UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival

UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival
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Saudi Arabia’s move to open up Hegra, in AlUla Valley, has restored a missing chapter in region’s history. (Shutterstock)
UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival
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Pololikashvili, left, says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been very supportive of the Kingdom’s tourism sector during the pandemic. (Supplied)
UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival
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Pololikashvili, left, with Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb.(Supplied)
UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival
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Pololikashvili, left, with Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb.(Supplied)
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Updated 10 November 2020

UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival

UN tourism chief sees vital Saudi role in sector’s post-coronavirus revival
  • Secretary-general of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) spoke to Arab News on a wide range of topics
  • Zurab Pololikashvili talked about new reality for tourism sector led by innovation and sustainability

RIYADH: The tourism industry in the Middle East and North Africa region has taken a drastic hit since the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

From Morocco in the west to Oman in the east, tourism has played a significant role in generating jobs and sustaining local economies in a part of the world famous for its holy cities, cultural heritage sites, sandy beaches and glittering metropolises. Ballpark figures of losses suffered by the sector run into billions of dollars.

Nevertheless, Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), is cautiously optimistic that the Middle East can bounce back from the pandemic quickly and that Saudi Arabia has a vital role to play in the expected recovery.

“We really hope that with such strong partners and friends, we can make tourism a priority,” Pololikashvili said in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Arab News.




Pololikashvili, left, says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been very supportive of the Kingdom’s tourism sector during the pandemic. (Supplied )

Q: Tourism ministers of the G20 held a meeting in the first week of July to explore means to boost tourism. What, in your opinion, were the key takeaways?

A: Firstly, I would like to congratulate Saudi Arabia as the host of the G20 summit meetings. We started preparatory meetings in April because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had other ideas but decided to change the format.

As I mentioned, in April we had a very interesting meeting with the G20 ministers. We discussed how to restart tourism and how the industry can recover, both during and after the pandemic. G20 countries collectively account for more than 70 percent of the global GDP, of which tourism is a big part.

We created a crisis committee where we presented our vision and ideas. Saudi Arabia was a highly active member of this committee. We had five meetings. The objective was to prepare short-term and long-term plans on how to restart tourism.

The situation was evolving on a daily basis. It was a very uncertain moment to discuss the issue, but we finally received recommendations, protocols and guidelines for G20 member states on actions to take both during and after the pandemic.

The main topics will be discussed at the G20 meeting, where we will present two different projects led by Saudi Arabia, one of which concerns the empowerment of women in the Middle East as well as the rest of the world.




Pololikashvili was instrumental in developing tourism in Georgia when he was economics minister. (Supplied)

Sustainable development is another one of the main goals of our discussion in Riyadh. Unfortunately, it will be the first time the G20 tourism ministerial meeting will be held via video conference, which is a challenge.

We will give a presentation on the future of tourism, in which the ministers will discuss how we are going to adapt to new lifestyles, new economies and new challenges that we will face after COVID-19.

I will do my best to be in Riyadh during this meeting and conduct it with His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Saudi Arabia’s minister of tourism, and the G20 ministers.

Q: The pandemic has led to an unprecedented drop in tourism demand. International tourist numbers will fall by 60 to 80 percent in 2020, according to UNWTO future scenarios. How can the industry become robust again?

A: The most important thing is health. Let us see how the pandemic plays out in the coming months. We are truly optimistic that step-by-step, borders will reopen.

The two main components necessary to restart tourism are reopened borders and a return to the connectivity that we had before.

 

 

Currently, many airline companies are in trouble without connectivity because 70 percent of visitors travel by airplane. Recovery depends on how fast connectivity can restart and how soon borders reopen, but also on how the pandemic will be evaluated in different parts of the world.

The situation is changing every day. I will be very honest: It is impossible today to make a forecast for the next year.

There is much uncertainty. While we can’t predict entirely what will happen, we will be better prepared for what comes in 2021.

If everything goes smoothly, I think 2021 will be much better than 2020, which was a disaster year for the tourism sector. I am sure that in 2021 we will come back with much better figures than this year.

Q: You recently spoke with the Saudi tourism minister and praised Saudi Arabia’s efforts to restart tourism. What impressed you about the Kingdom’s plans?

A: I forgot to mention that the third part of the G20 summit discussion will concern jobs and skill-building.

We are talking about creating one million new jobs in Saudi Arabia through tourism, so we will need trained and well-prepared new professionals. We embarked on a monumental project about eight months ago to this end.

We have a special Saudi program that will be launched at the end of September. The idea is to be ready, after two or three years, to prepare young men and women who will be involved in this mega project, in which Saudi Arabia is investing over the next five to six years.




Pololikashvili, left, with Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb at Al-Ula. (Supplied)

The project aims to create an educational hub for the Middle East in Saudi Arabia. We will thus focus a lot on education, which is a big part of tourism. Without a professional and well-educated workforce, it is impossible to develop tourism.

Q: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 80 percent of global tourism, so they are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19-linked downturn. What can governments around the world do to ensure their survival?

A: Starting from the first day, we issued recommendations and asked countries and member states to support the private sector, especially SMEs, which are still in big trouble.

We always use Saudi Arabia as an example. From the very beginning, the government led by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom I had the honor of meeting, has been very committed to the tourism sector.

At a time when financial investments in SMEs and millions of jobs are at risk, Saudi Arabia is one of the best examples we can show to other member states to encourage them to support companies, entrepreneurs and people involved in the tourism industry. Saudi Arabia’s financial support is crucial for people in the SME sector.

We know this is neither easy nor cheap, but it is a smart and important decision to help the sector survive.

We are working on a lot on innovation. We want to export Saudi talent outside the country. We believe that there is an abundance of creative people and ideas in the sector, and we want to give them an opportunity to showcase their projects globally.

IN NUMBERS

  • 67 million - Fewer international tourists as of March 2020.
  • $80 billion - Lost exports over the same period.
  • 60-80% - Projected decline over the whole year.
  • 100-120 million - Direct tourism jobs potentially at risk.

Q: What are your thoughts on the latest Saudi domestic travel packages as a summer offer?

A: After the pandemic, I think people will start to travel domestically, not only in Saudi Arabia but also across the rest of the world.

That means that, in a period of one and a half years, people will travel more within countries than abroad because there are still many closed borders and restrictions on travel.

People will use their holidays to travel inside their countries, which will be also beneficial for these local destinations.

We declared this year as the “Year of Rural Tourism” without knowing that a pandemic would happen. The idea was to promote regional tourism development and create new jobs there. In Saudi Arabia, you have mountains, the Red Sea and cultural tourism.

All these destinations offer Saudis the opportunity to travel inside the country. Step by step, tourism will develop and become an important part of Saudi life.

Q: As the minister of economic development, you helped tourism kick off in Georgia. What advice do you have for Saudi Arabia, a country that just last September began welcoming international tourists to its UNESCO sites, only to be forced by the pandemic to put its plans on hold?

A: I think the first very step Saudi Arabia took to open its borders and make the country more accessible was an important one.

The second step is connectivity. Saudi Arabia has excellent opportunities and the capacity to become a new hub for the region in the coming years. It has created tourism products such as cultural tourism. The Red Sea and Neom are other excellent opportunities to invest in.

Every time I travel to Riyadh, I feel at home. The people are very friendly, and the country is opening up more in a sense.

Different factors will make Saudi Arabia attractive to tourists and travelers: diverse destinations, educated staff, high-quality services and the presence of more international companies’ representatives in the Kingdom.

Q: Have you visited UNESCO World Heritage sites in Saudi Arabia?

A: We visited the historical district of Riyadh, where it was planned to organize the G20 meeting. I also had the opportunity to travel to AlUla, which I found to be unique and one of the best UNESCO Heritage sites. From what I saw there, I am certain it will become a must-see destination.

People outside the Kingdom do not know the beauty of AlUla; it will be one of the most important assets to promote. I know the investments the Saudi government has made to the project in the past two years.

