Vision 2030 can take Saudi Arabia back to the future
As its name suggests, Saudi Vision 2030 is charting a new course for the Kingdom’s future. With innovative mega-projects like Neom, the Red Sea Project and Al-Qiddiya, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the Vision, and his deputies are looking to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy and to improve the quality of life for Saudis and non-Saudis alike.
However, the Vision does not revolve only around creating new projects or entire cities from scratch. It is also an effort to develop all the resources, natural and otherwise, that are already there but have not yet been utilized to their full potential. This has entailed showcasing the Kingdom’s many historical and archaeological sites as well as its natural beauty, including its waters, beaches, mountains and deserts. This has led to a new-found appreciation for the power of science and technology to not only lead the Kingdom into the future but also to rediscover its past and to celebrate its cultural diversity. This is why the Vision has put promoting domestic tourism on the front burner. This sector, perhaps more than any other, has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, add billions of dollars to the local economy and encourage Saudis to rediscover their nation’s history and get to know other regions.
Unlike other sectors of the modern economy, tourism remains very labor-intensive. In addition, unlike construction, for instance, it is not primarily geared toward males. Anyone who has visited Saudi Arabia recently has no doubt noticed that there are a considerably higher percentage of Saudi citizens working at hotels and in other parts of the hospitality sector. Some of the mega-projects, like Red Sea and Neom, are estimated to generate thousands of new jobs. The Vision aims to create 1.2 million new tourism jobs by 2030 and Mohammed Al-Nashmi, a spokesman for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, recently said the commission “is reviewing its strategies to be in conformity with Vision 2030 and contribute in achieving the goals of the National Transformation Program 2020.”
Saudi Arabia already has four World Heritage Sites as designated by UNESCO. They are Madain Saleh, near Medina, historic Jeddah, Turaif district in Diriyah outside Riyadh, and the rock art in the Ha’il region. While Riyadh, Makkah, Medina and the Eastern Province will continue to attract Saudis from all over the Kingdom, as well as non-Saudis from all over the world, it is regions like Ha’il and Tabuk in the north and Asir and Najran in the south that might hold the key to a flourishing domestic tourism sector.
While it might be a while until the Kingdom can compete with the United States or Europe, Vision 2030 aims to give nearby holiday destinations a run for their money.
Saudis, me included, need to make more concerted efforts to travel to other regions of the country. For whatever reason, Saudis generally do not travel much outside the three main population centers. Yet each of the 13 regions offers great sightseeing, slightly different foods, different customs, dress and dialectics. One can appreciate this cultural diversity by attending the annual Janadriyah heritage festival in Riyadh, which is divided into sections representing all the regions of the Kingdom. Their food, music, art and folklore are all put on display and the event is always well attended. It is truly a celebration of Saudi Arabia’s culture, history and its people.
Myself and about 3,000 others had a chance to experience a smaller version of Janadriyah when Prince Khaled Al-Faisal hosted a large gathering at the National Building Museum in Washington to commemorate Saudi Arabia’s National Day last September. All 13 regions were represented, each with their own food, dresses and music, all proudly Saudi.
Some of the people who seem to truly appreciate what Saudi Arabia has to offer in terms of sightseeing and places to visit are expatriates living in the Kingdom. Some, like a Finnish woman who hosts a website called “Blue Abaya,” have spent months, possibly years, visiting some of the lesser-known regions and chronicling their travels with breathtaking photos and videos. She and others, including some foreign journalists, have relished the chance to visit Saudi Arabia and to get to know its people, its cities and regions. Many readily acknowledge that they have “fallen in love” with Saudi Arabia and its people. As a Saudi, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed that some of these “foreigners” have seen more of my country than I have.
Crown Prince Mohammed understands what Saudi Arabia has to offer. He hopes that, in time, it can become a destination for millions of people around the world. It should already be a destination for the thousands of Saudis who still think of any vacation as a time to leave the country. While it might be a while until the Kingdom can compete with the United States or Europe, Vision 2030 aims to give nearby holiday destinations a run for their money. Not only will this create thousands of jobs and keep billions of dollars usually spent abroad inside the Kingdom, it will also further strengthen Saudis’ sense of pride in their country, their history and their diversity.
- Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US-Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer