Promoting leisure, health travel can help diversify tourism: Experts

Updated 27 June 2012
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Promoting leisure, health travel can help diversify tourism: Experts

As the contribution of tourism sector in the Saudi GDP is seven percent, considered too low, businessmen have called for developing infrastructure and joint partnerships to diversify the Kingdom's tourism portfolio with leisure and health travel. The Kingdom's religious tourism accounts for about 45 percent of its total visitors.
A recent study released during the World Economic Forum 2011, Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR), covers travel competitiveness during the period from 2008-2011, which confirms that Saudi Arabia has moved from 82nd position in 2008 to 62nd in 2011. The report calls for increased investments in infrastructure, hygiene, IT, health care and telecommunications.
Experts in tourism sector spoke to Arab News said that Saudi Arabia has international standards that reflect the strength of its local economy. According to them, local tourism needs to be developed with improved infrastructure, competitive environment, and cooperation between the public and private sectors.
Emad Muguarbel, CEO of Red Sea Reef that is involved in developing the Jeddah coastline project on behalf of the municipality, emphasized the need for focusing on distinct advantages of Saudi destinations in order to make them a preferred choice. "Saudi Arabia should create one tourism brand through hundreds of partners. Agreements with several partners can help develop a comprehensive tourism development program thus ensuring a guaranteed quality of service," he said.
According to TTCR, Saudi tourism faces many challenges including the number and quality of events, cooperation between the public and private sectors, cultural and natural heritage products, and competitive marketing activities.
"The current initiatives in tourism have helped in creating awareness. However, we still need to continue improving tourism at a world-class level in terms of quality, branding, and communication. If we talk about the Kingdom, Riyadh would be a good example. It has come a long way in its infrastructure and corporate events. Despite the rapid change in Riyadh's infrastructure, there is still a miss. During the peak tourism time, some people can't find a hotel room in Riyadh, which points at the need for investing in more first-class hotels and resorts," he said.
Muguarbel said the development of the Corniche beach project in Jeddah once completed would add to the tourist attractions of the city. "Sustainable development in tourism needs a proper coordination and partnership. Saudi Arabia should have a solid strategy to showcase economic, cultural, sports and tourism diversities," he said, adding that there is a need for world-class event organizers for world-class events," said Muguarbel.
"Event organizing industry is still underdeveloped. We have small number of interesting events such as Hail rally, competitiveness forum, and SCTA events. Unfortunately, SCTA cannot produce all events alone," he said.
Faisal Saleh Al-Turki, vice president of Nesma Holding Company, said the Kingdom lacked public places in sufficient numbers, thus posting a serious challenge to further tourism promotion.
"When we talk about tourism in the Kingdom, Jeddah will be the first city that jumps to everyone mind. Unfortunately, despite the publicity that most of Jeddah's lands located near the sea are owned by private individuals or companies. It is almost impossible to go to the beach if you don't own a beach house or pay rent somewhere," Al-Turki said. "Additionally, there is an overall lack of public spaces, starting with sidewalks. Therefore it is often not possible to truly experience a tourist city," he added.
"We have to admit that there are many difficulties in terms of mobility within cities and the general lack of public transport. Shortage of national transportation is also a serious issue, and it is often difficult to fly domestically," he said.
According to Al-Turki, partnership is a key factor that can boost tourism, especially in terms of developing clean cities.
The TTCR stated that if the environment were not protected during the development phase of tourism, Saudi Arabia's competitiveness in this field would suffer. Saudi Arabia also ranks in the bottom 25 percent worldwide in health and hygiene.
In addition, TTCR confirmed that Saudi Arabia ranks 129th, lowest worldwide, particularly in the numbers of international fairs and exhibitions.
"We need to focus not only on the main cities but rather give attention to the beautify villages. The public sector together with its private counterpart should promote tourist expos in villages. Expos that related to history and heritage are also required," said Al-Badr Hamidaddin, account executive at Adalid Public Relations.
Yasser Al-Misfer, managing director of Silk Road hospitality which is member of Memar development and construction based in Saudi Arabia operating all over the Meddle East and Africa, called for strong relations between the SCTA and the business sector who are involved directly and indirectly with tourism.
He added: "We need to develop tourism products like events, conferences, exhibitions and many other products to make Saudi Arabia the destination for business tourism or family vacations."
According to Al-Misfer, partnerships are always healthy in different industries.


Saudi Arabia, Russia and China give EU trade reforms thumbs down at WTO

Updated 32 min 17 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia, Russia and China give EU trade reforms thumbs down at WTO

  • China is suing US and EU at WTO
  • Kingdom warns new rules are concerning

The EU’s new rules against countries dumping cheap goods on its market got a rough ride at a World Trade Organization meeting, where China, Russia and Saudi Arabia led a chorus of disapproval, a trade official said on Thursday.

The EU, which is in a major dispute with China about the fairness of Chinese pricing, introduced rules last December that allow it to take into account “significant distortions” in prices caused by government intervention.

A Chinese trade official told the WTO’s anti-dumping committee that Beijing had deep concerns about the new methodology, saying it would damage the WTO’s anti-dumping system and increase uncertainty for exporters, an official who attended the meeting said.

China argued that the concept of “significant distortion” did not exist under WTO rules, and the EU should base its dumping investigations on domestic prices in countries of origin, such as China.

The EU reformed its rules in the hope they would allow it to keep shielding its markets from cheap Chinese imports while fending off a Chinese legal challenge at the WTO.
China said that when it joined the WTO in 2001, the other member countries agreed that after 15 years they would treat it as a market economy, taking its prices at face value.

But the US and the EU have refused, saying China still subsidises some industries, such as steel and aluminum, which have massive overcapacity and spew vast supplies onto the world market, making it impossible for others to compete.

China is suing both the US and the EU at the WTO to try to force them to change their rules.

Legal experts say the dispute is one of the most important in the 23-year history of the WTO, because it pits the major trading blocs against each other with fundamentally opposing views of how the global trade rules should work.

In the WTO committee meeting, Saudi Arabia said the new rules were very concerning, and it challenged the EU to explain how EU authorities could ensure a fair and objective assessment of “significant distortion.”

Russia said the EU rules violated the WTO rulebook and certain aspects were unclear and created great uncertainty for exporters. Bahrain, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Oman also expressed concerns.

But a US trade official said the discussion showed that appropriate tools were available within the WTO to address distortions affecting international trade.