Startup of the Week: Introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society

Updated 11 June 2019

Startup of the Week: Introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society

  • Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. currently produces staple tourist keepsakes such as passport covers, tote bags, fridge magnets and keychains

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:

What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?

Updated 16 June 2019

What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?

  • Some of the gifts have either gone missing, were stolen or destroyed over the decades

HOUSTON, Texas: US President Richard Nixon gave moon rocks collected by Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 astronauts to 135 countries around the world and the 50 US states as a token of American goodwill.
While some hold pride of place in museums and scientific institutions, many others are unaccounted for — they have either gone missing, were stolen or even destroyed over the decades.
The list below recounts the stories of some of the missing moon rocks and others that were lost and later found.
It is compiled from research done by Joseph Gutheinz Jr, a retired NASA special agent known as the “Moon Rock Hunter,” his students, and collectSPACE, a website which specializes in space history.

• Both the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 moon rocks presented to perpetually war-wracked Afghanistan have vanished.

• One of the moon rocks destined for Cyprus was never delivered due to the July 1974 Turkish invasion of the island and the assassination of the US ambassador the following month.
It was given to NASA years later by the son of a US diplomat but has not been handed over to Cyprus.

Joseph Gutheinz, an attorney known as the "Moon Rock Hunter," displays meteorite fragments in his office on May 22, 2019 in Friendswood, Texas. (AFP / Loren Elliot)

• Honduras’s Apollo 17 moon rock was recovered by Gutheinz and Bob Cregger, a US Postal Service agent, in a 1998 undercover sting operation baptized “Operation Lunar Eclipse.”
It had been sold to a Florida businessman, Alan Rosen, for $50,000 by a Honduran army colonel. Rosen tried to sell the rock to Gutheinz for $5 million. It was seized and eventually returned to Honduras.

• Ireland’s Apollo 11 moon rock was on display in Dublin’s Dunsink Observatory, which was destroyed in a 1977 fire. Debris from the observatory — including the moon rock — ended up in the Finglas landfill.

• The Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 moon rocks given to then Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi have vanished.

• Malta’s Apollo 17 moon rock was stolen from a museum in May 2004. It has not been found.

• Nicaragua’s Apollo 17 moon rock was allegedly sold to someone in the Middle East for $5-10 million. Its Apollo 11 moon rock ended up with a Las Vegas casino owner, who displayed it for a time in his Moon Rock Cafe. Bob Stupak’s estate turned it over to NASA when he died. It has since been returned to Nicaragua.

• Romania’s Apollo 11 moon rock is on display in a museum in Bucharest. Romania’s Apollo 17 moon rock is believed to have been sold by the estate of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed along with his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day 1989.

Spain’s Apollo 17 moon rock is on display in Madrid’s Naval Museum after being donated by the family of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was assassinated by the Basque separatist group ETA in 1973.
Spain’s Apollo 11 moon rock is missing and is believed to be in the hands of the family of former dictator Francisco Franco.