I remember being one of the first tourists when it had just opened up to visitors in February and March. I always say that once tourists and people recognize a destination, it does not need any recognition from international organizations. I am sure this will be the case for AlUla. A destination recognized by tourists means it is recognized by the whole world.




A bas-relief decorated with a lion dating from the fifth to first century BC found in AlUla Valley. (Supplied)

Q: Final question: Is there a road map for a rejuvenation of the Gulf Cooperation Council bloc’s tourism sector?

A: I think we have two international hubs in the Middle East: Dubai and Doha. Others include Bahrain, Oman and of course Saudi Arabia, which is the future of tourism. I see Riyadh and the whole country as another mega hub in this part the world.

I am sure that we will hear good news coming from the region in the future. I am also sure that one of the first regions to recover over the next two years will be Europe because it is concentrating a lot on tourism.

We have excellent news from Brussels in the form of financial support for all leading EU member countries.

If we compare the Middle East to other regions, it too is under control and in a good situation. This gives us hope that it will quickly recover and become once again a widely visited global destination.

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Twitter: @HussamMayman


King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims
Updated 14 April 2021

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

King Salman offers Ramadan wishes, orders best services for pilgrims

RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday offered his best wishes to the Muslim world on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. 
The comments came as the king chaired the weekly government meeting virtually. 
He also instructed that pilgrims be given the best possible services during the holy month, which for a second year will be observed under strict protocols to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus. 


Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks
Updated 14 April 2021

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks

Saudi Culture Ministry issues guide to acquiring national artworks
  • The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes methods for maintaining and restoring art

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture has published a guide for government agencies and institutions wishing to acquire artworks created by Saudi artists.
The guide falls under the framework of a royal order directing government agencies to acquire national artworks and handicraft products for their headquarters, according to a directory prepared by the culture ministry.
Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said the order, which was based on directives from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, provided the greatest support for the visual arts sector in the Kingdom, and for the nation’s artists.
He said the guide provides basic information, including the processes of procurement, acquisition, art collections, restoration, maintenance and preserving the integrity of artworks, in a way that guarantees the creation of a national art market and fosters relations between the artist and the buyer.
The guide consists of six main chapters, and also includes explanations on the importance of respecting intellectual property rights.


Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown
Nazaha has continued to ramp up crackdowns on corruption, fraud and bribery in Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 13 April 2021

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown

Nazaha oversees 176 arrests in Saudi corruption crackdown
  • The pair had opened commercial records and bank accounts before handing them to expatriates in return for a monthly fee

JEDDAH: Saudi authorities have arrested 176 citizens and expatriates, including government ministry employees, for alleged involvement in corruption.
In a statement, the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) said those arrested include employees of the defense, interior, national guard, finance, health, justice, municipal, rural affairs and housing, education, transport, information, and human resources and social development ministries, as well as workers from Saudi Customs, the General Authority of the Red Crescent and the National Water Co.
Charges leveled against the employees cover bribery, abuse of power and forgery charges. They were arrested in 971 inspection raids carried out by Nazaha teams in the last month.
Arrests were made following investigations into 700 people suspected of corruption. Nazaha said that legal procedures are being completed before the accused are referred to courts.
The authority called on Saudis to report suspicious activities involving financial or administrative corruption by contacting the toll free number 980, the email @nazaha.gov.sa or the fax number 0114420057.
Nazaha has continued to ramp up crackdowns on corruption, fraud and bribery in the Kingdom over the past year. Recent activities include the arrest of 65 Saudis and expats in February this year, 48 of whom were government employees from seven different ministries. Charges included bribery, abuse of influence and power, as well as fraud and forgery.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Arrests were made following investigations into 700 people suspected of corruption.

• Charges leveled against those arrested include bribery, abuse of power and forgery charges.

