Future Hospitality Summit: Saudi Arabia will create ‘level playing field’ for investors

Future Hospitality Summit: Saudi Arabia will create ‘level playing field’ for investors
Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia's investment minister, the Kingdom will provide equal opportunities for local and international investors. (Screenshot/Future Hospitality Summit)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Future Hospitality Summit: Saudi Arabia will create ‘level playing field’ for investors

Future Hospitality Summit: Saudi Arabia will create ‘level playing field’ for investors
  • Kingdom optimistic about reopening for tourism

DUBAI/RIYADH: Saudi authorities will ensure equal opportunities for local and international investors in the country’s rapidly developing tourism sector, delegates at the Future Hospitality Summit were told on Tuesday.

Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih said the aim is to provide a level playing field for all who wish to invest in the Kingdom.

Speaking on the second and final day of the event, he also talked about the efforts being made to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 to transform the tourism sector and establish the nation as one of the world’s top five tourist destinations. Pilgrims will play an important part in the plans, he added.

“We believe Umrah can be increased to at least 30 million people, from about eight million in 2018-2019,” Al-Falih said.

The number of Hajj pilgrims will remain at pre-COVID-19 levels, which have averaged nearly 2.4 million people a year for the past 10 years, because of space and logistical restraints, he added.

Al-Falih told delegates that the Kingdom’s unique position, given the evolution and development of its tourism industry, will attract investors because the country still lacks much of the infrastructure the plans require.

“What makes Saudi Arabia unique when we come (to the) post-COVID (era is that) we are going to be undersupplied with assets, hotel rooms (and) infrastructure that will address all the opportunities for travelers,” he explained.

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The minister said he believes many tourists are interested in culturally enriching experiences, which is exactly what the Kingdom can offer.

“People today are not simply looking for an idyllic beach, which we have, or beautiful mountainous scenery, which we have, or exciting urban developments (like those) in Riyadh, Jeddah (and) NEOM, on the East Coast in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Al-Falih said that one of the reasons for a decline in direct foreign investment in recent years has been an overbuild of capacity in many sectors, and his ministry acknowledges the risks — real and perceived — that have caused concern among overseas investors.

“We will introduce special economic zones for international investors (and they) will be part of the offering of the Kingdom in various sectors,” he said.

The Saudi economy has taken a massive hit as a result of the pandemic, with the travel and tourism sector particularly badly affected, said Al-Falih. It is therefore important to revitalize this sector, he added, as it has such huge, untapped potential. By 2030, the aim is to add 500,000 hotel rooms and for airports to accommodate 100 million passengers a year.

Amr Al-Madani, the CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told delegates about the latest developments at the UNESCO World Heritage site.




Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, discussed updates on the UNESCO heritage site at the summit. (Screenshot/Future Hospitality Summit)

“We are on our way now to reopen to (domestic) visitors by the end of October … with coronavirus precautions,” he said. The destination expects to reopen to international visitors in early 2021, after authorities relax pandemic-related travel restrictions. The Interior Ministry has said that restrictions on air, land and sea travel will not be lifted until after Jan. 1. An exact date is expected to be announced in December.

Fahd Hamidaddin, the Saudi Tourism Board’s chief executive, also discussed the reopening of the Kingdom for tourism. He said he expects tourists to start returning by early 2021, and visitor numbers to return to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2023. There is a lot of optimism for the future, he added.

While Saudi authorities are launching major projects to develop the country’s tourism industry, officials said they are working hard to ensure that the efforts are environmentally sensitive and encourage more sustainable travel practices.

John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Company, described his project as the most ambitious tourism initiative in the world, and said sustainability is an integral part of it.

“We put sustainability at the very heart of everything that we do,” he said. “We’re working on innovative construction techniques to minimize our environmental footprint.”

The Red Sea project, which expects to welcome its first visitors by the end of 2022, is the first of its kind to use renewable energy on such a large scale. It also embraces recycling and environmentally friendly waste-management methods.

“From a regeneration point of view, we’re looking to protect critical habitats for the many species that make the Red Sea their home,” Pagano said. “We’re going to create the largest no-take marine protected area in the Middle East, probably 5,700 square kilometers, and remove invasive species.”

The summit was organized by the Ministry of Tourism and the G20 Saudi Secretariat. More than 6,000 people from around the world took part.


Visitors hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha

Visitors hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha
Split into high and low segments, the mountain is intricate and has withstood the test of time; its vast caverns have been used to house civilizations, and retain carvings that go back to the era of the Thamud and the Sabaeans. (SPA)
Updated 26 min 52 sec ago

Visitors hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha

Visitors hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha
  • Popular among commoners and poets alike, the caves have been mentioned by several Arab poets and explorers

JEDDAH: With the Saudi winter season providing opportunities for tourism investment, Shada Mountain, one of the most popular spots in the Arabian Peninsula, has transformed into a popular destination for visitors, attracting tourists from within the Kingdom, the Arab region and Europe.
Shada Mountain is located in the southern region of the Kingdom in Al-Baha, rising 1,700 meters above ground. It is geologically composed of granite rock, and contains a large variation of plants and greenery.
Split into high and low segments, the mountain is intricate and has withstood the test of time; its vast caverns have been used to house civilizations, and retain carvings that go back to the era of the Thamud and the Sabaeans.

HIGHLIGHT

Shada Mountain is located in the southern region of the Kingdom in Al-Baha, rising 1,700 meters above ground. It is geologically composed of granite rock, and contains a large variation of plants and greenery.

Nasir Al-Shadawi is a history researcher and owner of one of the caves that has turned into a tourist attraction. He said that he might be the first person to attempt to transform the caves, upgrading them into larger spaces that can house tourists.
“These caves used to act as homes, and they didn’t require anything but a little building with exposed sides. I also worked on adding washing basins and faucets made of granite,” he told Al-Arabiya TV.
Al-Shadawi adorned the road leading to the caves with stones to guide incoming tourists and prepare them for the experience, before they even enter the caves.
Popular among commoners and poets alike, the mountain has been mentioned by several Arab poets and explorers like Abu Mohammed Al-Hamadani and Yaqut Al-Hamawi.
Saudis have taken note of the tourist site and are excited to check it out. In fact, some were enticed to visit it after learning that it has inspired famous poets.
“I would love to sense what the poets saw and felt when they explored the mysterious caves. I think witnessing these mountains and their prominent existence adds to the historical and cultural richness that Al-Baha has,” said Amani Al-Ghoraibi, a language instructor at a university in Jeddah.


Al-Ghoraibi said that the atmosphere of the caves was its most important aspect, adding that it brings the most appeal. “There is a haunting beauty that seems to call in the visitor, urging them to explore these caves,” she told Arab News. “They seem to echo an ancient history that goes beyond what our modern day life seems to perceive.”

Amal Turkistani, 55, has taken on adventuring within the Kingdom, and Shada Mountain has presented a new location to visit.
“The interest in historical sites and the investment going into revitalizing these sites is unprecedented here in Saudi Arabia, and it gives us a variety of activities to share among families and friends,” she told Arab News.
Growing up, Turkistani said that she lacked that luxury and often chased after history and culture in other countries. Now that the Kingdom’s wondrous sites have been revealed, she wants to know them, as well as introduce them to her grandchildren.
“One of my deepest regrets is not learning about my country, and my children had no clue either. I would love to take my family to explore these caves and try to submerge ourselves in the past for a few days,” she added.