Saudi Arabia wants to be top tourism destination for Muslim travelers

A morning scene of pilgrims in Madinah. Saudi Arabia aims to become the top global destination for Muslim holidaymakers. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 November 2017
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Saudi Arabia wants to be top tourism destination for Muslim travelers

LONDON: Saudi Arabia wants to be the top global destination for Muslim tourists by the end of the decade according to a top official.
It comes amid a massive push to develop the Kingdom’s Red Sea coastline and maximize tourism spending among the millions of Muslims who already visit the Kingdom each year as part of Hajj and Umrah.
“We want to beat Dubai, Malaysia and Turkey to the top spot,” said a senior official at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCNH) in an interview on the sidelines of the World Travel Market in London.
“We have different projects in the pipeline and we are developing our pilgrimage sites. We are opening up our historical sites, we have five UNESCO sites and we are aiming to have 10 by 2020.
“We have everything in Saudi. Our history gives us competitive advantage. We have a beautiful natural landscape and thousands of years of Islamic and pre-Islamic history. We are open to all,” said the spokesman.
“For Muslims, we have the advantage that everything is already halal here.”
Saudi Arabia is planning to develop hundreds of kilometers of its Red Sea coastline as a global tourism destination and has enlisted the help of Virgin Group chief Richard Branson to advise on the ambitious project, which is a key plank of ongoing economic reforms.
The Kingdom is in the “final stages” of ratifying its much-anticipated tourist visas, which would grant unrestricted leisure travel in the country, the spokesman confirmed.
“We expect the tourist visa to be in issuance within six months.”
Currently Saudi Arabia issues two-week visas for those on business, pilgrimage or visiting resident family members — but they can be difficult to obtain. A specific visa for tourists would open up the country to foreign visitors and allow access to destinations beyond the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah.
The tourism official said that the Saudi government is working on ratifying tourist visas for visitors from 165 countries, including 66 Muslim countries.
He said the Kingdom would welcome all nationalities, all religions and female visitors.
“For women, they may not need to wear a headdress but it is thought an abaya will be necessary. The details of the new regulations will be confirmed with the coming months.”
He added, “Many people will be surprised by the heritage and landscapes that Saudi has. We have skiing, diving and beautiful beaches stretching across two seas.”
Dr. Yazeed Al-Shammari, founder of Arabian Nights, a major KSA tour operator, told Arab News he was looking forward to the new tourist visa “widening and developing” his business.
“People are very curious about Saudi Arabia because we have been closed for so long. Some people think that all we’ve got is sand and camels but the reality is we have much more variety and texture than that. I’ve already had many enquiries from European agents.”
Caroline Bremner, head of travel and tourism at Euromonitor, said:
“It will be interesting to see what Saudi does now as previously the focus was only on the Hajj. Saudi Arabia is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. There have been developments lately that make the country seem more attractive to visitors, such as allowing women to drive.
“As KSA opens up it will need to be very clear on what’s allowed and what’s not, so that visitors feel reassured of what the laws and customs are in Saudi, particularly after cases of tourist jailings in Dubai.
“It will also need to pay attention to the quality of its hotels and tourist experiences as it enters the world as an emerging tourist destination.”


Saudi Arabia’s Maaden signs MoU with GE to discuss digital cooperation in mining sector

Updated 20 July 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s Maaden signs MoU with GE to discuss digital cooperation in mining sector

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) signed a strategic memorandum of understanding (MoU) with General Electric (GE) on Thursday, which focused on exploring possible opportunities to support digital transformation in the industrial sector.
The two sides discussed opportunities for cooperation in advanced technical solutions that included the entire chain of Maaden’s mining operations, including activities at gold, copper, aluminum and phosphate sites.
The MoU includes utilizing GE’s technological expertise and modern applications in digital transformation, with Maaden to lead the company’s digital transformation programs.
The agreement is part of Maaden’s drive to partner with leading technology and digital solutions to leverage opportunities in technological innovation and the modern digital revolution, invest in leading technologies in its operations around the Kingdom, and enhance the company’s competitiveness as a major company in the mining sector both regionally and globally.
Maaden’s digital mining solutions will improve the company’s business by improving energy costs, enhancing reliability and efficiency of performance and productivity, while improving maintenance costs.
“The Kingdom is at the forefront of the digital transformation efforts in the industrial sector in the region with an ambitious vision. We are proud to support these ambitious visions and meet their goals,” said Darren Davis, Maaden Chief Executive Officer.
Davis stressed that a sustainable mining sector is one of the key pillars of the national economy, saying: “We are confident that our partnership with GE will be a qualitative leap toward achieving these goals and enhancing our competitiveness and sustainability through effective digital industrial solutions.”
“We are keen to build constructive partnerships with the industrial sector around the world to deliver innovative digital solutions that support operations.
“Major companies such as Maaden are of immense importance, and we recognize the impact of improved operations and enhancements,” said GE CEO Bill Roh, referring to its efficiency over other companies, and the Saudi economy as a whole.
“By collaborating to develop industry-specific and environment-friendly solutions in which Maaden manages its operations, we are moving toward achieving the desired digital transformation plans that we believe will deliver significant positive results,” added Roh.
The MoU aims to achieve the goals of Maaden, a pioneer in the Saudi mining sector, to accelerate the digital transformation of the Saudi mining sector, in line with the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
Maaden is working to take advantage of digital and technological transformation strategies and maximize its impact on all the company’s activities and products.
The construction of the largest 450-km treated water pipeline from Taif to support the company’s mining operations in the region, as well as the creation of artificial lakes in Ras Al-Khair for recycling water for industrial uses, are among the most prominent projects that reflect the company’s commitment to sustainability and achieving solutions, in addition to innovation and sustained economic growth, creating a professional environment that enhances talent capabilities, and ensuring the best service for communities within their professional fields.