Saudi tourists beat the ‘Trump slump’

Saudi visitor numbers grew by 4 percent from 276,000 in 2014 to 286,000 in 2015 — the latest years for which data are available. This represents sustained growth: In 2007, only 39,000 Saudis made the trip.
Updated 22 March 2018

Saudi tourists beat the ‘Trump slump’

NEW YORK: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not the only Saudi visiting the US this week. Despite the 11,000-kilometer distance between Jeddah and New York, and flight times in excess of 13 hours, a surprising number of Saudis travel to America every year.
Saudis enjoy the US for its natural beauty, shopping in Bloomingdale’s and other department stores, and the beaches of California and Florida, said Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi who has hosted dozens of friends and relatives during the two decades he has lived in America.
“Many Saudis come to the US for schooling and medical treatment, but there are plenty of tourists, too, especially young couples,” Al-Ahmed told Arab News. “They like nature, seas and rivers, as well as shopping trips and the big tourist draws such as Disneyland.”
According to the US government’s National Travel and Tourism Office, Saudi Arabia is the 30th most important source of tourists to the US — well below the top markets of Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan and China.
Saudi visitor numbers grew by 4 percent from 276,000 in 2014 to 286,000 in 2015 — the latest years for which data are available. This represents sustained growth: In 2007, only 39,000 Saudis made the trip.
But that growth may be coming to an end. US State Department figures show the number of non-immigrant visitors’ visas issued at its Saudi-based consulates fell sharply in 2017, President Donald Trump’s first year in the White House.
In 2014, when his predecessor Barack Obama was commander-in-chief, about 89,000 tourist and business visas were issued in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran. That number dropped by 41 percent to 52,500 in 2017.
Tourism experts describe a “Trump slump” in US-bound travel, with currency exchange rates and fears of beefed-up airport security resulting in a 4 percent decline in visitor numbers last year.
The Middle East was particularly affected. A so-called “Muslim ban” on visitors from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan brought more visa rejections than in mostly Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that were not on the list.
From March to October last year, when Trump’s travel bans were tied up in court, tourist, student and other non-immigrant visa approvals were down 21 percent for people in Muslim-majority countries compared with the same period in 2016, according to State Department data.
Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys, a data analysis firm that looks at 17 million flight booking transactions a day, said the Trump slump may have bottomed out and Saudi tourism is picking up again.
“In 2017, flight data shows that arrivals in the US from Saudi Arabia were 10 percent down on the year before. This year there has been something of a recovery, with arrivals in the first quarter 6 percent up on the first quarter of 2017,” Jager told Arab News.
“Looking to the future, the recovery appears set to continue as bookings for the second and third quarters of 2018 are 15.7 percent ahead of where they were at this point last year,” he said.

Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

Updated 34 min 4 sec ago

Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

  • ‘Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop’

JEDDAH: The unique heritage of the historic Jeddah area and the surrounding Hijaz region has long proved fascinating for visitors. That was certainly true for Abdulrahman Eid, a Syrian artist who has lived in the Kingdom for 18 years, and whose work is inspired by Hijazi culture and artistic heritage.

Eid was born in Damascus in 1997. Before moving to Saudi Arabia, he helped restore and renovate historic buildings and works of art, including antiques, manuscripts, and paintings.

He currently works as a jewelry designer in Jeddah, and has plans to share his knowledge with the public through courses and workshops, as he believes jewelry design could and should be much more popular in the Middle East.

Eid first came to Saudi Arabia to work as the director of an exhibition of Eastern and Antarctic at. He said he exhibited some of the work he had produced at Janadriyah’s cultural festival in 2002 and 2003. But between 2003 and 2018, he took a break from making his own artwork.

However, he is now back with a vengeance. His latest creation —  a diorama that portrays life in Jeddah in the 1950s, consists of more than 1,700 pieces, which Eid hopes will get him into the record books. His decision to document life in old Jeddah was partly driven, he says, by nostalgia for his homeland, and partly by his wish to acknowledge his appreciation of art.


