We have everything we need - diverse nature, strong culture, great people - to achieve our target: Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019. (Supplied/Royal Commission for Al-Ula)
Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019. (Supplied/Royal Commission for Al-Ula)
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Updated 23 December 2020

We have everything we need - diverse nature, strong culture, great people - to achieve our target: Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

We have everything we need - diverse nature, strong culture, great people - to achieve our target: Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb
  • Al-Khateeb appeared on talk show Frankly Speaking, in which leading decision-makers are questioned on big Middle East issues
  • He told Arab News the Kingdom is “building amazing destinations” all the way from NEOM to Amaala and Jeddah Downtown

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is on track to meet its ambitious target of attracting 100 million visits to the Kingdom by 2030, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Kingdom’s Minister for Tourism, told Arab News.

“Our target is indeed ambitious,” he said. “However, we have everything we need to achieve our target.”

Some analysts have questioned whether the 100 million target might be too challenging to achieve, especially set against the numbers of tourists that visit countries with many decades of investment in the tourism industry, like France and the UAE, which respectively had 96 million and 16 million last year.

But Al-Khateeb — appointed minister last year — is confident that the Kingdom’s unexplored attractions will be an irresistible lure for global tourists in search of new experiences.

“We have a large country, diverse nature, a strong culture and great people, and therefore we have everything to get to the target we announced. I don't know any reason why not,” he insisted.

The minister was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the new series of televised interviews in which leading playmakers, in the Kingdom and beyond, are questioned on the big issues of the day.




The drive to develop the Saudi tourism industry is one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy. (Supplied)

He backed up his confidence with some hard facts. Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019, according to statistics from the UN World Tourism Organization, compared with around 1.5 billion tourists globally in 2019, leaving a big potential market for Saudi Arabia to aim at.

Large number of those travelers — around 600 million, Al-Khateeb estimated — wanted “sun, sea and sand” holidays, and he said Saudi Arabia was well placed to offer those attractions. “We are building amazing destinations at the Red Sea, all the way from NEOM to Amaala and Jeddah Downtown, therefore we will enrich the sun and sea offering and we will compete (in that segment),” he said.

But there seems to be no plans to offer alcoholic refreshments to those holiday-makers. Some industry analysts regard alcohol as an essential part of the global tourism package, but Al-Khateeb said that his own market research did not necessarily back this up.

“From the research we have conducted in more than 25 countries — and we took a very big sample — 40 to 50 percent of travelers say they would travel to our destinations that are not offering alcohol. Therefore, we have a lot to offer other than alcohol, and there is a lot to improve in hospitality, culture, food or luxury. You name it, we will be competing on other things,” he said.

More relaxed standards of dress would be allowed on private beaches and resorts — as is currently the practice in the Kingdom. But here are no current plans to change the dress code on public beaches in Saudi Arabia, he added.

The drive to develop the Saudi tourism industry is one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy. The Kingdom has been progressively relaxing the strict travel and visa requirements of previous years, and is looking to promote it as a tourist destination across all sectors of the travel market.

The ministry’s market research also revealed a big potential market for affluent travelers seeking to explore culture, heritage and history in Saudi Arabia. “Some 30 percent of the 1.5 billion travelled for history and heritage and we have 10,000 discovered historical sites in Saudi Arabia, and five UNESCO listed sites,” Al-Khateeb said.

“Therefore, we will definitely enrich the history and heritage offering globally. People are anxious to come and experience and learn about civilizations past in this region thousands of years ago,” he said.

High-end elite tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the international travel business, and Saudi Arabia hopes to capitalize on this trend, bringing big-spending affluent travelers to sites like AlUlla and other historical locations on the Red Sea. “We see a gap in this luxury offering,” Al-Khateeb said.




Saudi Arabia had 40 million visits of all kinds in 2019. (Supplied/Royal Commission for Al-Ula)

But he is also conscious of the financial attractions of the middle segment of the tourism market, seeking beach or adventure holidays. “Today we have major offerings in 2-, 3- and 4-star accommodation, as well as food and beverage and retail. When it comes to these activities, like sport and the adventure, we are improving our offering at the high end and we are building destinations that will also satisfy the middle segment,” he said.

“Whether at the mountains or the cities or the sea it is the same thing. We have many projects today that are catering for the middle class.”

After careers in banking and government service, Al-Khateeb became tourism minister with a mandate to propel the industry towards new highs, and launched new seasons of visitor attractions late last year, alongside a fast-track visa application process for many countries in the world. But he was almost immediately faced with the huge challenge of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has hit global tourism harder than perhaps any other area of economic activity.

