Saudi Arabia described as tourism’s ‘last untouched frontier’

Saudi Arabia's giga-projects — the Red Sea Project and NEOM — will not only be major attractions, but are also environment-friendly, including coral reefs and turtle nesting areas on the Red Sea coast. (Supplied photo)
Updated 01 November 2019

Saudi Arabia described as tourism’s ‘last untouched frontier’

  • Kingdom’s tourist visa kick-starts new era for ‘last untouched frontier,’ says global analyst  

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been described as tourism’s “last untouched frontier” following the launch of its first tourist visa scheme weeks ago.

Nicolas Mayer, tourism consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that now the Kingdom had finally opened its doors to the world, it presented visitors with a unique opportunity, something he described as a “Facebook moment.”

He said that tourists could claim to be among the first to enter the country and discover its hidden gems — some so well hidden that even Saudis didn’t know about them.

“When you look at what drives tourists to visit, sometimes I call it the Facebook moment. You want to do something that is new and innovative, and what our parents and friends have not done,” Mayer said on the sidelines of the Future Investments Initiative 2019 (FII 2019) in Riyadh. 

The attraction was not only to see the Kingdom’s varied landscapes and experience its culture, but also to be among the first to visit. 

“People want to go to AlUla and take a beautiful selfie so everybody says: ‘You went where? How far? How exotic.’

“If we get that, and I’m convinced we can, then we’ve won,” he said.

“I believe if you look at the wealth of experiences that you can have in Saudi Arabia, everything from wildlife, heritage history, archaeology, etc, that is a super-rich assortment of experience that you can offer. So, yes, people will come.”

With the launch of its new tourist visa, Saudi Arabia is the most “exciting case study” on tourism and the “last untouched frontier destination,” he said. 

The Kingdom’s new tourist visa scheme, launched on Sept. 28, offers visitors from 49 countries a visa on arrival, while others have easier access through the Schengen scheme. The visa allows tourists multiple entries for 90 days.

The project’s slogan is “Saudi, open hearts, open doors.”

“The slogan is really well chosen, because you can sense it,” Mayer said. “It is relatively easy to open doors; you just have to decide. But to open hearts, it’s different,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is an attractive proposition for foreign investors, especially now that the leadership is supporting all aspects of tourism, he said. 

“For a foreign investor to know that this is not a little niche business that is tolerated but (supported) is an attractive proposition.”  

The Saudi market and the entities responsible for tourism development are already highly capable, he added. 

“Contrary to other countries frequented by tourists, Saudi Arabia would like to have foreign investment, but it doesn’t need a lesson on how to develop a resort.”

The Kingdom’s giga-projects — the Red Sea Project and NEOM — will not only be major attractions, but are also environment-friendly, including coral reefs and turtle nesting areas on the Red Sea coast. Mayer called it “the cool thing.”

He said that there was inevitable skepticism, but people were comparing a future Saudi tourism story to one from France or Spain. 

“People who are skeptical judge from a very Eurocentric view and that need not be the case,” he said.

The Kingdom is certainly no stranger to hosting foreign nationals — more than 1.5 million pilgrims arrive at the Kingdom’s airports each year to perform Hajj.

But Mayer said that a new era is starting that will allow tourists to explore newly opened lands for pleasure and to catch a glimpse of a once-closed country. 

Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

Updated 8 min 47 sec ago

Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

  • Saudis turn to domestic traveling and flock to their nation’s cooler cities and rural areas

TAIF: As Saudi citizens turn to domestic tourism in the country’s summer resorts, adapting to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rural areas have become targeted by local tourists wishing to get away from the soaring temperatures in most of the Kingdom’s cities.

Visitors are now choosing cold Saudi cities instead of Europe, which they are accustomed to visiting, such as Taif, Al-Baha, and Abha.

COVID-19 has postponed all plans to travel abroad, and attention has now focused on domestic tourism amid strict health protocols in parks, gardens and recreational areas.

Walid Al-Hamidi, vice president of the Tourism Development Council, confirmed to Arab News that Asir, with its facilities and attractions, was ready to receive summer visitors from across the country.

He said that under the directives of Asir's governor, who supervises all activities and events directly and constantly, many committees had been formed to prepare a successful summer tourism season, to optimize the opportunity and allow people to enjoy the exceptional ambiance of Asir.

“A comprehensive tourism plan was set up two years ago, which resulted in a successful Al-Soudah Season with the support of Asir’s Investment Authority,” Al-Hamidi added.

He noted that Asir’s directives aimed this year to build an exceptional tourism model that meets optimal health standards in dealing with COVID-19.

The model is supported by the “Nashama Asir” team — consisting of 4,000 volunteers — who have been trained for months and have all the necessary skills to make the season successful. Their work will continue until the end of the pandemic and throughout the summer.

“Everyone is ready at public facilities, gardens and parks, to serve tourists,” he said, adding “tourists coming from all the over the Kingdom will be welcomed with smiles, enhanced services, and warm welcomes.”

Dr. Sami Al-Obaidi, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Taif, told Arab News that the tourism sector was the economic backbone of any country or city.

He said that Taif was considered one of the most important tourist cities, given its many attractions  that made it top of any list of places to visit in the Kingdom.

“Suspending travel abroad, and limiting tourism … due to the coronavirus pandemic, makes us, as officials and citizens in Taif, well placed for a beautiful and safe tourism season for Taif’s citizens and visitors,” said Al-Obaidi.

“Meetings are held around the clock, headed by Saad Al-Maimouni, the governor of Taif, with the participation of the relevant authorities.”

He expected all sectors, especially tourism, hospitality and a few other businesses in Taif, to recover to some extent during this season, especially now tourists have already started flocking to the region, with numbers set to increase over the coming weeks.