The project, which Eid hopes to finish and present to the public within the next two weeks, has taken the artist more than three years of hard work so far, much of which was spent researching.

“I collected many books and old photographs of various Orientalists and studied how they were documenting the country in the 30s, 40s, and 50s,” he said. Eid found numerous sources through which he could study various historic houses and neighborhoods of old Jeddah, including —  of course —  walking the streets himself. He cites Noor Wali House, Al-Batarji, Beit Nasif, Al-Matbouli and others as inspirations. However, none of the houses in his artwork are named, or presented as exact replicas of existing buildings. 

“Some houses and neighborhoods with important historic value do not exist anymore, and I do not want to diminish any of their value. I collected various elements from different houses and made it into one unnamed neighborhood that imitates the reality of the past,” he said.

Eid’s diorama is 320 cm long, 130 cm high and 45 cm wide. It is full of houses, antique cars and shops — a carpet shop, a silver shop, a copper shop, and a shop for household items, such as pottery.

The intricate miniature pieces in the shops include handmade carpets, hanging lamps, lanterns, old swords and other weapons, old-fashioned household appliances, mirrors, antiques, gifts, and handicrafts of the kind sold to pilgrims. “I tried to integrate all the elements that were there in Hijaz in the past,” he said. “It is more of a documentary artwork.” Staying faithful to his source material, Eid even used precious stones and metals to create the miniature merchandise.

Eid describes his project as “a collection of around 10 types of art, including miniature, diorama, painting, sculpture, formative art, and jewelry design.”

His buildings incorporate the many distinctive decorative styles of traditional Hijazi architecture: panelings, moldings, door shapes, and Rawashin — the carved latticed windows typical of the area. “It contains a huge amount of art that interested the people of the country at that time,” he said of his ambitious project.

Eid said he has benefitted from the knowledge of many people who are familiar with historical Jeddah — including intellectuals, architects, civil engineers and local dignitaries.

“Many people have visited me in my studio and seen the work,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of amendments based on their recommendations. I took their comments into account and restructured the work several times over the past year until I finally reached the version that most closely embodies the reality.”

Eid said the fine and precise nature, and the astonishing variety, of Hijazi arts presented a serious challenge —  one that he was keen to embrace. “I found a unique, unparalleled precision and accuracy in Hijazi artistic heritage,” he said. “It is harmoniously composed of rich elements that I have not found in any other regions of the Kingdom.”

Still, he did sometimes worry that he had taken on too big a task. “Sometimes I felt I would not finish it for years,” he said.

Hijazi culture

Hijazi culture, Eid pointed out, is “cross-cultural.” Jeddah has been the main port for pilgrims for hundreds of years, and as a result, the city and surrounding areas have gained a unique character —  possessing the spirit of numerous other cities from both East and West. 

Eid claimed that anyone visiting Jeddah’s historic areas would likely see something of their own country there. “I saw something of Syria,” he said.

Over the last fortnight or so, photographs of Eid’s project have been widely shared on social media —  with some people mistakenly claiming that the images were off work based on the old cities in Damascus or Cairo.

“I was pleased with what happened,” Eid said. “I received a lot of encouragement and support.”

The Syrian artist said he has had many similar experiences with Damascene architecture when he was working in his homeland. “I have to say, though, that this experience has been more enjoyable, with its challenges, fine details, and richness,” he added. 

Eid said he believes recent years have seen an evolving renaissance in the arts in Saudi Arabia, marked by growing interest from the government and the public in the Kingdom’s heritage and its cultural value. 

“Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop,” he said. “The number of galleries has multiplied, and a real movement has begun. I believe this movement in Saudi Arabia will grant the youth diverse opportunities and will raise the standards and the level of competition between them.” Such competition is important to improve artists’ abilities and the quality of art works delivered to the public, he added.

While Eid views the current condition as very healthy, he pointed out that there are many young artists who need financial support if they are really going to fulfill their potential, and that “those who have the financial support still need guidance.”

“Regardless of everything,” he concluded. “I am sure the future is promising.”