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.