He sees some silver lining in the pandemic, and the government response to it.

“We focused on domestic tourism, so we launched the summer campaign this year and it was a great success. The campaign was supervised by the health committee, and they ensured social distancing and people wearing masks. The result was that more than 8 million people travelled around the 10 destinations that we launched in the summer, and more than $3bn dollars were spent domestically,” he said.

Saudis have traditionally been big spenders on their foreign travels, effectively exporting $22 billion of tourism spend in 2019. Al-Khateeb hopes that some of that cash can be kept in the Kingdom in the future as domestic attractions open up. “We have reduced the leakage. In 2019 we launched 11 ‘seasons’ in Saudi Arabia and reduced the travel outside by 30 percent. When we continue to do this, we will definitely reduce the leakage — Saudis will like to stay at home and they will enjoy the offering,” he said.




Landscape shot between Wadi Al Dawasir and Haradh in Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File photo)

Luring visitors from the wider Gulf region is also a priority. But the big plans for the Saudi tourism industry will require big investment, and a large proportion of it is expected from outside investors who can be persuaded that the Kingdom is a viable destination - for global tourists as much as for their investment dollars. As a former banker, Al-Khateeb understands very well the challenges involved.

“We need to inject about $70 billion until 2023, and more than $200 billion by 2030 to fill the gap in the offering, whether in retail or in hospitality or in recreation,” he said. “Therefore, we have been sharing our story with the world. They (international investors in leisure) came and looked at our amazing natural resources, our heritage and history and culture, and they definitely see that there is an amazing opportunity,” he said.

“We are very optimistic about attracting investors from outside Saudi Arabia to come and join our very rewarding journey.”

Foreign investment in all sectors is up 12 per cent so far this year, even with the challenges of the pandemic. There is no doubting the challenges involved in “selling” Saudi tourism to a sometimes skeptical world that often fails to see the Kingdom’s attractions while it is focusing instead on negative stereotypes. But Al-Khateeb thinks that, as more and more people visit the country and experience its unique attractions, that global mindset will gradually change.

“Saudi Arabia is going through a major transformation, and we welcome and invite people to come and experience Saudi Arabia and see the changes that happened in the last few years,” he said. “We have achieved a lot so far and the best thing to do is to come and experience life here and see the changes on the ground.”

Twitter: @frankanedubai


Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 970 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 970 new cases
Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 970 new cases

Saudi Arabia confirms 11 COVID-19 deaths, 970 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 896 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • The highest number of cases were recorded in Riyadh with 438

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 11 new COVID-19 related deaths on Monday, raising the total number of fatalities to 6,834.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 970 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 405,940 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 9,508 remain active and 1,087 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 438, followed by Makkah with 227, the Eastern Province with 131, Madinah recorded 37, and Asir confirmed 28 cases.

The ministry also announced that 896 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 389,598.
The ministry renewed its call on the public to adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 141 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 3.01 million.


AlUla says sustainability key to future growth

AlUla says sustainability key to future growth
Updated 56 min 50 sec ago

AlUla says sustainability key to future growth

AlUla says sustainability key to future growth
  • Saudi Arabia’s ancient site declares a series of projects dedicated to the future

AlUla, the ancient valley in Saudi Arabia’s Madinah region, home to 200,000 years of still largely unexplored human history, continues to play a central role in the Kingdom’s tourism strategy.

In a bid to pave the way for the area’s future growth, the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU) has announced that it will embark on its future projects by adhering to sustainable practices.

“At the RCU, we are constantly looking for new ways to engage and work with our expert partners, stakeholders, and the AlUla community,” Amr Almadani, CEO of RCU, told Arab News. “Our success is driven by these ever- deepening collaborations. These local and global perspectives continually push us as we work to deliver on our objectives towards the goal of sustainable development in AlUla, and more broadly, contributing to the diversification efforts outlined in Vision 2030.”

Dr Maliha Hashimi, executive director of health, wellbeing and biotech at NEOM. (Supplied)

RCU is pursuing a carbon-neutral strategy, supported by the basic principles of a circular economy. It also announced that it will build infrastructure that will help create tens of thousands of jobs, and will empower the local community by providing training and opportunities for new career paths.

AlUla’s new sustainable approach to its future will be discussed during a panel, the first in a series titled “At the crossroads: people and planet: can AlUla unlock a sustainable future?” on April 2 with panelists dialing in from AlUla and virtually. It will focus on integrated, 360-degree approaches to sustainability, where experts will discuss the complex layers, synergies, and conflicts of social, economic, and environmental sustainability. 

