JEDDAH: Two sectors amassed billions in losses due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic this year — travel and aviation as well as hotels and hospitality.
According to Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, who spoke at the Future Hospitality Summit on Monday, airlines will lose up to $6 billion while hotel occupancy rates, to date, are at under 10 percent their usual levels.
The summit was organized by the Ministry of Tourism and the Saudi Secretariat of the G20 as part of the International Conferences Program, honoring Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency this year.
The travel sector is expected to lose up to 160 million jobs out of 330 million existing jobs by the end of 2022, said the minister.
“Our industry is driven mainly by the private sector and most of the companies operating in (it) are driven by profitability, therefore they wish to cut their costs to survive,” he said.
Job security, the safety of passengers and a fast recovery for the sector are at the top of the G20’s list of priorities, said Al-Khateeb.
“We met, all the G20 ministers, and discussed the main issues that are impacting our sectors. For the first time ever, we arranged a meeting with the private sector on Oct. 7. We listened to the private sector and tried to create bridges with the help of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). We came out of that meeting with a commitment to restore 100 million jobs,” he added.
The G20 meeting also resulted in the “adoption” of the secretary-general’s initiative, which is the development of rural areas around the globe. Al-Khateeb said securing jobs and training was the main goal, while improving the conditions of these areas to create travel destinations. “We took AlUla, a historical village in Saudi Arabia, as an example and we adopted AlUla’s framework on how to develop small villages,” he added.
The minister also talked about Saudi Arabia’s keenness to resume its tourism activities ever since the country reopened its gates to tourists in 2019, with several giga-projects, such as NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Qiddiyah and Diriyah.
Most of these projects were affected by the pandemic, but are now back on track.
The CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, Jerry Inzerillo, said that Turaif’s Salwa Palace had to be closed to the public, and that the pandemic had changed how people walk around sites to maintain safety.
Inzerillo promised many activities would be launched at Diriyah this December, including a Samhan Historical Hotel and a soft opening for the Salwah Palace.
Other speakers at the summit discussed what the sector needed during the pandemic. Gloria Guevara, CEO and president of the WTTC, said global governmental cooperation was essential.
“Travel can resume when, through cooperation and coordination, the correct measures and protocols are in place to ensure hygienic and safe travels,” she said.
About 6,000 leaders, experts and interested people around the world are participating in the two-day conference.