RIYADH: Geo-tourism, a niche market with considerable growth prospects sustaining or enhancing the distinctive geographical character of a place — along with its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and the well-being of its residents — is in the focus to diversify the tourism sector in the Kingdom, which is undergoing transformation in line with Vision 2030.
Geo-tourism links the act of viewing the beauty of geological and geomorphic features with the enjoyment of a site’s beauty, arousing a sense of wonder while gaining knowledge about the intrinsic value of the site.
Notably, geo-tourism is considered one of the modern patterns of tourism included in sustainable tourism programs and based on making use of the sites with geological features without causing damage or destruction as it focuses on terrain and geological features.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), the apex tourism body in the Kingdom, has offered specialized programs to activate the pattern of geological and environmental tourism all over the Kingdom.
“The SCTH has launched the geological tourism program through the General Administration for the Development of Tourist Sites in the investment and tourism development sector at the tourism commission, and through a solid and effective partnership with the relevant government agencies including the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, the Saudi Wildlife Authority and Al-Madinah Regional Municipality,” Majed Alshadeed, a spokesman at the SCTH, told Arab News.
The geological tourism program focuses on the strategic objectives of developing and diversifying the national tourism product and developing a new tourism pattern to take advantage of natural geological features and preserve them environmentally from any trespassing or damage, in addition to opening new fields to create various employment opportunities, support the economic development at the national level and activate cooperation agreements and memorandum of understanding between the SCTH and a number of relevant commissions and ministries, he said.
The SCTH has assigned a specialized international consulting firm to prepare a comprehensive study of the geological sites in the Kingdom, and based on this study, a specialized program was evolved for the development of geological tourism in the Kingdom and to maintain and develop these sites in a sustainable manner, along with development of a modern tourist pattern to be commercialized as a new product that supports the vision of 2030.
The program aims to establish a site on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as a geological park by the World Network of Geological Parks, where the commission set out to work with their partners on the site lying north of Harret Raht in Madinah to be the first geological park registered within the list of the World Natural Heritage, being one of the most important sites nominated by the study prepared by the consultant, as it meets the requirements and standards necessary for its registration. The commission has prepared an executive plan that extends until 2021.
This executive plan includes tasks, responsibilities and time intervals for its completion. Several tasks included in the plan have already been started according to the proposed schedule.
In a major initiative to promote geo-tourism in the Kingdom, the SCTH in 2015 organized a trip to introduce tourism trainees to the “mountain tourism route” in Asir, Al-Baha and Taif.
Tour operators, tourist guides and event operators were introduced to the mountain tourism route on the ground, and exchanged experiences between the participants in the trip and tour operators, tourist guides and tourism service providers.
“Mountain tourism route” is a mountain chain located in the western part of the Kingdom and extends from Yemen to the Gulf of Aqaba, spread over about 1,550 kilometers.
It is considered a distinguished tourism destination during the summer season due to its mild temperature and beauty of its relief, and diversity of its heritage towns along the tourism route. Significantly, Hail rock art that resembles a rock museum in the deep desert, was included in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 2015.
Earlier, SCTH joined hand with the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) to develop geo-tourism by reviewing the list of geological sites under consideration and work out a comprehensive formula to enable the new trend of tourism in the Kingdom.
In tourism industry parlance, geo-tourism sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, including rocks, its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.
As the tourism sector in the Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented growth and also contributing handsomely to the national GDP and job market with new opportunities for the Saudi youth, this new dimension of tourism is expected to diversify tourism by transforming the deserts from empty wastelands into a revenue-generating source and offering employment opportunities to the youth.