Panelists include businessman and entrepreneur Alejandro Agag, former prime minister of Italy Matteo Renzi; architect and leader in sustainable design, William McDonough; James Hardcastle, the director of IUCN’s Green List ; Carlos Duarte, a leader in multiple branches of biological oceanography; Gérard Mestrallet, the Executive Chairman of Afalula, the French agency for Alula Development. Both Renzi and Mestrallet are members of the RCU advisory board. 

Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU) has announced that it will embark on its future projects by adhering to sustainable practices. (Supplied)

“When we think of sustainability, we look to the civilizations of the past for inspiration,” added Almadani. “We seek to apply innovative approaches to ancient wisdom to come up with new ways to protect AlUla’s natural landscape and its people and secure its legacy in the years to come. This is the core inspiration of Crossroads, using the past to chart the best path into the future.”

Through Crossroads, RCU aims to bring together global experts across all sectors to challenge and fine tune its ideas regarding sustainability, pertaining to the ancient region’s future growth.

Proposed by RCU as “solution-driven” discussions, the panels will touch on key elements of its “Journey Through Time” masterplan, outlining the first and most important phase of AlUla’s development.

“The topic of integrated sustainability is being discussed at the forefront of all development projects currently underway in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Dr Maliha Hashimi, executive director of health, wellbeing and biotech at NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s planned cross-border city in the Tabuk province, as well as the first Crossroads panel’s moderator, told Arab News. 

“As we work towards a better, more sustainable future for our people, our environment, and our economic systems, we must embrace new technologies and solutions, but also understand the lessons and traditions of the past.”


Saudi Arabia's National Cultural Awards winners to be announced at closing ceremony

Saudi Arabia's National Cultural Awards winners to be announced at closing ceremony
Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi Arabia's National Cultural Awards winners to be announced at closing ceremony

Saudi Arabia's National Cultural Awards winners to be announced at closing ceremony

RIYADH: Governor of Riyadh Prince Faisal Bin Bandar will patronize on Monday the closing ceremony of the National Cultural Awards Initiative.

The ceremony, organized by the Ministry of Culture, will take place at the Culture Palace in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh.

Winners of the initiative awards will be announced in the various categories of cultural activities. 

The initiative includes 14 cultural awards: the Cultural Personality of the Year Award, Youth Cultural Award, Cultural Institutions Award, as well as Film Award, Fashion Award, Music Award, National Heritage Award, Literature Award, Theater and Performing Arts Award, Visual Arts Award, Architecture and Design Award, Culinary Arts Award, Publishing Award, and Translation Award.

The Ministry of Culture organized the National Cultural Awards initiative as part of the initiatives of the Quality of Life Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 programs.


Yemeni conjoined twins ‘Yousuf and Yassin’ to fly to Riyadh under King Salman’s orders for medical examination

Yemeni conjoined twins ‘Yousuf and Yassin’ to fly to Riyadh under King Salman’s orders for medical examination
Updated 19 April 2021

Yemeni conjoined twins ‘Yousuf and Yassin’ to fly to Riyadh under King Salman’s orders for medical examination

Yemeni conjoined twins ‘Yousuf and Yassin’ to fly to Riyadh under King Salman’s orders for medical examination
  • King Salman ordered a speedy transfer
  • The conjoined twins are expected to arrive within the next few days

DUBAI: Yemeni conjoined twins “Yousuf and Yassin” will finally get the necessary medical examinations they need after King Salman ordered for their direct transfer from Yemen to Riyadh for the possibility of a separation surgery.
King Salman ordered a speedy transfer for the twins and their parents, the General Supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center and renowned pediatric surgeon Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rabiah said.
The conjoined twins are expected to arrive within the next few days, state news agency SPA reported on Sunday.
King Salman has previously ordered the transfer of conjoined twins from Mauritania to travel to Saudi Arabia to separate them. Their father, who accompanied them, said the procedures for transferring the twins to Riyadh were carried out easily.


Saudi Arabia offers condolences over Egypt train accident

Saudi Arabia offers condolences over Egypt train accident
Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi Arabia offers condolences over Egypt train accident

Saudi Arabia offers condolences over Egypt train accident
  • The train accident left 97 wounded after it derailed off its tracks

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it expresses its deep sorrow for the train accident north of the Egyptian capital Cairo.
A passenger train derailed earlier on Sunday in the city of Toukh in Qalyubia province, injuring around 100 people.
“The Kingdom expresses its sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims, and to the Egyptian leadership, government and people, wishing the injured a speedy recovery,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Four train wagons ran off the railway while the train was traveling to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura from Cairo, Egypt’s railway authority said.
(With AP)