“Nazaha is standing up against financial and administrative corruption,” Majed Garoub, a lawyer, told Arab News. “The crackdown on corruption is a reality and we’re witnessing its success every time we hear the good news of these arrests.”
In March, two Saudi citizens were sentenced to 28 years in jail and fined up to $3.47 million after an investigation exposed their roles in an organized crime gang that laundered money overseas.
The pair had opened commercial records and bank accounts before handing them to expatriates in return for a monthly fee. They allowed expats to invest in their commercial unit, use their bank accounts, and deposit money they had obtained illegally and transfer it abroad.
In November last year, Nazaha arrested 22 people after seizing more than SR600 million ($160 million) in what was described as “the largest case of corruption in the Kingdom.”

 


Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan
Updated 14 April 2021

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan

Worshippers flock to Grand Mosque in Makkah as dawn breaks on Ramadan
  • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic fails to dampen the true spirit of the holy month

JEDDAH: The holy month of Ramadan is a favorite of Muslims as they focus on their inner well-being, faith and connect with their roots, religion and family.

Around the world, people prepare for the month with great passion. The most common preparation begins with grocery shopping, subtle decorations in homes and quiet corners designated for prayers, among other things.
Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia highlight their joy by sharing meals with friends and family. However, because of coronavirus health restrictions, they will not be able to enjoy its full effect this year.
Taking lessons learned from an isolated Ramadan last year, people in Saudi Arabia are instead focusing on self-care before to achieve the holy month’s main purpose: Growing closer to God through prayer and devotion.
However, people do miss the usual festivities during the month due to the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, this month generally witnesses hustle and bustle not only in markets and eateries but mosques also become full of worshippers who want to utilize this month effectively for their spiritual growth.   

Ramadan makes social distancing a bit harder to bear since it’s the month in which we feel like sharing meals the most.

Hamna Khan

This is the second Ramadan since the beginning of the pandemic. Due to the health precautions, the situation is no longer the same, as people have to be very careful.  
Hamna Khan, a Pakistani expat living in Jeddah, told Arab News: “Ramadan makes social distancing a bit harder to bear since it’s the month in which we feel like sharing meals the most.”
Palestinian student Rahaf Burchalli saw the humor of the situation, saying that her family will be putting hand sanitizer on the dining table as an appropriate addition.
For many Muslims, the month of Ramadan means going back to religious habits, such as praying on time, dedicating a part of the day to reciting the Qur’an and doing as many good deeds as possible.
Although the experience in 2021 will be different, given the nationwide curfew in place this time last year, restrictions still remain to curb the spread of coronavirus, leaving many people with more time on their hands.

It is important to organize oneself, as the routine in Ramadan is different than the rest of the year.

Rahaf Burchalli

People are planning different activities and chores to use this spare time efficiently by engaging in productive activities.
For Khan, the extra time will be spent decluttering her house for Ramadan so that it becomes easier to clean for Eid. “Since the month means a lot of time spent with food, I make sure that preparations are done ahead of time before Ramadan.”
Burchalli, on the other hand, said that her pre-Ramadan preparations are psychological, rather than physical. “The heart begins to get ready and feels reassured for the beginning of my favorite month of the year. The decoration comes after that and I think that it is essential to enter the atmosphere of Ramadan.”
She added that her preparations also involve spiritual practices such as “organizing my sleep, eating and worship times.
“It is important to organize oneself, as the routine in Ramadan is different than the rest of the year,” she said.


Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground
The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago. (Supplied)
Updated 14 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground

Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal breaks new ground
  • Philosophers from outside the Arab world contributed to the first issue, specifically from Germany and the US

