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.”


IMF warns of rising risks to global growth amid trade tensions

Updated 16 July 2018
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IMF warns of rising risks to global growth amid trade tensions

  • Worsening trade confrontations pose serious risks to the outlook, the IMF said
  • The fund warns growth could be cut by a half point by 2020 if tariff threats are carried out

WASHINGTON: The global economy is still expected to grow at a solid pace this year, but worsening trade confrontations pose serious risks to the outlook, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.
The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast global growth of 3.9 percent this year and next, despite sharp downgrades to estimates for Germany, France and Japan.
The US economy is still seen growing by 2.9 percent this year, and the estimate for China remains 6.6 percent, with little impact expected near term from the tariffs on tens of billions of dollars in exports the countries have imposed on each other so far.
“But the risk that current trade tensions escalate further — with adverse effects on confidence, asset prices, and investment — is the greatest near-term threat to global growth,” IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said.
The fund warns growth could be cut by a half point by 2020 if tariff threats are carried out.
Although the global recovery is in its second year, growth has “plateaued” and become less balanced, and “the risk of worse outcomes has increased,” Obstfeld said in a statement.
The report comes as US President Donald Trump has imposed steep tariffs duties on $34 billion in imports from China, with another $200 billion coming as soon as September, on top of duties on steel and aluminum from around the world including key allies.
China has matched US tariffs dollar for dollar and threatened to take other steps to retaliate, while US exports face retaliatory taxes from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
“An escalation of trade tensions could undermine business and financial market sentiment, denting investment and trade,” the IMF report said.
In addition, “higher trade barriers would make tradable goods less affordable, disrupt global supply chains, and slow the spread of new technologies, thus lowering productivity.”
The IMF said growth prospects are below average in many countries and urged governments to take steps to ensure economic growth will continue.
The fund said global cooperation and a “rule-based trade system has a vital role to play in preserving the global expansion.”
However, without steps to “ensure the benefits are shared by all, disenchantment with existing economic arrangements could well fuel further support for growth-detracting inward-looking policies.”
The sweeping US tax cuts approved in December will help the economy “strengthen temporarily,” but growth is expected to moderate to 2.7 percent for 2019.
And while the fiscal stimulus will boost US demand, is also will increase inflationary pressures, the WEO warned.
China’s growth also is seen slowing in 2019 to 6.4 percent.
After upgrading growth projections for the euro area in the April WEO, the IMF revised them down by two-tenths in 2018 to 2.2 percent, due to “negative surprises to activity in early 2018,” and another tenth in 2019 to 1.9 percent.
The estimates for Germany, France and Italy were cut by 0.3 points each, with Germany seen expanding by 2.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2019. France’s GDP is expected to grow 1.8 percent and 1.7 percent.
Meanwhile, Britain is now forecast to grow 1.4 percent this year, 0.2 points less than the April estimate, and 1.5 percent in 2019.
Japan’s GDP is seen slowing to 1.0 percent this year, two-tenths less than previously forecast, “following a contraction in the first quarter, owing to weak private consumption and investment.” It should grow 0.9 percent the following year.
India remains a key drivers of global growth, but the GDP outlook was cut one-tenth for this year and three-tenths for next year to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
Brazil saw an even sharper 0.5-point downward revisions from the April forecast, to 1.8 percent this year.