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “Mountain of God,” volcano in Tanzania.

“For me the challenge was sitting on the bike for up to eight hours while riding up to 100 kilometers a day,” Aljuraid said. “It was also hard to maintain a certain speed to reach the next destination or nutrition point on time, but my training helped me get over those challenges.”

Although the number of women cyclists on the streets of Saudi Arabia is growing, challenges remain for those joining the sport.

Team member Dina Al-Nasser lives in Riyadh and enjoys long-distance cycling as well as hiking and boxing. Her biggest challenge during the GBI tour was cycling alongside cars.

“I mostly trained at home, but it’s hard for me to train in areas where men usually train, such as Wadi Hanifa and Ammariyah,” she said. “However, I was able to get over my fear and by the third day on the tour I was riding alongside trucks and didn’t even notice.”

Al-Nasser said that cycling is challenging not only for women in Saudi Arabia but for professional cyclists in general.

“We hope that the streets will be more bike friendly, and that people can adopt the same infrastructure for cyclists that we have seen on the tour — such as special paved paths and traffic lights — here in the Kingdom,” she said. 

“Hopefully, cycling will become a lifestyle in Saudi Arabia and we will see people cycling to work one day.” 

The Saudi HerRide women’s team celebrate a challenging stage finish on the GBI European tour. (Supplied photo)

Despite the challenges, the HerRide team say they are hoping to join the next GBI tour. “It was a great experience to cross three countries by bicycle,” Yasa Al-Bloushi said. “Of course, we got some bruises and had falls here and there, but I look at that as a sign of accomplishment.”

The team members gained valuable skills from watching other riders during the tour. “I learned how to be a part of a team and to look out for each other. It was important to listen to my team-mates and focus on their needs,” said Dina Al-Nasser.

 Fatima Al-Bloushi said that the support of her team made her second tour more special than the first. “We knew each other’s weaknesses from day one and we always had each other’s back. If our energy levels were low, someone would provide nutrition. When our spirits were down, we had music to give us a boost, and when someone was nervous, we reminded each other to have fun,” she said.

“I experienced GBI twice. The first time I went alone and came back with a family of friends. The second time I went with friends and came back with family.”

The woman said the spirit of cooperation among cyclists on the tour was empowering. “What made this experience even more amazing, besides the beautiful scenery, was the quality of people we met,” said Fatima. “If we were struggling, they would pass by with a smile, give you a pat on the back and tell you that you were strong enough to push through — it really did make us feel stronger.”

 In future, the group plans to hire a professional trainer and offer cycling workshops for Saudi women. They also hope long-distance cycling events, such as the GBI, will one day be held in Saudi Arabia. 

“Under Vision 2030, I’m sure there will be a lot of local events for cyclists in the Kingdom, including women,” said Al-Nasser.

The four cyclists have some words of encouragement for Saudi women hoping to fulfil their dreams. “You will always find people who will give you negative comments, but as long as you are doing what you love and are not hurting anyone, just keep going,” said Al-Nasser. 

Fatimah said: “Two years ago I was looking to join a cycling team, but as a woman in Saudi Arabia I was unable to — now things have changed. My advice to all women out there is never say ‘no,’ always say ‘yes’ to opportunities.”