JEDDAH: About 60 speakers and panelists, most of them local and regional business leaders and experts, participated in the Makkah Economic Forum to discuss and review successful international experiences and propose innovative solutions.
The forum aims to raise the level of services provided and create an environment conducive to investments, taking into account the work to overcome any obstacles that might impede the success of the partnership between the public and private sector.
In this regard, a project follow-up office, a comprehensive service center, and an initiatives and partnership unit were established to facilitate the procedures and find immediate solutions to any obstacles.
The second day of the forum in Jeddah city focused on the Hajj, Umrah and tourism sectors, and how to facilitate and improve the experiences of pilgrims and tourists.
A wide range of investment opportunities was highlighted during the sessions. Bassam Ghulman, general supervisor of the transport sector at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said: “Transportation is one of the largest windows for investment in the Makkah region,” and there are some areas of investment where the capital can be restored in a few years.
According to Ghulman, there are six main fields of investments in the transportation sector during Hajj and Umah seasons: Research and studies, logistic support, Infrastructure, transportation vehicles, technical assistance and programming, operating, and maintenance.
Salah Oumodden, managing director and vice president (operations) of Accor Hotel in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, said: “Radical change must be made on the current practices in hospitality and other sectors in order to meet with Vision 2030 goals.”
He added: “What needs to be done is: Changing the ways of communication with pilgrims, adopting sustainable modernization of services to reach the targeted goals by 2030, expanding the focus of projects outside Makkah’s central point, and customization of hospitality services to meet with what the pilgrims need.”
Yasser Al-Sharif, CEO of Jabal Omar Development Company, said: “Hospitality is not just about building and equipping hotels, it is much more than that. The story starts with how Hajj and Umrah were marketed to the pilgrims in their own countries.
“Very few efforts were made on the branding to the most important economic product we have, we need to change the system of how we think about this product.”
Highlighting the tremendous efforts from authorities during Hajj and Umrah seasons, and the ambitious goals of 2030, Regional Managing Director of Abercrombie & Kent Amr Badr said: “Saudi Arabia must be the best in the world in hospitality services.”
According to Badr, what makes the investment environment in Saudi Arabia unique and attractive is that global and local investors will need to collaborate, not compete, unlike any other investment environment in the world.
During a session about the Public Investment Fund and tourism, panelists highlighted the areas to be developed to improve tourists' experience, such as tourism and hospitality fields of education, better collaboration with the private sector, facilitation and clarification of visa procedures, availability of information online, saving and focusing on the authenticity of the cities, and using more technology.
“Tourism in the Kingdom provides a different and interesting experience of the diversity of the environment and different terrain, landscapes and cultures,” Badr said.
“Tourists who have been to Dubai and other Gulf countries miss the Arabian authenticity, that Saudi Arabia is the perfect spot for tourists coming to the Gulf,” said Gery Romanescu, PwC, Hospitality and Tourism Center of Excellence EMKA. “Keep the authentic life of the streets. This is what tourists want to see. They want to have an authentic experience.”
Andre Mack, the director of Lausanne Hospitality Consulting, strongly believes in the importance of education in building the tourism sector of any country, and he has helped in developing universities' curricula. He said: “We designed programs that are compatible with the curricula of the tourism and hotel colleges in the Kingdom to communicate knowledge to the community about the importance of tourism.
“Students are the ones who are going to decide what the future of tourism will look like in the Kingdom,” he said.