Riyadh ramps up Ramadan tourism efforts

Masmak fort, a remnant of the old Riyadh. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 May 2019
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Riyadh ramps up Ramadan tourism efforts

  • Riyadh has seen travel and tourism receipts grow by an average of 7.9 percent a year since 2006, twice as fast as in Makkah

RIYADH: The capital’s tourism authority has heightened efforts to provide the best services to visitors during Ramadan and the summer break, with the schools closed for the long vacation. 
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) Riyadh branch has started its seasonal plans by increasing inspections of tourist facilities.
Abdulaziz Aal Hassan, director-general of the SCTH for the Riyadh region, said the tourism plan involved inspections of accommodation, agencies and services.
Hundreds of inspections have already been carried out, he added, and the SCTH Riyadh branch was working with agencies and accommodation providers to organize events and programs. Museums and heritage villages were also ready to receive visitorsduring Ramadan and the subsequent Eid holidays. 
The region is home to a number of attractions. Ad Diriyah, located on the outskirts of Riyadh, is in the historic At-Turaif district. It was once the home of the Saudi royal family and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Restoring At-Turaif and Ad Diriyah is one of the many projects under way to boost tourism in the Kingdom, in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan. 
The city’s sights include Masmak Fort, a remnant of the old oasis town that was Riyadh, and Murabba Palace, the palace of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz, which is now known as the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center. Ashikar Heritage Village, characterized by its old mud buildings has become a major attraction for tourists and locals. The site is 200 kilometers from the capital and features a  museum and traditional architecture. 

Riyadh has seen travel and tourism receipts grow by an average of 7.9 percent a year since 2006, twice as fast as in Makkah, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). It said the sector generated $3.4 billion for Riyadh in 2016, although this represented just 2.2 percent of the city’s gross domestic product.
The WTTC added that tourist-related employment in the city grew at a faster pace than most other cities in the decade to 2016 and that the capital had a high reliance on the international market, with 83 percent of visitor spend from inbound sources.
This share has doubled in the past 10 years and the number of foreign arrivals has tripled.


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.