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.”


China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

Updated 19 October 2018
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China’s real estate investment slows as caution sinks in

  • Property increases downside risks to economy
  • September new construction starts up by a fifth

BEIJING: Growth in China’s real estate investment eased in September and home sales fell for the first time since April, as developers dialled back expansion plans amid economic uncertainties and as additional curbs on speculative investment kicked in.
A cooling market could increase the downside risks to the world’s second-largest economy, which faces broader headwinds including an intensifying trade war with the United States.
However, while analysts acknowledge increasing caution in the property market, they say investment levels are still relatively high, suggesting a hard landing remains unlikely.
Growth in real estate investment, which mainly focuses on residential but also includes commercial and office space, rose 8.9 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 9.2 percent rise in August, Reuters calculated from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Friday.
“I think overall, China’s real estate market is still resilient, and the decline in sales is within our expectations,” said Virginia Huang, Managing Director of A&T Services, CBRE Greater China.
“There is no sign that the government has relaxed their control, but it still has many methods and tools to support the market if the economy deteriorates rapidly,” Huang said.
Real estate has been one of the few bright spots in China’s investment landscape, partly due to robust sales in smaller cities where a government clampdown on speculation has been not as aggressive as it is in larger cities.
The market has struggled as authorities continued to keep a tight grip over the sector, ramping up control in hundreds of cities. Transactions fell sharply over the period dubbed “Golden September and Silver October,” traditionally a high season for new home sales.
Property sales by floor area fell 3.6 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 2.4 percent gain in August, according to Reuters calculations, the first decline since April. In year-to-date terms, property sales rose 2.9 percent in the first three quarters.
China’s central bank governor Yi Gang said last week he still sees plenty of room for adjustment in interest rates and the reserve requirement ratio (RRR), as downside risks from trade tensions with the United States remain significant.
The government has implemented four RRR cuts this year, releasing hundreds of billions in new liquidity to the market.
China has for several years pushed a deleveraging campaign to reduce financial risks, clamping down on shadow banking and closing many “grey” financing channels for real estate firms.
For many highly leveraged developers, there are already signs of increasing caution as exemplified by a surge in failed land auctions due to tight liquidity and thinning margins.
New construction starts measured by floor area, an indicator of developers’ expansion appetite, rose 20.3 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with a 26.6 percent gain in August, Reuters calculations showed.
That’s against the backdrop of seemingly looser funding conditions for China’s real estate developers, who raised 12.2 trillion yuan ($1.76 trillion) in the first nine months, up 7.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, the NBS said.
The growth rate compared with a 6.9 percent increase in January-August period.
“Many developers will face lots of maturing debt by the end of this year, and there are perceived risks in the economy, so they will be more cautious,” Huang said.
China’s housing ministry is considering putting an end to the pre-sale system that developers use to secure capital quickly, in an effort to crack down on financial risks in the property sector.
China’s home prices held up well in August, defying property curbs. But analysts expect additional regulatory tightening and slowing economic growth will soon take the wind out of the property market’s sails.
The National Bureau of Statistics will release September official home price data on Saturday.