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first philosophy journal has been issued, with its editor-in-chief saying that the country was witnessing a “tangible philosophical renaissance.”
The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago.
According to its editor in chief, Sarah Al-Rajhi, the principal aim of the journal was to help researchers in the Kingdom, the Arab world and the West to publish their work without any financial cost and in line with accurate scientific standards.
“Philosophy indicates the position of knowledge within any culture,” she told Arab News. “It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is currently witnessing a tangible philosophical renaissance that should have culminated in the launch of a refereed academic philosophical journal. At Mana, we aim to train researchers in philosophical writing and create a kind of accumulation in this regard. We do this on our online platform, and more systematically in our peer-reviewed journal.”
She said that the SJPS advisory board included 12 leading thinkers and philosophers from the Arab world and the West, and that this number was appropriate because each member represented an orientation and school of thought.
The scholars were chosen on the basis of precise criteria, the most important of which were their research, their recognition by the scientific research community, their “abundant philosophical production” and their geographical distribution.
The advisory board includes members from Saudi Arabia, the US, Australia, the UK, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.
Al-Rajhi said that the SJPS had received a large number of research papers in different languages from many countries since its launch.
“We subjected this research to close referees as the journal has a list of highly qualified referees. We apologized to some researchers whose research did not meet the required publishing standards, and we provided them with the referees’ reports that include important notes and instructions in order to help them address the deficiencies in their research and develop them.”

FASTFACTS

• The Saudi Journal of Philosophical Studies (SJPS) was launched by the cultural platform Mana, which was set up two years ago.

• The SJPS advisory board includes 12 leading thinkers and philosophers from the Arab world and the West.

• Among the open access articles are a paper from the US-Lebanese philosopher Raja Halwani.

• Another article is from Mohamed Mohamed Madian, philosophy professor at the University of Cairo.

Philosophers from outside the Arab world contributed to the first issue, specifically from Germany and the US.
The first edition of the SJPS was applauded by elite cultural figures and entities, including Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. He tweeted the issue announcement, adding: “Such a great step to enrich Saudi philosophical content.”

Such a great step to enrich Saudi philosophical content. Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan
Saudi culture minister

Al-Rajhi, in turn, expressed her gratitude for the support that the Saudi cultural community received from the ministry.
“With your continuing encouragement and support to the knowledge and cultural movement in Saudi Arabia, the future will even be brighter with more and more steps,” she replied.
She said that some of the journal’s articles were free to access for readers on the Mana platform and that issues would also be sent to Saudi and Arab universities.
Al-Rajhi, who is the co-founder of Mana, said the journal could contribute to strengthening the Kingdom’s philosophical movement and that the encouragement of academic publishing in the field of philosophy was the pinnacle of this movement.
“To write a philosophical paper in a systematic way that adheres to the accuracy and academic standards in writing, and for the scientific community to read what you write, is a great thing and a beginning that can be both built and expanded upon. Moreover, we believe that the international character of the SJPS allows Saudi researchers to learn about the research output of their colleagues around the world.”
Al-Rajhi explained what distinguished the SJPS from other Arab and international refereed journals. It did not just present research papers, but a variety of content.
“This content included an introductory essay on a philosophical topic, an introductory essay about a philosopher, an introduction to a research project, translations of two valuable texts from English into Arabic, and finally a statistical analysis of the publications of the most important international publishing houses in the second half of 2020.”
She said there was a clear philosophical activity in Saudi Arabia that nobody could ignore and that it was part of the country’s general cultural activity, adding that had it not been for the “official institutions’ support of this activity, it would not have appeared this way.”
The next desired step within the Saudi philosophy community was to teach the subject in the country’s universities as an independent academic discipline, she said.
“We have tried to create a kind of intersection between philosophy and academia, and we are hopeful that it will be a step that paves the way toward establishing the first departments of philosophical studies in Saudi universities.”
Among the open access articles are a paper from the US-Lebanese philosopher Raja Halwani, who is a philosophy professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In his abstract for the “Virtue of Integrity,” Halwani writes there is a powerful argument that integrity is not a virtue because it would be a redundant virtue, or what he calls the “redundancy objection.”
He said that integrity was usually tested when the agent was under pressure or tempted to act against their values. A virtuous person was someone who had virtues, including wisdom, and was able to act properly whenever the situation called for it.
Another article is from Mohamed Mohamed Madian, philosophy professor at the University of Cairo’s Faculty of Art.
He discusses Cornel Ronald West, a prominent left-wing African-American thinker, and his writing focuses on three levels expressing the West’s philosophy: Prophetic pragmatism, the philosopher’s concept of democracy, and the problem of racial discrimination.