JEDDAH: A country’s landmarks, landscapes, culture and cuisine are typically represented by the trinkets that holidaymakers buy to remember their visits.
France has baguettes and the Eiffel Tower. Australia has the boomerang and kangaroos. India has rickshaws and the Taj Mahal. But avid souvenir fan Maher Khayyat struggled to find themed collectibles for his home country, Saudi Arabia. So he decided to make them himself.
He quit his engineering job to begin a new career, one that was related to his passion for art and design. “I am a souvenir collector, I love to collect souvenirs from around the world but I used to struggle to find souvenirs from Saudi Arabia, for myself and my friends,” he told Arab News. “Whenever we want to give someone a special Saudi gift, we directly think of Zamzam water or some dates. I wanted to change that in line with the significant changes the Kingdom is going through,” he added, referring to the huge transformation kick-started by the government’s Vision 2030 reform plan.
One of the plan’s objectives is to put Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map through the development of programs, activities, facilities and festivals. The government has also launched ambitious giga-projects, including the ultra-luxurious Amaala resort and the cultural destination Qiddiya, to help achieve this goal.
Khayyat formed the Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. to educate local and international visitors about the Kingdom’s true culture through souvenirs and memorabilia. It currently sells staple tourist keepsakes such as passport covers, tote bags, fridge magnets and keychains. There is also a souvenir pack for people who cannot choose between individual items. The plan is to be the country’s leading souvenir firm.
One of the biggest challenges facing Khayyat and his Jeddah-based team was working out how to best reflect the culture and value of every Saudi region. “The Kingdom is vast and has diverse traditions and customs. We solved this problem after signing an agreement with the tourism authority. It helped us to understand the culture of each region because we were provided with the necessary information we needed about each region and its community.”
Another hurdle was introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society. “People would ask us what use they would make of these products. We would explain their cultural and consumer value, we educated people about the country. For instance, many of them did not know about (the UNESCO World Heritage Site) Madain Saleh or Al-Ula until after the recent festivals that took place there.”
Khayyat said there was greater awareness about souvenirs than before. The company has more customers, marketing is easier and sales are growing.
“What distinguishes us is the high quality of our products and their reasonable prices, in addition to our innovative designs that combine reality with art. We want our products to be affordable to all pilgrims and tourists. Everyone should be able to buy something for themselves from Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. products can be found in stores and airports in the Kingdom. They can also be bought online. The website can be found here: https://www.saudissouvenir.com/.